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Girls and Physical Activity

 There is an international consensus that participation in physical activities can offer a great deal to individuals, communities and nations. However, numerous evidence suggests that from an early age, differences in gender-based attitudes towards the opportunity for sports and physical activities can have a significant influence on children's participation. As a result, often later involvement in physically active lifestyles can be negatively effected.


The World Health Organisation provided a report that offered a summary into girls' participation in sports and physical activities. We thought it would be useful for schools to be able to identify and understand the influences on girls' physical activity participation that the report highlighted:

Influences on Girls Participation

Personal Factors:

  • Biological
  • Hereditary
  • Age

Overall, levels of activity steadily decline from about 6 years of age until adolescence, when activity levels drop more steeply.

  • Obesity
  • Fitness level
  • Psychological
  • Motivation
  • Perceived barriers

These are usually the most consistent negative psychological correlate of physical activity. Such barriers have been proven to include, school pressures, dissatisfaction with school PE lessons, reluctant to get sweaty or disheveled and inaccessibility or inconvenience of sporting provision.

  • Perceived competence
  • Attitudes

Environmental Factors:

  • Social
  • Peers

Sports and physical activity are often social events for children. Similarly, physically active adolescents tend to socialize with friends who are active. A key factor in whether girls engage in and sustain physical activities is whether they have a same sex friend to whom they can participate with. For girls, physical activities often become less important in their lives as they are encouraged by pressure from their peers to seek other activities associated with their preferred perceptions of femininity.

  • Family

Numerous studies have emphasized the influence of the family on childhood physical activity levels. Active parents have been shown to have more active children at all ages; activity levels are further supported with an active sibling. Studies generally identify fathers as playing the primary role in influencing children's participation in sports and physical activities. Noteworthy, fathers have also often been reported to be the primary socialization agent for gender role development. The nature and extent of physical play opportunities depend greatly on the set of beliefs and expectations held by parents, and these beliefs are particularly significant in relation to gender.

  • Culture

Some writers have argued that involvement in physical activities is a product of a cultural belief system that values certain activities and skills for one sex and not for the other.

  • Role Models

Boys and girls tend to attribute role models differently, with girls being more likely to mae parents as models, while boys more often named public figures, such as sport stars. This difference may be due, in part, to the evident lack of female sporting role models readily available to girls.

  • Enviornment
  • Access
  • Type of activity

In many contexts, boys and girls are offered distinct activities on the basis of their gender, and even when they are presented with nominally the same curriculum content, boys tend to dominate in many sports. So, it may be that many girls' unwillingness to engage with sport and physical activities can be attributed as much to the terms of their participation as the activities themselves.

  • School

A narrow curriculum, dominated too heavily by competitive team games, fails to address the needs and interests o the whole school population, and does not transfer well to out-of-school and adult sporting participation. Many girls reject an overly competitive teaching climate, even the very able and physically active, and prefer individual, creative or co-operative activities.

  • Independent mobility

A number of studies have shown significant gender differences in independent mobility, with boys experiencing far more freedom than girls to be active. Very often girls' freedoms to move are curtailed by cultural norms and conditions that determine where it is safe or appropriate for them to go.