Panel Discussion: How can we increase female participation in sports?

February 03, 2014

How do we get girls to participate in sport-based youth organizations that aren’t just about teaching youth how to play sports, but strive to promote positive youth development through sports?

The Center for the Study of Sport in Society has worked extensively to cater to the needs of sport-based youth organizations on a local and national level. One of the challenges that these organizations are facing is the participation and retention of females in sports. On Thursday, January 23rd, Sport in Society hosted their second “Increasing Female Participation in Sport” panel in response to these expressed needs. The panel consisted of Ms. Katie Hnida, Dr. Jennifer Mead, Dr. Justine Siegal and Ms. Rebekah Splaine Salwasser, all athletes and experts in the sport-based youth development field. They discussed ways to increase the participation of young women in sports and improve their experiences once engaged.

Sports can give a platform to not only achieve athletically, but to also develop the ability to achieve beyond the basketball court, track, soccer field, or diamond. The panelists emphasized the significance of sports in their own growth. Whether it is was self-identification, a source of joy, or a source of knowledge on gender roles, athletics played an important role in shaping their lives.

For Splaine Salwasser sports gave her the “confidence and the ability to pursue really anything I wanted to because I felt like I could achieve because I had achieved so much athletically.”

Societal expectations of what young women should look like drive women to change themselves to fit into a box. According to one panelist, the participation of women in sports can have a great effect on the their sense of empowerment and their body image. The entire panel agreed that understanding and accepting your body is one of the most significant life lessons a young female can learn through sports. Hnida said, “sports absolutely equates to life. You take so many of your lessons in sports and they’re the same kind of life lessons we see every day.” Hnida also noted that giving women the opportunity to play sports makes them less likely to face the struggles that many young women have with their body image.

The panelists noted that having girls play sports could positively alter the cultural perception of women. Splaine Salwasser said, “If you can create more female athletes and have spaces and places for young females to participate in athletics, you’re going to change the way people think about women.”

Siegal stressed the importance of having coaches and parents see past the gender lines and accept each female as an athlete. She called for them to refrain from making fun of a male player for losing to a girl. Promoting the “us against them” mindset separates boys and girls on the playing field. She touched upon the benefits for all youth of a female being good at the sport she plays, saying, “when a girl strikes out a boy, she just made him a better father. She just made him think about what girls can do and not only is he going to be a better father, he’s going to be a batter husband.”

After the discussion, the audience raved about the panelist’s in-depth knowledge on increasing female participation in sports. Each woman came from a different background and each had her own journey. Whether they became the first female to score points in a NCAA Division One football game, a female who refused to give up her love affair with soccer when she started her career, the former goal keeper for the Woman’s National Soccer team, or maybe even the first woman to coach first base in the major leagues; each woman shared the same passion. They were all able to come together to discuss the importance of having females participate in sports.