Panel Discussion: Increasing Female Participation in Sports

October 31, 2013

Panel Discussion: Increasing Female Participation in Sports

 On Tuesday, October 15th The Center for the Study of Sport in Society expanded their highly successful panel discussions to the Old Colony YMCA community in Norfolk County. Recognizing the growth of the sport based youth development network in the South Shore, The Center for the Study of Sport in Society brought industry experts Dr. Justine Siegal, Diana Cutaia and Dr. Jen Mead to discuss how to increase female participation in sports.

Over the last three years, Sport in Society has worked extensively with local and national sport-based youth development organizations to identify their organizational challenges and assets.  Many groups listed the recruitment and retention of girls as a huge problem. This informative and enlightening panel of experts shared personal stories and concrete recommendations for the assembled sport based youth development organizations to implement in their programming. Participants’ left saying the discussion was “very beneficial” and had “many applications in their daily life”.

All of the panelists emphasized the need to introduce different sports and varied opportunities for physical activity in order to engage girls. Customarily not as involved in sports, young females do not necessarily respond to traditional games and coaching, and can be discouraged by programs that just focus on boys’ development. Siegal recommended that one way to break the societal difference in expectations between boys and girls is “to hold girls to the same standards as boys; they should be expected to do the same number of pushups.” Mead agreed, “it’s important to keep boys and girls together, up to a point, so that they learn to accept each other.” When both genders are grouped together and held to the same high standards, each accepts the other and respects their capabilities.

The audience was hooked on the panelists’ recommendations for new games, rule modifications, and creative play ideas to keep girls interested in sports for the long term. Several times the panelists advised the attendees to make athletic activity an integral part of girl’s lives by building a community beyond the field, and teaching all youth how to find their heart rates or use pedometers to measure their own physical achievements. Cutaia recommended not placing too much emphasis on winning or game outcomes and instead have sports be “about learning physical activity, and the game, in a safe environment”. Mead noted that youth athletes should feel engaged beyond the field; one way to do this is to “have them set their own standards” and write a joint mission statement for their team goals and behaviors. Participants at the discussion were excited to hear from “great panelists with a range of knowledge” who could provide both theoretical information and tangible advice.

Siegal talked about the importance of female participation in sports for boys as well as girls. Both genders benefit from play and collaboration in mixed groups; Siegal pointed out that “when you strike that boy out, you’re making him a better father, because he knows the ability of his daughter, his wife”.  The audience came to the panel understanding the importance of sports in positive youth development for both genders, and left excited to apply this extra education to their own local programs. Another rendition of this panel will occur in Boston, for sport based youth development organizations in the city on January 23rd, 2014. Please sign up here for the chance to attend this session and hear more about increasing female participation in sports.