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Children’s anxiety and the decline of play

Girls today have the opportunity to play pretty much any sport they wish to try, including traditionally male-dominated sports such as hockey, boxing, rugby, or football. Yet as a new report on girls and women in sport reveals, getting—and keeping—girls in the game requires more than simply allowing them to play.

The latest research by Canadian Women & Sport presents alarming information about gender inequity in sport. According to the recently published 2020 Rally Report [PDF], although young girls and boys enroll in sports at a similar rate, girls’ participation in sport begins to decline around age nine, and drops off sharply in the teen years.

By their late teens, one in three girls who used to play sports have quit, compared to just one in 10 boys. This gender gap persists past the teen years, and continues into adulthood.

Girls are less likely to get involved and stay involved in sport compared to boys. This comparison underscores the need for a gender lens to be used in sport. Girls and women continue to experience and benefit from sport differently than boys and men do.

-Canadian Women & Sport Rally Report
Percentage of individuals reporting weekly sport participation:
Age groupBoys/MenGirls/Women

Source: Canadian Women & Sport, The Rally Report, (2020)

A lot has already been done for gender equity since the last report from 2016, but more needs to be done. It’s a rallying cry to encourage action in order to improve sport for women and girls.

Related read: This online course is committed to keeping girls in sport

Barriers to sport participation

There are many reasons why girls drop out of sports. According to the Rally Report survey, common barriers to participation range from lack of time, availability, and awareness of sport, to changing priorities, low confidence, negative body image, perceived lack of skill, and feeling unwelcome.

Income and culture plays a role too. Girls in families with an income over $100,000 have a higher chance of participating in sports than families with lower incomes. Ethnicity is also an interesting factor that influences participation rates. Girls that self-identified as Indigenous participated less than girls self-identifying as Caucasian, South Asian, Asian, and Black. 

Two big takeaways for parents and coaches

1. Multisport girls are more likely to stay in the game 

When girls do participate in sports, they participate in many. According to the report, over 80% of girls surveyed who did participate in sport played two or more sports. Some even participated in over six. 

From personal experience as a coach and physical education teacher, I’ve noticed that multisport girls just love to play most sports and can easily pick up a new one when they’re in high school.

Even though they might drop out of community sports, many of these girls still continue to play sports for their school. Once they graduate high school, many of them decide to be active in other ways such as jogging, participating in CrossFit, or going to their local gym to lift weights or participate in fitness classes.

2. Role models matter

We all have a role to play when it comes to gender equity in sports. According to the report, same-gender role models and active parents have a positive influence on girls and teenagers.

Girls who have these kinds of role models to look up to are more likely to participate in sports and experience the many benefits, such as increased physical health and development of leadership and socialization skills.

Participation in sports has been shown to improve mental health. According to this study, women who played sports also reported perceiving themselves in a more positive way and said that the skills they learned helped them in their professional careers.

Related read: Coaching girls in sport: What the research says

In order for more girls to fully realize these benefits, communities and sports organizations need to increase enrolment and retention of players. The report encourages having more women in leadership positions within sports organizations. This includes coaches at the grassroots level and board members at every level of sport (local, provincial, and national). 

Also, if we want to inspire the next generation of girls, there needs to be better representation in traditional and social media. Women’s sport needs to be televised more often so that young girls can see and emulate strong role models.

These role models are not only players. Girls need to see that women can coach and referee matches. They need to see more female sport reporters and commentators. Having all kinds of role models in the spotlight can only better the chances of sport participation for our young girls.

Keeping girls in the game is important for gender equity in sport. It’s an important step not just for the betterment of sport, but also our society. 

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