(By guest contributor Andrea Stahlman)
More than half of girls QUIT SPORTS by the end of puberty—more than half. QUIT!
I know there are many critical and pressing issues in our world today. But this statistic jumped out at me and made me want to know more. The data comes from a recent survey done by Always, a feminine care company that has also created an entire advertising campaign around encouraging girls to play sports. (See the latest #LikeaGirl ad by Always below) More than 1,000 women, ages 16 to 24, were surveyed. Specifically, the Always Puberty & Confidence Survey found the following:
- By age 17, 51% of girls will have quit sports
- 7 of 10 girls who quit during puberty felt they did not belong in sports
- Only 1/3 of girls feel society encourages girls to play sports
I have 3 boys now, but playing competitive volleyball was a huge part of my childhood and adolescence, so I value all the benefits competitive sports give both boys and girls … confidence, teamwork, leadership and communication skills, and friendship. With so much upside, is it possible girls are quitting just because their interests change? Or because they pick up a new passion? Possibly. High school happens. There are new friends, boyfriends, driver’s licenses, jobs.
I wanted to know more, so I started asking my friends with daughters why they think girls quit sports so soon, and what I found out is that there’s much more to it.
First, boys have more opportunities to play sports than girls do. The facilities are often better for boys’ sports. Youth sports also come with critical issues, like transportation and cost. And then there is that issue of “pushy parents” setting unrealistic expectations. I know, it’s not you, and not me, but trust me, they’re out there.
High School Coach Ron Kordes has been coaching girls’ volleyball for 35 years. “Many times, the blame can be directed towards the parents. They have always been a factor, but the issue is much worse today. The behavior or unreal expectations that parents display are not only embarrassing to them but again, eliminate the pleasure of participating,” says Kordes. “The same can be said for coaches who place winning as the only priority, forgetting about the player learning and improving and having fun.”
If, as parents, we knew our behavior would push our children in the direction of quitting, would we keep quiet? Consider this, you potentially, unknowingly, could be robbing your daughter of an incredibly positive experience that could dramatically impact her future.
But pushy parents aren’t the only factor. Many young women are making these decisions on their own, based on the choices in front of them. Maybe they never played on a club team. Maybe the competition in high school is just too tough. Maybe they choose to specialize. They can lose interest or burn out. Maybe they find their true passion is something other than a sport.
For 14-year-old Alison, the decision to quit field hockey was heartbreaking. As she entered high school, Alison weighed the pros and cons of multiple intense practices each week with her love of horseback riding. She hadn’t played club field hockey and realized that could be a factor at the next level. Her parents loved the benefits of field hockey. “She learned more about other people, how to work with individuals with different personalities and diverse playing abilities,” says her mother. “She also had a sense of belonging and camaraderie. There’s a closeness that comes with playing a team sport and relying on one another for encouragement, support, and honesty.”
Ultimately, they support her decision – one made by a close evaluation of circumstances and logistics.
Here’s the statistic that scares me a little – 70% of the girls surveyed felt they didn’t belong in sports.
14-year-old Palmer stopped playing competitive volleyball at age 12. Her mom believes a lack of both confidence and teammate support led to her decision. “She was embarrassed, and friendships fell about because she was no longer a part of their daily routine or activities. It was heartbreaking to watch.”
Palmer has stayed active in academic activities and mission trips, but her mom sees the absence of sport and its impact. Wanting her daughter to experience competition, team building, new friendships, and self-confidence, this mom encourages her daughter to find another sport. This fall, Palmer will run cross-country.
There is no doubt youth sports has become increasingly competitive. Being successful requires dedication, sacrifice, and hard work. Coach Kordes says two of the biggest challenges for his players are developing a work ethic and making sacrifices. “These young ladies miss out on football games, school functions, dances, etc. You have to love what you are doing to want to make that sacrifice,” says Kordes. “Another challenge is the work ethic it takes to improve continuously so you can make competitive teams. This requires the skill repetitions, the physical conditioning, and mental maturity.”
So what can be done to create more opportunities for young women to remain in competitive sports? Is it possible parents should focus their energy on this issue, rather than pressuring individual success and bugging coaches about playing time? As a sports-mom, I’m not immune to a little complaining and bleacher-coaching, but could our efforts be better spent on figuring out how to create an environment where young athletes can thrive? Provide options and let them decide or offer to coach or get involved to make sure girls have opportunities.
I don’t know what will keep young women playing sports, but I do know as parents, we certainly can do more.
Andrea Stahlman is a mother of three boys. She played volleyball at the University of Notre Dame and is currently the News Director at WLKY-TV in Louisville, Kentucky.