It is a very exciting time for women in sport. We are competing on greater world-class stages than ever before and receiving more recognition from sponsors, media and fans. Although it is still far from an even playing field. Male dominated sports are still receiving much more attention from media sponsors and fans than are their female counterparts. While the female athlete is competing exceptionally well, they are still not even close to receiving the clout and attention as do the males.
According to the SIRC (Sport Research Intelligence Sportif), “There are more competitive opportunities for women in more sports, including at the highest levels, and Canadian female athletes are regularly achieving podium success at World Championships and Olympic and Paralympic Games. Women are also increasingly leading national sport organizations, as senior administrative staff. However, it is also evident that such improvements have not been achieved in all aspects of sport involvement. The number of women trained as coaches and actively coaching – particularly in high performance contexts – remains persistently low.”
At Fit Communications we are determined to change the landscape of sport for girls and women in Canada. According to Fast and Female, girls are two times more likely to drop out of sport than boys by the age of 14. Reasons for this include lack of access, safety and transportation issues, social stigma, decreased quality of experience, cost and a lack of positive role models.
Growing up, I was in the heavily male dominated sport of Kung Fu. When I was six I was in a community camp for a week whereby one of the leaders also happened to be a black belt in Kung Fu and had a school in Winnipeg. For one of the day’s activities the boys did Kung Fu and the girls did crafts. On the first day this was supposed to happen I quickly asked if I could join the boys. I enjoyed it so much and went on to become the Western Canadian Champion for many years.
The sport brought so many terrific things to my life including self-discipline, self-confidence, physical fitness and new friends. As an athlete who spent much of her time in the gym instead of at parties in junior high, I felt the negative aspects of issues with social stigma. There is no question that my positive experiences out-weighed my negative ones, not only then but now as an adult too. The positive vibes I received from the male dominated sport has lead me to a confident, strong, athletic woman. I wouldn’t change it for anything.
On the other side of the Fit Communications coin is Alli, who competed for Canada in the female dominated sport of synchronized swimming. The positive impact the sport had on her as an individual was huge. From increased self-esteem to leadership skills to knowing how to be a terrific team player. Although in sports such as synchro, dance, gymnastics or any other “creative” female sport, there are other sets of struggles. These sports are often affiliated with negative ideas such as being a ‘sissy’ sport, or ‘playing like a girl’. To that, all I can say is you try and hold your breath upside down for 2 minutes under water while holding a strong vertical line in synch with seven other women to music. Then pull out the sissy card! This sport and its athletes are constantly having to defend the sport and its clout to being a world stage sport due to the creative and feminine nature it entails. It that isn’t a sexism issue, I’m not sure what is.
So how do we combat this double-edged sword for women in sport? While all sports – be it male or female dominated – deserve equal respect for its athletes and their exceptional dedication and abilities. As a society we need to encourage our young girls to try sports of all kind. If they want to try out for the boys hockey team or break boards with boys in Kung Fu so be it. Encourage them and ensure that when you hear negative talk about girls in male dominated sports you educate what the positive impact sport has on young girls. And on the reverse, when you hear people making fun of female dominated sports ensure you educate the same way – by ensuring they understand that no matter what the sport, there are numerous positive impacts on girls in sport.
Below is a list of some of the statistics on how sport positively impacts girls from the Womens Sport Foundation:
1. Women who are active in sports and recreational activities as girls feel greater confidence, self-esteem and pride in their physical and social selves than those who were sedentary as kids.
2. Research suggests that girls who participate in sports are less likely to get involved with drugs, less likely to get pregnant and more likely to graduate from high school than those who do not play sports.
3. Half of all girls who participate in some kind of sports experience higher than average levels of self-esteem and less depression.
4. One to three hours of exercise a week over a woman’s reproductive lifetime (the teens to about age 40) can bring a 20-30 percent reduction in the risk of breast cancer, and four or more hours of exercise a week can reduce the risk almost 60 percent.
5. The National Institute of Health reports that one out of every four women over 60 has osteoporosis (loss of bone mass). There is substantial evidence that weight-bearing exercise, e.g., walking, and calcium increases bone mass.
6. High school girls who spend more time participating in sports also tend to have higher grades.
It is such an exciting time for women in sport and we want to continue to encourage to young girls and women in our lives to participate and enjoy a life with sport and fitness. What can YOU do to encourage the young girls and women in your life today?