sports

OPINION: Today, women’s sport has never been more celebrated. So why are more than half of our girls dropping out of sport before 17?

COMMONWEALTH BANK
Thanks to our brand partner, COMMONWEALTH BANK

When I was 15, I hung up my sports uniform and never put it back on again. 

Although my experience may have been over two decades ago, unfortunately it’s far from being an inaccurate scenario today. 

In fact, a recent study by the Australian Sports Commission shows that 57 per cent of girls aged 13-17 are disengaged in sport, compared to 39 per cent of Australian boys.

With women’s sport in Australia being celebrated at an all-time high and our sports women being some of the best in the world, it makes me question why. And more importantly, as the mother of a 10-year-old and 8-year-old girl, it concerns me. A lot.

Presently, both of my girls love their chosen sports, my eldest, Addi in particular. 

Whenever she is training, competing, or even playing them casually at home, the positive impact it has radiates from her, evident not just while she is playing but afterwards too.

While the positive effect sport has on her is obvious to me, I recently asked her to explain in her words what it is she likes the most about participating in sport.  

She replied, "it makes me feel happy."

On the surface this may seem like a simple answer, but at the heart of it there is a much more meaningful and complex truth.

Image: Supplied. 

This truth is, playing sport has a positive influence on her, in a wide range of ways.

Firstly, it allows her to be active which boosts her endorphins, benefiting her mental health and physical health at the same time. 

It also allows her to be social – to build comradery within her team, a spirited bond that is as significant as it is fun.

Playing sports also puts Addi safely out of her comfort zone and helps builds her resilience. She wins, she loses, she comes somewhere in between. Each experience teaches her something new and she can see this.

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Sport also allows her to be involved in a support network like no other. On competition days, when Addi can become nervous, her teammates support her. They encourage each other to take healthy risks, and they make themselves and each other proud when they accomplish things they didn’t think they could do.  

Importantly, even when they don’t succeed, they still know that they have each other’s backs, and this kind of relationship is priceless.

While the benefits or being involved in sport are clear and right now Addi shows no inkling of wanting to stop, I still do worry that as she gets older, especially as she enters adolescence and teenagehood that this may wane, just as it did for me. 

My reasons for walking away from sport were complex. It was a combination of my changing self-image and because I knew I was never going to be the next Olympian. This last point in particular made me question — what was the point? 

These reasons to stop playing sport are shared by many other girls. In fact, research has found that girls stop playing because of issues of equality, fewer opportunities, societal perceptions of masculinity and femininity, and also, like me, changing self-image and because they don’t really think they are good at it. 

Now, as I reflect on my own experience, there are so many things I would have done differently and so many things I would love to tell my younger self. While I can’t do that, what I can do, is tell my daughters so they (hopefully) don’t make the same mistake as I did and walk away from sport. 

This is what I would say. 

Sport is as simple as having fun, or as complex as all the benefits it can bring us. 

These benefits are backed up by research, and the findings speak for themselves.

Clearing House For Sport reports that girls recognise the positive impact sport can have on their emotional wellbeing. They find joy in socialising with their friends, while other young women thrive in a competition-based environment. 

Unfortunately though, explaining this and the stats to my girls isn’t enough. I — and others — need to shift the conversation around women in sport so more young girls feel as if they can continue to play well into adulthood.  

Luckily, to do this, Australia has some of the best opportunities and examples to draw on.

For one, female sporting role models.

With examples like Sam Kerr and Ellyse Perry, there is no shortage of women for our own girls to look up to. 

However, it wasn't always this way.

“When I was growing up, we didn’t have female role models in football because they weren’t given enough visibility and support. I want to show all Australian girls that they can achieve great things through football, and encourage as many into the game as possible,” Sam, CommBank ambassador, says. 

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Additionally, coaching is another major factor influencing girls' engagement in sport. 

Cricket Australia's coach development specialist Bryan Harper says, "if a coach creates an environment where the girls feel connected, safe, challenged and valued, they are more likely to improve and stay involved in the game.

"While men and women can both make great coaches, women coaches play a fundamental role in showcasing the different pathways, including coaching and umpiring, for women in cricket outside of playing the game itself," he adds.

Cricket Australia's The Growing Cricket For Girls Fund, supported by CommBank, is playing such an important role, not only in developing more female coaches, but also encouraging women and girls to join and grow in the sport. Since its implementation in 2016-17, the fund has helped create more than 1,500 girls junior cricket teams.

Changing the game for our girls and helping them keep actively involved in sport will take work but with so many assets already at our disposal it is a goal that can definitely be achieved.

CommBank is championing those who are changing the game for the better. 

Meet the game changers of Australian sport here , including Ellyse Perry and Sam Kerr.

See how CommBank are partnering with Australian cricket and football to support the next generation of game changers in women’s sport.

Feature Image: Supplied.

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COMMONWEALTH BANK
From grassroots to the elite level, CommBank is committed to developing and promoting equality and inclusiveness in sport and creating a brighter future for all. CommBank has partnered with women’s cricket for 23 years and through its support of Cricket Australia’s Growing Cricket for Girls Fund has helped create more than 1500 new teams across Australia. CommBank is also a proud supporter of Football Australia. From the MiniRoos, to all abilities, to the Matildas, they are committed to developing and promoting equality and inclusiveness in football. To find out more visit commbank.com.au/sport Supporting you for a brighter future.