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Why too few Hispanic girls play sports — and what to do about it

June 3, 2010 – 5:56 AM

By Minda Monteagudo

Why do Latina youth participate in sports less than other girls? How does their Hispanic culture impact decisions to play (or not)? What can we do to change that?

As part of a senior high school project, over the last few weeks I conducted detailed, structured interviews with 30 Latina youth about the role of sports in their lives. Although many said their families watched and played sports, athletics were mostly viewed as a diversion – not serious pursuits. Some girls said their families preferred they be at home or at a job – doing “practical” tasks – instead of playing sports.

“I feel that a big part of the reason a lot of Hispanic girls don’t do sports is because of their families,” said one 14-year-old from Boston’s South End. “They might not be encouraged in their homes. I don’t think it [sports participation] is valued in Hispanic culture for girls, it’s not seen as important. It’s not ‘normal’ for girls, so why would they do it?”

This negative family view – along with the lack of female Hispanic athletes in the media (not one of the 30 could name a Latina athlete) – made these girls feel that sports weren’t for them.  According to the NCAA, Hispanic females make up just 3.9 percent of college athletes (Hispanics are more than 8 percent of college enrollments). A U.S. Department of education survey also showed Hispanic girls had the lowest rate of sports participation of any of their peers.

So how can sports and youth organizations reach out to Hispanic girls? Here are four recommendations based on my research (a full paper with detailed findings is available by e-mailing Minda.Monteagudo@gmail.com).

1. Give Latina youth role models.

Powerful women are more prominent in society than ever, but few are Hispanic. Girls could not name a single female Hispanic athlete, but were keenly aware of demeaning stereotypes about Latinas. Stories of Latina athletes such as recently retired Mexican golfer Lorena Ochoa should be widely shared to empower and encourage girls.

2.  Offer girls a variety of opportunities.

Organized competitive sports are only one facet of physical activity. Many girls who do not play sports enjoy physical activity, but not necessarily competitive team sports. Offering activities such as yoga and jogging can encourage girls to get involved (the first step!).

3. Create a welcoming and supportive atmosphere.

Many girls who reported not enjoying sports stated that since they did not start playing at a young age (like some of their peers), they believed that by middle and high school it was too late for them to begin. As if their inexperience with sport wasn’t enough, the stress of teams with cuts keeps girl from participating. Offer teams for a variety of experience levels to foster a supportive atmosphere for them to explore and grow.

4. Appeal to their families.

A key to getting more Latina youth involved in sport is to educate parents about the benefits of physical activity and sport participation. Many girls said their families were unaware of the physical, emotional and long-term benefits. If parents knew the good that can come from sports, they would be more supportive of their daughters’ athletic endeavors.

“Being Latina is like having two strikes against you,” said one 13-year-old form Boston’s Hyde Park neighborhood. “Not only are you a girl, but you’re also Latina. At least one of those is going to be used against you.”

Minda Monteagudo will graduate next week from The Winsor School in Boston. She will attend the University of Southern California in the fall where she will study Environmental Studies and Kinesiology. In high school, she was a coxswain on varsity crew and enjoys yoga in her free time. She is of Guatemalan descent.


  1. 3 Responses to “Why too few Hispanic girls play sports — and what to do about it”

  2. Bravo on a terrific article. This is a huge issue and one that we don’t hear enough about. Ochoa is a 4+ terrific role model who unfortunately is off of the world stage way too young Keep up the great work.

    By Bobby Riggs on Jun 3, 2010

  3. This is a great article! It is interesting to hear about a topic that so rarely receives the attention it deserves. I never realized how much statistical evidence existed in this area and the four part breakdown it right on point. I look forward to hearing more from you.

    By Sofia on Jun 4, 2010

  4. Well done! I conducted a similar study with urban girls in Philadelphia. Your suggestions are right-on. Thank you for shedding light on such an important topic and often overlooked population of girls. Now we just need sports programs to encourage and develop young latina girls!

    By Katie on Jun 18, 2010

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