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Don’t just focus on why girls drop out of sports — see why they stay and play

November 3, 2009 – 4:50 AM

By Molly Hellerman

It doesn’t matter to me where you play soccer — grass, dirt, turf, parking lot, or gym floor. I have trained girls on each surface who have found their passion for the game.

And yet, there is a serious opportunity gap that bothers me: Inner city and poor girls face obstacles that make their participation drastically lower than boys and their suburban female counterparts.

We know millions of children are registered in youth soccer leagues (3.1 million with U.S. Youth Soccer alone).  But whether soccer or other sports, more are white, male, and affluent.

A 2008 Women’s Sports Foundation study, for example, showed that by age 6, 53 percent of white girls and 68 percent of white boys are involved with sports, compared with just 29 percent of African American girls and 51 percent of African American boys (it’s 32 percent and 44 percent for Hispanic girls and boys). A NY Times story also pointed out the discrepancies.
To me, just as troubling as the low entry rate is the high drop out rate from sports (18 percent for poor kids). How can we get girls from all backgrounds to continue to play soccer — as well as other sports?

Many people focus on the hurdles to access, including funding, transportation, cultural mores. I believe it’s equally critical is to understand WHY certain girls choose to play high school sports.

Recently, I surveyed 75 female high school athletes (60 who participated in the SportsChallenge Leadership and Education Alliance‘s Summer Academy) and 15 from a U19 soccer team I coach in San Francisco). (SportsChallenge brings a wide spectrum of student-athletes together from around the country to train as athletes and leaders). Here’s what they had to say about why they play (in no particular order):

I play sports because I can …

* Be myself (without worrying what others think)
* Escape from all the other stresses of my life
* Control my destiny – set goals, make my dreams come true and ultimately lead others to success
* Make myself a better person – stronger and more confident in all aspect of my life
* Keep out of trouble and stay motivated for school, especially to get good grades
* Open doors to attend college
* Have a safe space where I can learn from others
* Stay fit and active
* Make an impact on the history of my sport

And, on the majority of lists… “Because I love the game!”

By addressing both sides of the equation – the hurdles and the incentives – I believe we can create a lasting pipeline of young girls who continue to play into their teens and beyond.

Molly Hellerman is executive director of the non-profit SportsChallenge Leadership and Education Alliance, based in Washington, D.C.

  1. One Response to “Don’t just focus on why girls drop out of sports — see why they stay and play”

  2. Nice post. Why is it again that we always hear that girls don’t WANT to play?

    By LeeAnne on Nov 5, 2009

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