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Mythbusting: What Every Female Athlete Should Know!

Get the facts about the rights of female athletes, their interest in sports and why it's a great idea to play.

DID YOU KNOW that prior to 1970, if a woman wanted to pursue a professional degree in college, chances were she wouldn’t be admitted to a law school or medical school program because she was a woman?

There were quotas on the number of women allowed to enter these programs. Men and women thought this was wrong. In 1972, Congress passed Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments Act, a federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender at educational institutions that are recipients of federal funds. Popularly called “Title IX”, this law opened the door for women to become doctors, lawyers and college athletes. Title IX also applies to elementary, junior high and high schools. Access to education is critically important. Everyone should have a chance to take advantage of every educational program in our schools including athletics. All boys and girls should have a chance to pursue their dreams of what they want to be — doctor, lawyer or a pitcher for the NY Yankees — and not be told “no” because of their gender, ethnicity, color or their skin, etc.

Title IX is a federal law that requires high schools and colleges that receive federal funds to not discriminate on the basis of gender in the provision of any educational activity — including athletics. Female athletes should be treated as well as male athletes.

What does Title IX require?

Title IX requires proportional participation opportunities. The percentage of female athletes in the athletic program (numbers of athletes, not numbers of teams) needs to match the percentage of girls in your student body. The only defenses to not having this number of participants is your schools demonstrating that (1) it is gradually adding women’s sports over time to try to expand participation (it has to show that it has actually added teams rather than just saying it will) or (2) it has already accommodated the interest and ability of all girls (no girls want to play another sport, in that school or its recruiting district).

Title IX requires that college female athletes receive scholarship dollars proportional to their sports participation. DID YOU KNOW that, at the college level, male athletes still receive $176 million more scholarship dollars than female athletes every year? However, the scholarship situation is improving and you may have an opportunity to get an athletic scholarship if you know how. Visit our website to find out what schools offer scholarships in your sport.

Title IX requires that male and female athletes receive the same benefits of athletic participation:

  • equipment, uniforms, supplies
  • access to weight room and training room
  • equal practice facilities
  • same size and quality locker rooms and competition facilities
  • equal access to practice and games during prime time
  • same quality coaches as boys’ teams
  • opportunity to play the same quality opponents
  • the same awards and awards banquets
  • cheerleaders and band performances at girls’ games too, etc.


If you want to know more about Title IX and how you can make sure your school is following federal law, call the Women’s Sports Foundation and ask about the publication, Playing Fair.

DID YOU KNOW that because a sport is revenue-producing or has more spectators, these facts cannot be used as an excuse for treating male athletes better than female athletes?

Lots of people say that football should be treated differently (i.e., be permitted to get more benefits and specially treatment that schools don’t have to match re: how they treat girls) because it makes more money than girls’ sports.

  • At 64% of all Division I and Division II colleges, the football program loses money.
  • If an economic reason can be used to justify sex discrimination, would you accept that reason to justify other forms of discrimination? For instance, would it be okay to say that you can’t have an athletic scholarship because you are an African-American or because your family is poor? Educational benefits like participation in sports, drama, or physics classes need to be available to everyone rather than only those of a particular race or gender.

DID YOU KNOW that schools cannot use a myth that “boys are more interested in sports than girls,” to justify providing more participation opportunities for boys than girls?

There is no research that shows that boys are more interested in sports than girls. We do know that girls are just as interested in sports as boys when they are young. A combination of lack of opportunity, lack of peer group support when they do play sports and lack of encouragement causes them to drop out of sports at a rate that is two times greater than boys.

DID YOU KNOW that a school cannot say men can get treated better than girls because the booster club of a boys’ team provides funds to be used just for that team?

Title IX clearly addresses this myth. If a school accepts money to support its programs, the money then belongs to the school. The school is obligated under the law not to discriminate. Think about it. What if someone gave you money and said you could only use this gift for white students?

DID YOU KNOW that cheerleaders and band members must support both men’s and women’s sports?

Title IX requires that equal benefits be afforded girls’ and boys’ teams. How would you feel if you were told that your sport wasn’t important enough to have the support of the band or cheerleaders?

DID YOU KNOW that football is included under Title IX?

Football players are boys — not a third sex. Benefits afforded boys, whether they play football or basketball or golf, are benefits. The law says you just can’t pick a sport in which boys play and girls don’t and and say it doesn’t count. By the way, more than 700 girls are playing high school football in the U.S. and they are not just kickers. They play as quarterbacks, linebackers, and ends too. What if we applied laws so they excluded certain groups, for instance:

  • speed limits don’t apply to football players
  • tax laws don’t apply to male golfers


DID YOU KNOW that a girl must be allowed to try out for the boys’ team if there is no girls’ team for her in that sport?

The law says that any member of the “underrepresented sex” (the sex that has the fewest opportunities) has to have a chance to play on the team of the overrepresented sex if that player is not provided with a team of the player’s own sex. It is okay for a school to say a girl or a boy cannot play football for a non-gender-related reason like you are too small to play or you are not strong enough to play as long as the standard is fairly applied to both boys and girls.

DID YOU KNOW that a boy does not have the right to try out for a girls’ team if there are more boys playing sports at your school than girls?

Since boys have more opportunities than girls (they are members of the overrepresented sex), a boy playing on a girls’ team would take away a participation opportunity for an underrepresented sex. Thus, in the interest of the “class” (all girls), boys are not allowed to take spots on a girls’ team even though the reverse is permitted.

DID YOU KNOW that sports participation provides boys and girls with a lot more benefits than getting in shape and having fun?

The benefits of athletic participation for boys and girls are the same. There are additional sociological and physiological benefits for girls who play compared to those who don’t.

Benefits of sports participation for boys and girls:

  • Strong body can fight illnesses.
  • Become graceful – sports teach balance, grace and poise, which carry over to other areas of life.
  • Fight fat – one of the biggest reasons for fat is lack of exercise. Sports and exercise keep you trim and firm.
  • Control anger and anxiety – exercise in nature’s best tranquilizer; it actually helps keep you calm!
  • Eat and sleep better – proper nutrition and rest improve every area of life.
  • Learn to take criticism – this is a lesson we all need to learn in order to improve performance.
  • Overcome shyness – learn to be assertive, make decisions.
  • Attain goals.
  • Learn how to deal with success as well as failure – self-esteem doesn’t depend on continually winning.
  • Discover career and job opportunities that you didn’t know existed. Become an athletic director, athletic trainer, a manager of a professional sports team, a sports medicine physician, a sports information director or sports marketer!
  • Meet new friends; avoid boredom.
  • Be able to talk to your friends about sports – a popular topic of discussion and interest.


How do girls and women benefit from sports vs. those who do not participate?

  • Women who are active in sports and recreational activities as girls feel greater confidence, self-esteem and pride in their physical and social selves than those who were sedentary as kids.
  • Research suggests that girls who participate in sports are less likely to get involved with drugs, less likely to get pregnant and more likely to graduate from high school than those who do not play sports.
  • Half of all girls who participate in some kind of sports experience higher than average levels of self-esteem and less depression.
  • One to three hours of exercise a week over a woman’s reproductive lifetime (the teens to about age 40) can bring a 20-30 percent reduction in the risk of breast cancer, and four or more hours of exercise a week can reduce the risk almost 60 percent.
  • The National Institute of Health reports that one out of every four women over 60 has osteoporosis (loss of bone mass). There is substantial evidence that weight-bearing exercise, e.g., walking, and calcisum increases bone mass. It’s important for you to drink milk (1% or skim has all of the calcium you need without the fat!)
  • High school girls who spend more time participating in sports also tend to have higher grades.


DID YOU KNOW that there are psychological and sociological obstacles and myths faced by girls who want to play sports? Here are a few you should know…

MYTH: Girls become masculine if they participate in sports.
MYTH: Boys become feminine if they do not play sports.

Strength, speed and reaction time are important in sports because sports usually involve overcoming the resistance of a mass or propelling an object through space. Masculine and feminine stereotypes usually associate strength with males and weakness with females. All of us need to be strong. We all benefit from being confident, having high self-esteem. Being skilled at sport makes us feel good whether we are male or female. If a person doesn’t play sports, that is okay too. Our self- worth cannot be judged by our ability to play sports. Our society no longer accepts extremes of masculine and feminine behavior. We think its important for males and females to be strong, sensitive and caring.
MYTH: Men athletes are more skillful than women athletes.
MYTH: Men are stronger and more powerful than women.
MYTH: Some sports are okay for girls and women but others aren’t.
MYTH: Girls cannot be as good at sports as boys.

In general, male athletes are generally more powerful (power = speed + strength) because they are able to develop more muscle mass per unit volume of body weight due to the male hormone androgen. However, there are women who are more powerful than some men. It’s important to know that there are few sports that require absolute strength or power (like weightlifting or shot putting). Most sports require skill. Skill is a combination of accuracy and coordination. Females happen to be better than males in most fine motor skills. The bottom line is that differences in strength, power, skill and coordination between men and women don’t really matter because in most sports, men play against men and women play against women. When men and women do compete against each other, it is usually a co-ed game with equal numbers of men and women, so their strengths and weaknesses even out. Both girls and boys should be able to play any sport they like without criticism from others.

MYTH: Most parents don’t want their daughters to be professional athletes

FACT: Eighty-seven percent (87%) of today’s moms and dads generally accept the idea that sports are equally important for boys and girls. Parents show very little concern that sports may be “unladylike” and nearly all agree (97%) that sports and fitness activities provide important benefits to girls who participate.

Most parents want their children to have the right to be whatever they want to be.

MYTH: The biggest reason that there are not more women in sports is that they didn’t play sports when they were kids.

It is true that if a girl does not participate in sports by the time she is 10, there is less than a 10% chance that she will be participating when she is 25. However, the biggest reason why more men than women play sports in organized youth sports, junior high, high school and college is that there are more opportunities (teams) for boys than for girls. Among adults, more women than men participate in sports and fitness and women purchase more athletic shoes and apparel than men.

MYTH: In ten years women will be as good in sports as men are today.

When the best of the women’s performance are compared to those of males across all sports, the difference in performance is approximately 10% in favor of males. This is regardless of training and experience. The average difference in size is also about 10%. Sports for males have traditionally accommodated size difference effectively in such activities as wrestling, boxing, crew, etc. The male who wins in the lightest weight class is no less a boxer than the heavyweight. He is admired for his skill and ability in the competitive arena against similar competition; no one would consider pitting him against the heavyweight. We should view the female athlete in the same way and recognize her ability, skill, and accomplishments, rather than comparing her performance to that of the male. In fact, if sports were entirely open, without any stratification or categories by age, sex, size, weight, etc., only the biggest, strongest males would ever get to compete — in anything.

DID YOU KNOW that it is important for girls and boys to encourage girls to play sports and support the efforts of female athletes.

  • 76.3 percent of girls aged 9-12 cited “fun” as the primary reason to be physically active. (Melpomene Journal, Autumn 1992 Vol. 11, No. 3, p. 22 ). When we say negative things about girls who play, it’s not fun for them to be subjected to such criticism.
  • People have fun doing things they are good at. Research shows that girls enter organized sports two years later than little boys. Thus, they are less like to have the same skills and experience. If you don’t have skill, you don’t experience success. If you aren’t successful, it is more likely you don’t have fun. If you don’t have fun, you stop playing.
  • Of girls aged 9-12, 84.2 percent listed themselves as self-motivators. 76.3 percent receive additional motivation from their mothers and 57.9 percent are also motivated by their fathers or their friends. (Melpomene Journal, Autumn 1992, Vol. 11, No. 23). Encouraging girls to play is important.
  • Children, especially females, who receive positive reinforcement for sport participation are more likely to become involved in sports than those who receive neutral or negative messages (Greendorfer, 1987, Psychology of Women Quarterly, 11, 327-340)
  • In picture books for young readers, girls and women are much less frequently portrayed participating in sports activities than males. Young girls have at least two-thirds fewer same-sex literary role models for their participation in sports than young boys. Out of 105 books surveyed, only 28 encouraged girls to participate in sports (Melpomene Journal, Autumn 1993, Vol. 12, No. 3). So it’s important for us to increase positive messages about sports for girls.


DID YOU KNOW that you can make a difference?

Change happens one person at a time through one small action at a time…
Here are some suggestions of simple things that you can do to change the world for girls and women in sports:

The next time you buy a gift for a young girl, buy her sports equipment, a pair of sneakers or a book about a female sports hero.You can get a book list and a list of suggested gifts from the Women’s Sports Foundation if you call 1-800-227-3988 or visit our website.

Take a young boy and girl to a women’s sports event to show them female role models in sports.

Attend a girls’ varsity game at your school to show your support and take time to congratulate the players after the game is over or the next day in class.

When you go to work out, take a young girl with you. Share your love of sport and tell her it would be great for her to play.

If a classmate says something negative about girls playing sports, make it clear that you don’t appreciate the comment.

Promote good health, nutrition and sleep habits on your team. Don’t make extreme behaviors a status symbol (i.e., getting drunk, staying up all night or binging on junk food)

People stay in sports because it’s fun. Object to any effort to do violence to opponents or make demeaning comments about them. You don’t have to hate the people you compete against. You are there for the same reason: to test your abilities. You are helping each other find out how good you are. Competitors can be friends.

Take your sister or cousin out to play catch or a sport in the back yard. Be a role model. Tell her she’s good. Teach her how. Give her the chance to play.

Have your team put on a mother-daughter clinic in your sport. Teach mom how to practice with and teach her daughter to play. Encourage mom to be a coach.

Mentor a younger athlete. Give back to those following in your footsteps.

DID YOU KNOW that you can help give girls a chance to play…

Editor’s Note Donate to the Women’s Sports Foundation today so we can continue to educate the public about the importance of providing equal opportunities for girls in sport. Please consider a today and help us dispel the myths that prevent girls from playing.