New research shows reasons many Irish teenage girls don't take part in sport

By the age of 13-15 many girls have labelled themselves ‘not sporty’ and are far less likely to participate in sport.

NEW RESEARCH BY Sport Ireland shows that by the age of 13-15 many girls have labelled themselves ‘not sporty’ and it is the most powerful barrier that prevents inactive girls from taking part in sport.

The Adolescent Girls Get Active Research Report was undertaken to discover how to encourage teenage girls, particularly those currently disengaged with sport and exercise, to take part in regular physical activity.

The research, commissioned by Sport Ireland, and funded through the Dormant Accounts Fund, was undertaken by Women in Sport UK.

The project focused on teenage girls in Ireland with the aim of identifying their attitudes, needs and desires in relation to sport and physical activity; identify their experienced challenges and barriers to accessing sport and physical activity and ultimately develop informed communication strategies to encourage increased participation.

The research found teenage girls feel there is a lack of social space for teens where they feel welcomed, while there are are limited opportunities to try new things and learn new skills.

It’s been established that five key anchors that really matter to teenage girls: friendships, independence and opportunity, social connection, moments of pride and managing teenage pressures.

The report says sport and exercise can fill a void in girls’ lives. It also found that the feeling of not being ‘good enough’ is the most powerful barrier that prevents inactive girls from taking part in sport.

The research shows that teenage girls in Ireland have a narrow, and often negative experience of a small number of traditional (and dominant) team sports in Ireland, and think this is all that sport is and can be. Girls associate ‘sportiness’ with team and contact sports, so girls who are interested in exercise do not feel targeted with sporting initiatives.

The research established 8 Principles for Success for sporting organisations to engage and connect with teenage girls and to support them to embrace sport and physical activity into their lives:

  1. No judgement
  2. Invoke Excitement
  3. Clear emotional reward
  4. Open eyes to what is there
  5. Build on existing habits
  6. Give girls a voice & choice
  7. Champion what’s in it for them
  8. Expand image of what ‘sporty’ looks like

“To see the motivations and attitudes of this group of young girls so clearly outlined is insightful,” Minister for Sport Catherine Martin said after the research was released.

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“For the first time we have a true understanding of what is causing teenage girls in Ireland to drop out of sport, or what is preventing them from getting involved in the first place.

“Sport and physical activity can be a powerful force in a person’s life and we are now armed with the knowledge to reframe sport for teenage girls and to make it a positive and powerful force in their lives. My vision for women in sport is that of one where women have an equal opportunity to achieve their full potential, while enjoying a lifelong involvement in sport.”

The full report is available on the Sport Ireland website.

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Kevin O'Brien

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