Year 3 (7-8 years old) is a critical age in keeping girls motivated to play sport
The Government Equalities Office published research that confirms that Year 3 (7-8 years old) is a critical age in keeping girls motivated to play sport. Beyond this age, girls become more self-conscious, lose confidence and many stop participating in sport.
The study conducted by charity Women in Sport and the Youth Sport Trust, follows research from the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation which showed that at Y4, activity levels are similar for boys and girls, but by Y6 girls are doing significantly less and this gap grows in the years that follow. This latest research found that amongst children interviewed, in Year 3, girls are still participating in school sports at broadly the same level as boys. Their confidence and body image is good, they are still largely influenced by their parents and only minimally influenced by celebrity culture and external role models. However, there are early signs emerging of what causes them to drop out of sports participation.
The research found in respondents:
- Gender perceptions are already emerging in relation to sport; girls think boys are ‘stupid’ and ‘their’ sports rough, the boys think girls lack skill and competence. Also, while school sports participation is roughly equal, outside school things look very different, with many more boys than girls involved in out-of-school sports clubs;
- The girls disliked playing games outside in the cold, whereas boys enjoyed the extra space associated with outside games. This difference is reflected in the sports they participate in with girls leaning towards swimming, dance, tennis, netball and gymnastics and boys more often highlighting football, cricket and rugby; and
- Girls were also beginning to notice the lack of female sporting role models available to them. Girls and boys agreed PE should be different for both sexes. Girls felt that boys can be overly competitive, cheat and play rough and boys perceived girls as ‘less sporty’ and skilled, as well as less interested in ‘rough’ and muddy outdoor sports.
Teachers and parents who were interviewed strongly agreed that the seven and eight year olds were not bothered by personal appearance, but that year three is the last school year in which girls are less self conscious. They observed that the self consciousness sometimes led to dropping out of sports and that if that happened, girls were less likely to return to it. This is backed up by evidence from Sport England, released as part of their This Girl Can campaign, which shows that fewer women than men play sport regularly, two million fewer 14-40 year olds in total. Despite this, 75 per cent say they want to be more active.
Previous research from Girlguiding UK has shown that 23 per cent of girls aged 7-21 don’t participate in exercise because they are unhappy with their body image and the PSHE Association has found that 95 per cent of teachers would value more support in this area, with schoolchildren citing body image as the number one issue they would like addressed within PSHE. The Government Equalities Office today confirmed that they are working with the PSHE Association to develop materials for use in the classroom to give teachers more confidence and better guidance.