It feels like we’re in the midst of an exciting moment when it comes to women’s sports.
Female athletes have bonded together to take action against the status quo: the US female basketball team, US female football team, and US female hockey team have all taken a stand against discrimination from their governing bodies. Brands are rethinking sports sponsorship now that the obvious appetite for women’s sport is dawning on them.
And female athletes, from Serena Williams to ultra-runner Jasmin Paris – who beat the men’s record in the ultra-harsh Montane Spine Race earlier this year, while expressing breastmilk for her toddler en route, are showing that there’s no stopping women with a passion for their sport.
READ MORE: How to empower girls through play
Girls have it a bit trickier: all too often, they’re made to feel as if there are two choices, being a girly-girl or a tomboy (the latter are the ones who will play sports). By age 14, girls are dropping out of sport at twice the rate of boys.
Parents and educators can do their part to change that, encouraging sports from a young age. Sports have many benefits: health and fitness, learning how to work in a team and face new challenges and fears and accepting how to deal with failure – and success.
Here are five ways to get your girls loving sports – and wanting to play them.
Introduce them to your favourite sports first
Sometimes a child immediately shows an interest in a sport or activity, which is great – and easy for you as a parent. It doesn’t always work that way: often kids are interested and excited about something initially, but that enthusiasm can quickly fade after a few sessions. Which is why showing them your own passion for a sport – even if it doesn’t seem to be a sport your child will immediately take an obvious interest in – can be helpful. The early days of starting a sport are really just a bonding exercise with mum or dad, and your child will be thrilled to get to hang out with you and do what you’re doing.
Get them watching sports
Role modelling is hugely important for children, and seeing women playing sports is essential if you want them to play sports themselves. With the women’s World Cup this summer, as well as women’s cricket, tennis, horse racing, cycling and athletics, there’s plenty to catch on telly. And when the opportunity arises to see a live game, take it. Also, remember: it’s good for girls to watch men play sport, too. Just make sure they’re watching women do it as well.
Introduce them to inspiring athletes
Unfortunately, we don’t have Serena Williams on speed-dial whenever we need to give our daughter a pep talk about trying out for the hockey team or learning to push past that voice in her head telling her to quit or that she’s not good enough. What we do have, however, are amazing resources at our fingertips, from books that inspire (check out Women in Sport: 50 Fearless Athletes Who Played to Win) to really cool English athletes to educate them about, like boxing champion and Olympic gold medallist, Nicola Adams.
Use any opportunity to play sports
Girls still sometimes face a lack of access that makes it harder for them to consistently train and play a sport, compared with boys their age (e.g. not as many school teams for them to participate in, team sport starting at a later age, fewer girls’ teams outside of school to join). Which is why parents need to make sport a priority in their parenting, whether that means going for a run with your girls at the weekend, cycling through the park or just kicking a ball around together. Encourage your daughters to try out for any school teams – chances are, they won’t know much about the sport before trying, and they might just love it if they get in. Plus, if they don’t, it’s never too soon to start teaching them about the benefits of being resilient and OK about coping with failure.
Try a new sport with them as a family
It can be intimidating to put yourself out there for a sports team or show up to a camp where you’re one of a handful of girls in a predominantly male environment. Build up their confidence by showing that we learn from trying new things. Sign up for a circus class together for a new challenge, or commit to doing a charity run, where you raise money and train together before undertaking a 5k or kids Tough Mudder assault course. Think of how satisfied your daughter will feel when she gets across that finish line. The only thing to top it? How proud – and happy – you’ll be.
Let sport be their mindful go-to
From academic pressures to social ones, girls have a lot to deal with as they get older and become teens. Sport can be their release: whenever they’re stressed: they can go for a run, put themselves into a child’s pose or shoot some hoops. Experts agree that sports practice – while not a replacement for mindfulness – is a channel to focus it through. And a much better channel than social media binges, we think.