Much of our research indicates that lack of physical activity is directly related to increased pregnancy, delinquency, obesity, truancy and increased risk taking (use of drugs and alcohol) among school-aged girls. In correlation to the studies providing choices of leisure has promoted successful life skills such as utilizing positive coping skills, increased sense of self, reduction in risky behaviors and increased goal setting. Research suggests that physical activity is an effective tool for reducing the symptoms of stress and depression among girls. Bottom line: sports help girls in all aspects of their lives.
But what happens when a girl is resistant to getting active? These tips will provide you with the pertinent information to get girls to be physically active and help guide them to a healthier lifestyle.
I. What It Means to be Physically Active
Physical activity is anything that requires movement of your body and increases heart rate. 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. 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.
Activity is composed of three levels:
- Light Activity. Strolling at a park (please see attached for listing of local parks and locations in your area). Playing catch, throwing a Frisbee, flying a kite, horseshoes, ping pong.
- 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.
II. 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. We can turn those attitudes around.
Barrier: “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.
Barrier: “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 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.
Barrier: “I don’t know anything about sports.”
Girls may worry that their lack of knowledge about sports or physical fitness will make her look dumb when she attempts 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 towatch 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.
III. Keep It Fun!
Debby Burgard runs a nonprofit organization called The Body Positive, 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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. These inspirational stories will also show girls that even the most talented athletes had to start somewhere and learn from the bottom up.
- 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. These can tell her that you think she can.
- 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.
IV. 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.
- Start an activity 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.
- 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.
V. 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, pre-teens 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. 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. 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 on a school night.
- 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 and 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.
- Praise and reward. It is very important to recognize any efforts. A smile, a nod of the head, and kind words are the reinforcement for her to continue. Rewards are great incentives as long as they are fun and reasonable.