From an early age, girls are programmed to shy away from sports and activity for many reasons– little confidence in their abilities, not identifying as an athlete, fear of teasing and more. In order to guide our girls to the healthiest, happiest life possible, we need turn those negatives attitudes about physical activity around. What are some of the barriers and what can you do about them? Part Two of our Get Girls Active series breaks it down.
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 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.