Why Girls Drop Out Of Sports
It’s been seventeen years. I started playing volleyball when I was eleven, and I still love it. So, when I realised that most girls drop out of sports when they are young, I wanted to know why. I thought about my relationship with sport. I have given thousands of hours to sport and in return, it has treated me well. I only have grateful words for those who I found throughout my journey, as every teammate and coach made my life a bit better. So, what reasons could make girls lose interest? In this article I share my personal stories and I come up with a conclusion based on my experience. You might have felt like me in certain situations, or you might have different views. But hey, maybe we can figure this out together.
Girls get picked last.
In school, Physical Education was our favourite subject. After sitting in a class for most of the day, what child didn’t love getting out and feeling free? When we played sports (mostly football considering I grew up in Spain), my teacher would pick the best two players as the captains to create the teams. Here is where I feel it started. The captains were always boys. Girls always got picked last and usually played as defenders, never as the more enjoyable position of striker.
I understand boys may be physically stronger than girls. I understand boys may be faster or rougher. Although childhood is probably the time when girls and boys can be seen as the most neutral, compared to adult age. I am not going there. That’s another day’s story. What I don’t understand is why my teacher, unaware of it, would set a barrier at such a young age. Why would girls want to take part in activities where they did not feel encouraged or motivated to? Why not create equal teams by picking two players of the same level?
Some time passed. We all went to high school. As girls, we were in that “not so stable phase” where we went from wearing t-shirt bras to push up bras in a matter of days. We were not really sure what was going on in our bodies. If you are a guy, you might remember that something was different in some girls after a random summer. In my story, something had changed in my friend Maria. Physical Education class had started. If you think for a moment, we are in Spain, twelve o’clock midday. It’s hot, so hot that we can fry eggs on the ground, you get the idea. So, Maria takes her hoodie off. – Wow! Did you see Maria? Her boobs bounce like big balls when she runs! I imagine Maria did not love Physical Education so much, after boys and girls stared at her in that relay race. But don’t get me wrong. Teen years were hard for everyone, girls and boys. However, girls seemed to be more ashamed about how much space their bodies took up, and too worried about looking feminine. And we thought we did not look our best with a sweaty fringe! We felt so self-conscious that we couldn’t risk making fools of ourselves in front of the class while running or jumping, and we would miss all the fun.
“Women and girls are taught to have certain ideas and obsessions about how we look or shouldn’t look. Sport teaches girls and women to view themselves as more as decorative. It’s about being strong, fast and powerful. It can show us than we are more than our appearance. We are told to be gentle, quiet, to hide our strength, even that weakness is charming. Sport contradicts all those ideas.“
B. Ashton (volleyball teammate)
Lifting weights is for guys.
Wrong. As part of my volleyball training, I wanted to work out in the gym to strengthen my body and become a better player. I signed up for a gym and I entered the weights area. Within seconds, I felt like I was turning from a young girl to a little lamb in the wild jungle. It felt scary! (If you were a strong and confident teen who had everything figured out growing up, I take my hat off to you. I was not.)
It always felt intimidating to step in that part of the gym, so I would confine myself to the cardio area. That was my comfort zone. I still see many women nowadays going to the gym only to run on the treadmill or cycle on a bike. This is absolutely okay if that is what they signed up for. At that time, only cardio was not going to improve my volleyball skills. You get my point. After a few years, I started to gain confidence slowly and added some resistance exercises into my routine. This made a big difference. I once had a personal trainer who told me: – Patri, you pay your gym membership as much as anyone else. You are entitled to use the weights area.
And he was right. This situation could be another reason why girls end up losing motivation, as sports can sometimes push us out of our comfort zone.
For some reason, girls grow up with a fear of being wrong. I have noticed in different situations that men are more likely to take risks than women. I have seen this at the workplace where my male friends felt more confident to ask for a pay rise, for example. It might be because we still think we need to reach perfection at all costs in every task without showing sweat, and this is impossible. There is no way we can learn a sport without failing. Most people are terrible when they start a new activity. So, I add this fear of being wrong to our list!
How about adulthood?
At this point, you might be thinking: Sure! Kids are heartless. These things always happen in teen years. It’s normal. Our brains are not even fully developed yet. Hard to be responsible for your actions at that age.
Well, last month I moved to Thailand. I heard volleyball is big here, so I was looking forward to finding players at the beach. I found a group and I joined for a session. It appeared to me that the guys did not like girls to join them. It might have been because they had to slightly lower the level of their game. After playing for some time, one of the guys said: – I don’t want to play like this. Either we play strong, or I don’t play. – What do you mean? – said one of the others. – Just guys. I left the session. I had never had such a bad experience playing volleyball. Neither in the UK, nor in Spain. We usually split groups by level or have different sessions when it’s appropriate. However, everyone should feel welcome to practise sport, no matter your level or your gender. We are not in a playground anymore. This ended up being a disappointing experience, which could have pushed me off doing something I really enjoy. Luckily, I found a friendly group a few days after!
So why did I continue to play?
Despite some bad experiences, I keep playing volleyball and going to the gym. Why? Because the good is still so good, that it outweighs everything else. I met the most amazing people on the court, where we shared some struggle and won a bunch of points. I learned I can get better at almost anything if I put enough hours into it. I learned failure, frustration, humility, confidence, determination, and the values of competition. Some tools you can use to handle life a little bit better.
Here is what I would like you to take from this.
Let’s encourage children to play sport, not for the win, but for the sake of it. Because being part of a team teaches community and we can learn from the same mistakes together. Let’s encourage young girls to be active, because the movement of our boobs or our sweaty fringe are simply signs of our strength and how powerful we can be when we are confident. Let’s walk strong and steady out of our comfort zone, because our own health matters the most Let’s let ourselves fail, because failure also means opportunity to get better. It’s human. And remember this. Sport will always give you back more than you put in.