Like our male counterparts, female athletes are driven to succeed, hard-working, goal-oriented and hate to lose. The biggest difference between our two genders when it comes to mentality with sport? We tend to lack confidence. We often think we aren’t good enough, on and off the field, to really make it in sport.
Research shows sport builds self-confidence in adolescent girls; that positive development of the mind and body lead to higher levels of self-esteem. According to research put out by The Sport Journal, adolescence can be a key time in life for confidence in terms of physical appearance, academic pursuits, and sport and athletic ability. Further studies show the higher the self-esteem, the higher the level of happiness and mental well-being overall.
That all sounds excellent. But here is my question: What about the kids who aren’t confident enough to get started? In my work with girls in sport, I often hear from parents that they want to get their daughters involved in sport to help increase their confidence. Finding a sport that they love and that they can meet new friends and grow their body’s abilities is key. But often the girls are way too nervous to walk into the kickboxing gym, onto the soccer field or into an ice-skating rink. So now what?
I recently listened to the opening session of the Bison Transport Sport LeadHERship Series. This free five-part speaker series put on by Sport Manitoba and hosted by Sara Orlesky aims to empower and encourage girls in Manitoba to stay active and involved in sport. Dr. Adrienne Leslie-Toogood was part of that panel, and she brought up some really interesting points about confidence and girls in sport. After the talk we sat down to discuss the realities of sport and confidence.
"The value of sport is in that it develops human beings," says Toogood. "Sport allows you to set individual goals and overcome issues as they come up. It teaches you how to come back after let downs, work through hard days, and how to have challenging conversations. It teaches you about accountability, time management and balance, how to blend priorities, and finding out what you love!"
She adds that sport teaches you how to make things happen; how to make results happen; how to learn to be successful even when it is hard. And have a ton of fun while doing it.
And with all of this, Toogood points out that the excellent thing about confidence is that it is something that you can grow. It is not a finite thing or something you have to be born with. And in sport, that is really important. It is up to coaches, sport administrators and parents to help in that process. Allow for your children to make mistakes and not feel bad about them. Help them understand what they are really good at and encourage them to work on the things they aren’t as great at. Without judgment or criticism. When girls love sport, they get better. And when they get better, they stay involved.
Why are girls self-conscious in sport to begin with? During adolescence, much like boys, there are a ton of physical changes going on. This can lead to an increased level of self-consciousness about their physical appearance. And let’s be honest… this isn’t something that just ‘goes away’ as we get older.
Secondly, the fear of failing. The idea of failing can stop a young girl in her tracks. The worry about what that will look like to others or what other people might think can stop a girl from starting or staying in sport.
Lastly, a lack of sense of belonging. The idea of connection and being part of something is imperative to girls participation in sport. The social element is very different for boys than it is girls in sport. According to the Canadian Tire Jumpstart program called Keeping Girls in Sport, the No. 1 reason girls stay in sport is due to positive team dynamics. To girls, this means playing well together as a team, being supported by teammates, supporting her teammates, when players respect the rules, themselves and others, getting help from teammates and finally, warming up and stretching together. As you can see, the social component and sense of belonging is vitally important.
How male athletes are seen in adolescence is quite different than girls. Think about when you were in high school. The captain of the football team or hockey team was most likely a really popular guy that both the other boys and girls wanted to be close to. Next, think about the all-star female athlete at your school. More times than not, she is seen as a ‘tomboy.’ The social stigma that goes along with being a female athlete does not help her in her quest for popularity and overall socialization.
When girls are confident, they feel empowered with their minds and bodies, they make better decisions in life, they go after their dreams with more energy and gusto, they are more engaged in community life, and achieve better grades in school. Sport CAN do this for girls. As parents, educators, coaches and administrators, we need to listen to our girls to determine what is going to get them involved in sport and staying there. Finding opportunities for them to be their best selves is our job, and sport has the ability to help them get there.