A stellar performance of women at the Summer Olympics inspired many girls to take up new sports this year. But research by theWomen’s Sports Foundation shows that by the time they’re 14, girls are dropping out of sports at two times the rate as boys. The Community Foundations of Canada’s Vital Signs Report (2015) shows that this trend is continuing into adulthood with about one in three men to every one in six women regularly participating in sport.
That's why local fitness leaders say it's time to change the conversation with girls about physical activity.
Joan Helson, owner of SISU, a martial arts based self-defense studio, started offering empowerment based self-defense programs specifically for girls when she realized many were dropping out of physical activity programs in their preteen years. She found that one of the main reasons the girls gave her was that they felt pressure to succeed at a high level in competitive sports. This pressure intensifies right around puberty, the same age many girls typically start questioning their body’s capabilities, leaving them feeling self-conscious when participating in sports.
“They start to lose touch with some of what I refer to as their superpowers, those kinds of things that make them invincible when they’re three, start to peel away a little bit,” Helson explains.
Stacy Chesnutt coaches Girls Gone Gazelle, a non-competitive running club (which she also calls a confidence club), and says she hears that same message from girls who believe that if they haven’t mastered a sport by late elementary, they probably won’t try at all.
“All the girls that they know who are sporty are ‘experts,’” she says. “They think that if they’re going to be a runner or a hockey player or a soccer player they have to have perfect form already and they have to be really good. There’s no conversation about just starting somewhere.”