Sadly, girls are six times more likely to drop out of sport than are their male counterparts. We need to change these statistics as there are so many benefits to participation in sports. According to the Women’s Sport Foundation, girls who are in sport do better in school, learn life skills such as teamwork and goal setting, build self-confidence and have lower levels of stress.
Part of what we, at Fit Communications, think needs to change in order to change these statistics are more positive female role models in sport. Our girls need women to look up to, to strive to be like in order to motivate them to work harder, go faster and be better. Not only in sport, but in life.
So what is a role model? Wikipedia defines a role model as “a person whose behavior, example, or success is or can be emulated by others, especially by younger people.” There are so many positive effects a role model can have on a young girl including body image, self-esteem and participation. According to SIRC (Sport Research Intelligence sportive) “studies have shown that girls as young as 9 can develop a self-consciousness about their bodies that can contribute to them dropping out of sport. Exposing girls to successful, confident, strong athletic female role models with a healthy body shapes helps to create a positive image for young girls to look up to and can also drive young women to want to participate in their respective sports.”
Unfortunately, when you search Google for images of “female athletes” a slew of images of nearly naked women pop up. It looks more like photos taken out of Playboy rather than Sports Illustrated (and I don’t mean the swimsuit edition!) Within these photos are some legitimate athletes but unfortunately they have chosen to strip down to skimpy bikinis or even naked to pose with their sporting equipment. Is this the role model I want for my daughter or I would want as an athlete myself years ago? No! I want to see real girls and women training. Show me the real sweat and angst of hard work painted on their faces. Show me muscles. Show me real bodies of real athletes – not a photo-shopped spray tanned pose.
It’s not that there is a lack of female athlete role models. Quite the contrary. There are many athletes – both professional and amateur that are doing amazing things both on and off the field.
The issue isn’t that they don’t exist. The issue is that we don’t know about them. The reason for this is two-fold. First, they don’t get enough media attention. The media, generally speaking, cover female sports and athletes staggeringly less than their male counterparts. Part of the reason, arguable is that other than in Europe and the WNBA, there are no professional sports leagues for women. The sports that are the exception to this are tennis and golf. But other than Eugenie Bouchard, do you know any of these athletes by name? Even when Bouchard is covered by the media, they ask her about her outfit or if she has a celebrity crush! Do they ask the same questions to Dustin Byfuglien or Tom Brady? So then if we don’t have professional females, then why not cover more amateur female sports? When was the last time you saw women’s sports – professional or amateur – covered by TSN or CBC?
Secondly is sponsorship – or more specifically, a lack thereof. Again, there are countless number of men and men’s professional athletes and teams sponsored by businesses. What about women’s? What about amateur female athletes? Is it because businesses think that sponsoring female athletes won’t be seen as high profile or as popular as the men? (this can be linked back to the lack of coverage by the media). I would argue that a business would get a bigger “bang for their buck” by sponsoring a female athlete over a male. Young women NEED more role models – more heroes of sport and life. Parents know this. Any parent of a young girl knows how important it is for our daughters (or nieces or granddaughters) to have strong, positive, inspiring, athletic women to look up to. I would truly respect and support a company that chose a strong female athlete as their spokesperson or person to sponsor. And I do the shopping in my household.
In addition, choosing a female athlete stands out. I hear countless radio ads of different hockey players promoting everything from car dealerships to insurance sales. Hearing from a successful local female athlete would get attention. It’s not status quo.
So if you are a business, rather than spending $230,000 on a rink board panel ad of the Jets that I’m betting no one even notices is there, why not spend that money on making a real difference in some of our female athletes. They need help with training. They train 30-40 hours per week and have part time jobs to make ends meet. At the moment they are sweating it out or giving back to their community and their sports. They go to schools to talk to kids about their experiences and provide inspiration. They will be fantastic ambassadors for your business. You will not be disappointed if you get behind them. Impress those of us that are waiting for a hero.