Don't Be Sidelined!

Hey, it’s not that girls don’t want to play sports. But a recent Women’s Sports Foundation study shows that many girls still aren’t getting a fair shake in the athletic arena. That’s out of bounds! Especially when it’s been shown (and this research confirms) that kids who participate in sports are healthier and happier, get better grades and have more family involvement.

The Gender Gap
Yep, there’s a gender gap in physical activity between girls and boys. In general, boys are exposed to more athletic opportunities than girls. In the United States, a staggering 68 percent of girls living in rural communities have no physical education classes at all in 11th and 12th grades. For urban girls in the same grades, a whopping 84 percent report no phys ed!

An Uneven Score
Not all girls are losing out. In some communities -- usually suburban -- girls and boys get equal playtime. But girls from urban areas, which are often economically challenged and have fewer school resources, are the ones largely left out of the game. One in four 9th- to 12th-grade urban girls has never participated in an organized school team sport.

Nothin’ About Biology
OK, so some people might think boys are just naturally more interested than girls in sports. Wrong! The study finds that girls’ and boys’ differences have more to do with opportunity and encouragement. In fact, boys tend to exaggerate their enthusiasm for sports (maybe they think it’s expected of them). Forty-two percent of third- to eighth-grade boys said “sports are a big part of who they are” even though they weren’t athletes!

Girls Got Boys Beat
While girls are less athletically involved overall, they participate in a way wider array of various activities than the boys do. The boys tend to stick to the traditional old-school stuff, but the girls do that and then some. They explore recreational activities, like double Dutch, dance, cheerleading and volleyball, that break away from the strictly conventional.

Late in the Game
Girls generally get involved in sports at a later age than the boys. On average, boys join the team at around 6 years of age, and girls jump in when they’re about 7-years-old. Girls also drop out of the game a lot earlier and in greater numbers than boys, and some researchers blame this on the late start setting girls up for failure. This usually happens during the middle school years, but perhaps this will encourage you to stay in the game: Girls who participate in a team sport are more content with their lives than girls who don’t play sports.

Make the Team
Researchers observed that the positive social, health and educational (triple threat!) benefits of being athletic were most apparent in girls and boys right around sixth- through eighth-grades. So, what’s a girl to do if her school doesn’t offer any sports opps? Well, the report’s title says it all: Get Out and Play! Round up your crew, and start a dance club, plot a bike route or kick off a soccer game in the park. Better yet, get the gals to rally your rec center or school officials about getting girls active in organized athletics. There’s no way you can’t win!