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Dublin: 6 °C Monday 25 May, 2020

'Women have to put up with much more' - but Jessica Myles is fighting hard to keep them in sport

Myles is hosting a free event in Ardee on Thursday.

Myles is involved in coaching rugby and playing other sports.
Myles is involved in coaching rugby and playing other sports.

IT CAN BE the elephant in the room when it comes to the discussion around women in sport.

So it’s welcome to hear someone talk about menstruation and the impact it has on participation in sport for both women and girls.

“Look, it is an awkward thing to talk about for some people,” says Jessica Myles, founder of Keeping Girls in Sport.

“Some parents have told me that, if their girls have started their periods, they’re not interested in playing sport any more. It’s a very conscious thing for some of them.

At that age, with the transfer from primary school to secondary school, girls have enough things going on and they might not want to put themselves out there by playing sport.

“But I see sport as an additional support network for girls, something outside of school and home, with other people to talk to if there are things going on in their lives.

“But I definitely think it’s true that, physiologically, there’s a lot more for girls and women to put up with and that’s one of the reasons they drop out of sport.”

It has been a busy month for Myles.

Dismayed by the number of women and girls dropping out of sport, she set up the Keeping Girls In Sports Facebook page in October in a bid to raise awareness.

And, on Thursday 16 November, she’ll host a free event in Ardee, Co Louth, to amplify her message that it’s important that women stay involved in sport, and putting support networks in place to ensure they do.

Myles has been involved in sport all her life, but a recent experience as a coach drove her to be the change.

tgccollage The 'This Girl Can' campaign in the UK has, so far, not been replicated in Ireland. Source: This Girl Can

“I’m a girls rugby coach with Ardee/Boyne RFC U12s and U14s, and I was getting approached by parents who were asking what they could do to get the girls to come down,” she told The42 this week.

The parents would tell me things like every time they suggested their daughter come down and train, they were told they were not interested.”

And it’s not just girls, it’s women too.

“I’ve also played ladies Gaelic football this year — I’m from England so I’ve only played soccer before — but we could never actually compete in a match because none of the women could make the matches or they’d drop out because of confidence issues.

“It just made me think, ‘what can I do to get the girls back into sport?’

“So I decided to put on this event and it’s just launched from there.”

The event itself will take place in the Parish Centre in Ardee from 3.30pm to 6.30pm and give women and girls the opportunity to meet with local sports clubs and healthy living experts who will outline the benefit of keeping active.

As we’re speaking, Myles takes delivery of one of the many raffle and spot prizes that will be up for grabs on the day to attract attendees.

KGIS One of the prizes up for grabs at the event.

Myles has been pleasantly taken aback by the response to the event.

“I’m getting emails and phone calls from all over Ireland.

“At times I’m amazed that it has been this well supported but, when you think about it, there are so many pressures put on girls these days, the last thing they want to do is wear uncomfortable shorts or unflattering tops and have everyone stare at them.

“That is a girl’s worst nightmare, especially as a teenager.

“I know that feeling myself but I try to get the girls I’m training at the moment to laugh about stuff and they seem to be staying more if they’re having fun and there’s less pressure.

“Now, there still has to be some pressure, otherwise you’d never get anything done but, if the atmosphere is a little bit relaxed, I’m getting more and more girls show up every week.”

And Myles is trying to pass her insight on to other clubs and coaches, especially those who may be new to coaching women and girls.

“I’m trying to meet with local clubs and share my experience with them. I’ve spoken to GAA and basketball clubs and even an archery club last week.

“They’ve got in touch with me to find out how they can get more girls interested, and it’s nice to get asked because the results are working.

“A few weeks ago I had just four girls show up for rugby training and, obviously, there was nothing I could do there, but this week I had 24 and it was much easier to run a training session.

Myles acknowledges that, especially with rugby, there is a fear among some women and girls of injury but that’s a fear she and her fellow coaches need to break down.

Properly run training and coaching sessions are well run and safe and, while you can’t reduce the risk of injury to zero, it’s about showing players the correct techniques.

“It’s also about getting more women involved in coaching.

“I’ve found a lot of girls don’t want to come up to training if there’s a guy involved because they’re a bit more nervous.”

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About the author:

Steve O'Rourke

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