The Importance of Female Leaders in Sport
Sport does much more for youth than simply building endurance and muscle; it facilitates the opportunity for individuals to develop confidence, build character, and improve communication. Learning from past mistakes, overcoming adversity, and performing under pressure are regular tests that athletes face daily; athletes are encouraged to take these experiences and apply them in other areas of life, especially their future careers.
Unfortunately, these experiences begin to dwindle for female athletes around the time they enter high school. At the young age of 14, female students are dropping out of sport at 2 times the rate of their male counterparts. Given the overwhelming positive attributes of sport, the number of females continuing to play sports in high school is underwhelming. So what gives?
Girls stop playing sports for a number of reasons. Here are the most popular themes:
The importance of female leaders in sport has never been more important than today, when the rate of girls dropping out of sport is at an all time high. From a young age, children form their identities by what they see around them. Quite often, we need to ‘see it to believe it’ and when ‘less than 5% of sports media content is dedicated to women’s sports and less than 15% of sports news is presented by women’, it can be difficult for young girls to picture themselves in careers that have historically been dominated by men.
Representation of women in sport helps show girls what is already possible, allowing dreams and aspirations to take flight. Limited coverage of women’s sport may minimize what girls are exposed to, so having female coaches and trainers (especially at the grassroots level) can be pivotal. Creating a positive environment and fostering a sense of community from an early age, above and beyond instructing the X’s and O’x of the game, can help shift how girls view sport as a whole.
Aside from those involved directly in game play, the off-court successes of female athletes need to be shared. In a 2013 survey of high-level executives conducted by Ernst & Young, 90% of female respondents indicated that they had played a sport. This stat rose to 96% when looking at females in the c-suite roles. The benefits of sport, such as tenacity and grit, lend themselves to giving women the courage to succeed in both their professional and personal lives.
Girls drop out of sport because parameters change and their lives begin to move in different directions. Women in leadership positions can help girls understand that leaving sport is not the only option, and continuing to play may in fact lead to more options down the line. The key is to collectively empower girls to understand their potential. We need female role models to not only show girls what they are capable of, but to help them develop the tools to not simply reach glass ceilings, but to shatter them.
This post was written by Right Way coach, Jen O’Connor, a former USPORTS Basketball Alumna, who is currently a secondary school teacher and coach in Ottawa.