Embracing Girl Power Through Sports and Health Education

“Why only girls?”

This is something I’ve been asked countless times since the start of my year of service. I’m usually asked by curious boys who approach me while I’m visiting a school to recruit participants. Maybe they ask because they truly feel left out, or maybe they’re just trying to mess with the stranger disrupting their lunchtime. Either way, I think it’s a fair question. Why do we only serve girls in our program?

While playing sports and participating in health-focused programs provides many benefits for the physical and mental health of all youth, there is a significant gender gap in sports participation. Girls often get involved in sports later and leave earlier. By high school, they drop out of sports at twice the rate of boys.

While some may assume that girls just have different interests, there are other major factors that play a role in why girls are leaving sports. First of all, there is a lack of access for girls in sports. It is estimated that there are 1.3 million fewer opportunities for girls to play sports than boys throughout the United States. Additionally, women in sports at the professional level are underrepresented and underpaid, leaving young girls less motivated to continue playing sports.

In addition to a lack of access and representation, many programs also often miss the mark when it comes to supporting the specific social and emotional needs of girls. Adolescent girls more commonly face issues with their self-esteem and self-efficacy than their male counterparts, making them less comfortable with taking risks due to a fear of failure and being judged by their peers. This can have an impact on the way young girls approach the competitive environment of sports. Something I learned while attending the Chicago Coaches Summit was the idea that “boys compete to collaborate and girls collaborate to compete.” What this meant to me is that boys typically turn to competition in sports as a means for making friends, whereas girls look to form those relationships first to create a stronger dynamic for competition.

Girls in the Game as an organization understands these issues and works to address them. Their programs use strengths-based and trauma-informed practices to create safe and supportive spaces for girls to try new things and challenge themselves to build healthier lifestyles. Girls gain exposure to different sports, learn about health topics that are most relevant to them, and develop the confidence to be leaders in their schools and communities. My host site organization is continuously looking for ways to better understand and address the needs of all girls. They are also dedicated to equity and prioritize establishing relationships with communities in Chicago where access to health, sports, and leadership opportunities for girls is limited.

I am so grateful to serve with an organization that I feel so connected with and passionate about. My position as a NHC Chicago member serving as an Outreach Coordinator at Girls in the Game allows me to contribute in so many different ways and I feel like I have already learned a lot after serving a few months. I love being able to help form and maintain our connections with schools across Chicago as well as directly support girls in after-school programming as a coach. I am looking forward to learning much more over the next several months and facilitating confidence and opportunity in young girls of Chicago!

This blog post was written by NHC Chicago 2019-20 member Tierney Whelan.

Tierney is a Outreach Coordinator at Girls in the Game.