How to Continue the Growth of Female Sport?
Summer 2019, the Women's Football World Cup achieves record levels of attendance and TV audiences; 15-year-old, Coco Gauff, introduces herself on the world stage at Wimbledon and with the Netball World Cup just days away, has there ever been a better time for women's sport?
It's exposure is in the midst of a boom with new role models seemingly announcing themselves on an almost daily basis. England football captain Steph Houghton and fledgling tennis star, Coco Gauff have already become heroes in 2019, inspiring girls globally.
And with the Netball World Cup just days away, stars like Aussie captain, Caitin Bassett, and England's CWG's winner Helen Houseby, are waiting in the wings to be the next female star, ready to inspire more women to turn to sport.
But to understand how we as coaches can continue to increase participation at grassroots, we first need to recognise the barriers which inhibit participation rates.
Barriers for Participation Rates
Perceptions of body image and ability play a significant part in girls decisions to participate between the age of 15-19. Ideas of comparison and the thought of being judged creates a negative perception of sport for young women.
Friends and families perception is a defining factor in girls' decisions to participate. Young people struggle to go against social pressures and social norms dictate how girls perceive sport. Their parents and friends opinions are often the defining factor as to whether they decide to participate or not.
Opportunities & Lifestyle Changes
Opportunities to participate and exposure of these are not as rife in women's sport and lifestyle changes play a large part in young women's decisions to get involved. Going from education to employment, for example, has a negative effect when other financial and social aspects take priority. (Sport England)
How Coaches Can Help
To make sport more attractive to young women, it's vital to break down the stigma that girls will be 'judged by their body appearance and physical ability'. Therefore, as a coach, it's important to create a comfortable sporting environment.
The influence of social media has made the relationship between mental health and physical appearance a very real, modern issue. Young people seek short-term solutions and look for immediate benefits, so coaches must change attitudes by designing sessions and classes which diminish the preconceived notions of judgement and instead, highlight the benefits of sport.
Women-only sessions with activities based around movement rather than competition encourages beginners to feel comfortable in a sporting environment and makes physical activity the norm. The fear of judgement to those who don't see themselves as athletes is broken down as soon as the element of competition is taken out of the equation.
This initial stage offers an opportunity to establish specific skills and a sporting mindset in a fun and relaxed setting. As physical activity becomes a habit, coaches are able to encourage progress into a fully competitive environment.
Social norms dictate behaviour, particularly in young people. With friends and families opinions being one of the main barriers to participation, it's important to target these groups to change their attitudes.
Invite parents to come to sessions and even get them participating in some activities. By getting parents to recognise the benefits of sport, a change in attitude will filter down to their children whose own reservations will subside, giving them confidence to pursue a sport.
Friends also have a big influence on decisions to participate; it's a good idea to target friendship groups to join sessions and clubs together. Go into schools or colleges and/or use social media to show how sport can become a social aspect of their lives.
Make the most of role models. Having someone to aspire to gives young people motivation to pursue sport and apply themselves - Coco Gauff told Venus Williams that she was the reason she started playing tennis, after beating her in the first round at Wimbledon.
With social media and television, sports stars are increasingly accessible and are becoming the 'celebrities' who young people strive to be. More female sports stars are becoming household names and their media exposure will only boost participation and generate more interest in girls sport.
Therefore, use the insights into their world as inspiration for your sessions and use them examples to motivate your own players to make girls sport mainstream. In an age where young people are easily influenced by social influencers, it's vital to use sporting role models to improve female participation rates.
A change in lifestyle is a big reason why women's participation rates drop. For example, coming out of education and into employment means young people's priorities change. Therefore it's vital coaches make sports more accessible when other commitments become more of a priority. Incentives like free trial classes/sessions will entice more participants into the sport without financial pressures.
To increase your own female participation rate, it's a good opportunity to target those who maybe leaving education or moving to local universities. Use your social presence to adjust perceptions and make sport more accessible to everyone.
Social media provides a great platform to promote these incentives and target specific groups to change the image of the sport - perceptions of traditionally male orientated sports can be changed with some clever marketing via clubs pages, making it more attractive to women.
Women's sport is experiencing a huge rise in popularity and exposure with new female role models taking the stage on a seemingly daily basis. As coaches, this is a great opportunity to encourage more women to get involved in your own sport.
By understanding the psychological and social barriers which affect female participation, a coach can adapt their own coaching philosophy and style to encourage women to take up sport.