So how do you get the girls in your life to get on the path to being physically active and reaping all of these
rewards? These tips will give you all the information you need to introduce physical activity to a girl and make a
critical difference in her life.
What It Means To Be Physically Active
Physical activity is anything that moves your body and gets your heart pumping. Working out on a regular basis (at least three days a week) will make you strong, increase energy and flexibility and turn you into a physically active person. You don’t have to run a marathon or swim the English Channel to be considered active. Whether you engage in light activity like throwing a Frisbee or more vigorous activity like running, you are still engaging your body in movement, and that’s what matters.
It’s important to also emphasize that being a physically active person means a lot more than the numbers on the scale. Here are some of the other benefits of being active:
- Strength is good for all sports as well as life. Getting stronger means your muscles are more capable of kicking a soccer ball far, lifting and carrying more, or jumping higher.
- Stamina means more energy. You can keep going; you can run farther, climb more stairs, keep working and playing longer—without feeling winded.
- Flexibility feels more graceful. You feel more elastic, have more bounce in your walk and are able to touch your toes or reach a high shelf.
- Improved self-esteem. This is probably one of the most important benefits for girls. When girls work out, they start to appreciate and respect their bodies for the awesome movement they’re capable of. This, in turn, will help them to have higher self-esteem than girls who aren’t physically active.
Techniques for introducing physical activity to a girl will depend on what stage of life she’s in. Here are some tips for different age groups:
Elementary School – Ages 5 Through 12
- Every day, if possible, build to 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity.
- Allow for short periods of rest and recovery.
- Make those 60 minutes of activity feel effortless. If it feels like a chore or a scheduled nuisance, kids won’t be
excited to participate. Examples of fun kids’ activities include what you would consider ”party games,” like
potato sack races or Red Rover, where kids run from one side to the other and break a chain of people.
- Vary the activities. Getting girls this age active is all about fun energy release. Trying more things means finding
more activities to like!
Teens – Ages 13 – 18
Every day, if possible, build to 60 minutes of moderate physical activity; and, when it gets easier, add vigorous sessions of 20 minutes or more at least three days per week. (Sallis and Patrick, 1994) What do we mean by moderate or vigorous activity?
Here’s a quick guide:
- Light Activity. Playing catch, throwing a Frisbee, walking slowly, dancing slowly, horseshoes, ping pong and fishing
- Moderate Activity. Walking briskly, hiking, leisurely inline skating, bicycling on level terrain, trampoline jumping, weight-training with free weights, dancing, doubles tennis, shooting baskets, recreational swimming, canoeing, skateboarding, surfing, snorkeling, t-ball, horseback riding, volleyball and playground activities
- Vigorous Activity. Running, energetic aerobics or dancing, swimming continuous laps, bicycling uphill, climbing stairs, jump rope, jumping jacks, fast-paced inline skating, ice hockey, intensely training for competitive sports
Beginners, regardless of age, should start easy and build to regular, moderate activity. Regular means just about every day. Moderate exercise is when you are active enough to increase your heart rate and breathing for an hour. You should be able to talk to someone, but you shouldn’t be able to sing. With more skills and training, regular moderate and vigorous activities should be part of your routine.
Change Attitudes About Physical Fitness
At an early age, young women are programmed to shy away from sports and activity because they are afraid of being perceived as unfeminine or are afraid of failure or being teased. Here are some tips on how to turn those attitudes around:
”I’m not an athlete.”
Many inactive girls think that the world of physical activity is black and white: you are either a jock or not. Some girls believe that unless you are going to go all out or if you’re just not a ”natural,” there is no use in being active. The label of jock can be perceived as unfeminine or possibly just a clique that they don’t want to belong to. Girls need to be reminded that it’s ok to work up a sweat, get your heart pumping and challenge your body.
What you can do:
Encourage her. Tell her that you don’t have to be a hard-core athlete to get up and move (and follow this advice yourself!). There doesn’t have to be competition involved to be physically active. Also, reinforce that no one is ever born an athlete. Even champions had to start at the beginning and learn how to play their sports.
”I’m afraid of getting teased.”
This is such a vulnerable age, and girls are very sensitive to peer-group influence. ”Fitting-in” becomes a primary goal so girls don’t want to try anything new that steps outside of the world they already know and are comfortable in. This is especially true of girls’ participation in sports or even just their school’s PE program. Girls fear that stepping into a game might make them a target of ridicule.
What you can do:
Understand and identify with her fears and talk to her about them. Girls want to fit in and be accepted. Sports can be all about belonging—being part of the group—with team names, uniforms and cheers. Most of us remember how nervous we were about our junior high and high school PE classes. Many of us also have funny stories to tell about embarrassing things that did happen and how we got over them. Ask her what her worst fear is. Maybe she’s nervous about wearing the gym uniform or having to climb ropes in front of her classmates. One she identifies the worst-case scenario, you can discuss how you would deal with this and take away some of her fears. Or share something that happened to you and let her know it really wasn’t a big deal.
”I don’t know anything about sports.”
Girls may worry that their lack of knowledge about sports or physical fitness will make them look dumb when they attempt to play. They also may not know what sports are available to them. Even if they do know, they might not feel confident or capable enough to be proactive and sign up on her own.
What you can do:
Teach her the skills to be successful. Start to watch different sports together so she can understand the rules and how different games are played. Learn the sports lingo. Go to a local girls’ sporting match so she can see that girls just like her can master the skills needed to play the game. Experiment with different sports until she finds one that comes easily for her. If she has good hand-eye coordination, maybe softball or tennis is her game. In trying different sports, she may be surprised in how great she is at a sport she never thought she could master. You also don’t want to rule out sports just because she may not be the perfect physical match for it. For example, she could be on the shorter side and end up loving basketball.
For other activity suggestions, visit www.WomensSportsFoundation.org/FindYourSport. There’s an interactive survey you can do together or she can do on her own that allows her to express her interests and preferences and gives suggestions for sport and activities that meet her profile.
Once she has chosen a few activities she’s interested in, call the office of that sport’s national governing body (for example: USA Basketball) to have them give you local program contact information. Many girls’ organizations have sports and physical activities—the YWCA, PAL, community recreation centers, local park and recreation department, the Girl Scouts, etc. Ask the PE teacher or counselor at school. Look in the local papers, check the Internet at the library or look in the yellow pages of your phone book for specific activities. Check out local hospitals and rehabilitation centers for programs for disabled girls. These programs are usually affordable and some even offer scholarships for some girls.
As you investigate local programs together, consider these general tips in what you should look for in an activity program:
- Small group environment. A group with 15-20 girls and two adult leaders is ideal for girls to learn together and develop a strong sense of belonging (Finn, 2002; Lou, et al, 2001; Ozerk, 2001). Look for programs that have at least one adult leader for every 10 girls to ensure each girl will get individual attention.
- Safe and nurturing all-girl environments. Co-ed physical activity environments are problematic for inactive girls because they contain opposite-sex and same-sex teasing about the skill level and body of inactive girls and other pressures characteristic of co-ed group dynamics (Women’s Sports Foundation, 2004; Stabiner, 2002). When girls are concentrating on what boys think, a cultural requirement for teen girls, they don’t take care of themselves.
- Fun and supportive place. Does it look like fun? Are the girls all participating? Is it a caring, supportive and positive environment? Are girls allowed to express themselves, participate in decision-making and develop relationships with other girls? (Ewing and Seefeldt, 1989; Women’s Sports Foundation, 1988). The program shouldn’t be about winning and losing. Beginners need a friendly social environment where they will learn skills together in a fun way.
Keep It Fun!
Debby Burgard runs a nonprofit organization called The Body Positive based in Berkeley, Calif., that works to help teens and children with body image issues. She believes that fears about embarrassment (that we discussed above) can get in the way of embracing being active. ”Most people have negative experiences in junior high PE class or at their gyms that get in the way of them believing they can have fun exercising,” Burgard said.
The best way to combat this is to move in ways your body and personality type enjoy. You may envision yourself as a hard-core athlete, but have a mellow personality more suited to yoga. Overall, it’s important to try to make every encounter that a girl has with activity a positive one. Here are some easy tips on keeping it fun:
- Take her to girls’ and women’s sports events. Introduce her to a heroine! At the very least, she will see that girls who engage in sports and physical activity are applauded and admired. Look in the local papers, high school Web sites and community center bulletin boards.
- Take advantage of the seasons. Each season try a weather-appropriate sport. For example, tackle snowboarding, showshoeing or skiing in the winter, volleyball and swimming in the summer, softball and track in the spring and soccer, cross-country or basketball in the fall. This will also make certain sports feel routine and natural so that when next year rolls around, the girl equates the fall as soccer season and is anticipating signing up for a league.
- Rate the neighborhood! Pick a different walking route each time. What’s the prettiest house, the best mailbox, the prettiest flowers? Include bouts of power walking (big steps, pumping your arms, going as fast as you can), go from phone pole to phone pole or hydrant to hydrant. And then slow down to laugh, rest and recover.
- Vary the environment. Instead of running around a track or playing soccer on a soccer field, take your activities to the beach or a local park. Or take in a local arts festival and take a couple laps around it, checking out the booths and talent. Go to a different park every week. Discover the public walking trails. Hike and explore.
- Get the scoop on women athletes. There are plenty of biographies and films on women sports heroes like Billie Jean King, Mia Hamm and the Williams sisters. Check out the local bookstore or library and read these books together. Then discuss the obstacles these women had to overcome and how they did it. These inspirational stories will also show girls that even the most talented athletes had to start somewhere and learn from the bottom up. Check out the Girls’ Reading List and Girls’ Movie List on www.GoGirlWorld.org.
- Make a sports scrapbook. Collect pictures of females doing physical activities. Look for teen and women’s magazines.
- Give gifts of sports equipment and apparel. Look for cool stuff in teen magazines and give her the gift with a copy of the magazine page. Gifts of sports equipment can tell her that you think she can play.
- Try an activity that you aren’t equipped for. Take advantage of local sports equipment rental outfits to help equip you for trying a new sport. Rent a canoe, skis, snowboards or bicycles and discover a sport you never tried before.
- Mandatory daily physical education. There is no better guarantee that a girl will be physically active every day than a mandatory daily physical education requirement in her school. School curriculum can be affected by the action of local school boards. Contact your school board and get others to do the same.
Buddy Up: The Importance of Teamwork
The most important thing you can do to inspire a girl is to make everything a team effort. A girl is more likely to be active if her parent, guardian or other key adult in her life is active. Let her see you working out, sweating and making physical activity part of your life. Be a real-life hero as she sees you jogging that extra lap, attempting that 3-point shot, striking that yoga pose. There are a number of ways you can emphasize that you are in this together:
- Keep activity logs. This is a great way to track progress. Have fun picking out a cool diary or journal and then keep track of your physical activity experiences: what you did, for how long and how intense it was. Also record your feelings about what you liked and didn’t like about the experience. This will help to plan and schedule the next activity and help you get to know on another.There’s a sample activity log in the GoGirls! Scrapbook and online in the Library at www.GoGirlWorld.org.
- Do an activity bracelet. Start an activity charm bracelet that includes balls and activity charms that commemorate the activities you tried and did together.
- Take a class together. Look for a class that interests both of you, like yoga, Pilates or tae kwon do. You can also do it at home by renting or buying a video.
- Show her your moves. Teach her to enjoy the activities that you enjoy now or did as a child. Recruit some rope turners and try double-dutch. Or show her your old dance moves to some retro music. She’ll admire you for having the guts to try something you haven’t enjoyed in years.
Stick With It: Reinforcing Participation and Interest
Once you have a girl involved with physical activity, it’s important to maintain and develop her interests. As most of us know, preteens and teens can get easily bored and need some variation and incentive to stay engaged. Plus, it’s important that girls develop a lifelong love of being active. Women who are active in sports and recreational activities as girls feel greater confidence in their physical and social selves than those who were sedentary as kids. For more of the benefits of girls playing sports see www.WomensSportsFoundation.org/benefits.
Here are some tips for maintaining the momentum and providing motivation to stick with it:
- Track progress. Ask her to keep a journal, write down what she’s doing and how she feels to track her progress. If you’re working out together, you should keep one too!
- Help her create a plan. Keep a fitness calendar for each day, week and month to remind her of her commitment to being active. Pick a regular time and place to meet or go to for your activity. Keeping it consistent helps, especially in the beginning.
- Don’t overdo it or the girl could get completely burnt out. You want to make sure that you are pacing her and spreading out the physical activity over the week.
- Surprise her. Sneak notes into her lunch or her clothes with words of inspiration or praise. Organize a trip to a WNBA game for her and her friends.
- Write down goals. What does she want to be able to do? Get her to articulate and write down the sports she wants to tackle or how many push-ups she wants to be able to do. She’ll be amazed when she looks back at these goals three months, six months and a year from now and sees how far she’s come.
- Help her schedule the time to be active. Turn off the television and the computer. Or be active during commercials—stretch, dance, lift some light weights. Make sure that she’s not overbooked or activities can start to feel like chores, rather than a fun and rewarding.
- www.GoGirlWorld.org. You can also direct girls to www.GoGirlWorld.org. It’s for girls only, with athlete stories, e-mail shout-outs and tons of other fun stuff to keep her motivated to get out and play. Adults can check out all the information on the GoGirlGo! program and girls’ and women’s sports and physical activities.
Interested In Learning More?
Check out the books and resources on our Parents’ Resource List at www.WomensSportsFoundation.org/ ParentsResources.Visit these Web sites for more information:
Order a free copy of the Parents’ Guide to Girls’ Sports, a guide for parents with information on sports in the family; parent-child-coach relationships; the physical, psychological and social needs of girls at different ages; and the value of sports for girls. This edition of the guide comes in both English and Spanish, with all of the information in both English and Spanish. Visit the store on www.WomensSportsFoundation.org/shop, where you may download the guide for free.