The impact of playing sports for young children is an issue that receives much debate, particularly when more than 20 million children participate in youth sports programs. Although parents frequently wish for their young ones to be engaged in sports, their rationales are often based on a number of factors: ‘because I did it,” learning how to work with others, sportsmanship, and the simple benefits of exercise and being active. Those opposing the idea of youth sport participation argue that sport (or some sports in particular) promotes aggressive behaviors. However, there are significant additional reasons to encourage sport participation for youth, and young girls in particular. Here are six of them:
Greater self-esteem and self-confidence: Research suggests that sport participation psychologically impacts young girls and females differently than it does for males, with higher self-esteem and self-confidence, as compared to their non athlete peers. This self-esteem seems to contribute to greater academic success, less of chance of dropping out of school, and less chance of becoming a teenage mother.
Lower levels of depression: Research suggests that female athletes report lower levels of depression when compared to their non-athlete peers.
Healthier body image: Research suggests that sport participation gives women a sense that their bodies belong to them, producing a self-esteem that is a great antidote for anorectic behavior. While there are some sports that have a higher tendency for disordered eating, in comparison to females in general, athletes tend to view their bodies more realistically.
Greater access to break the glass ceiling: It has also been suggested that females who participate in sport are at an advantage over their non athletic peers. Research argues that because the American business environment is structured and organized based upon a male model, females who have had some interaction in sport have greater access.
Greater academic success and likelihood of graduating college: Despite the theory that athletes are lacking in intelligence and perform poorly in school, high school female athletes tend to have higher grades and graduation rates than their non-participating peers, and college female student athletes boast the highest college graduation rates than female non-athletes and all male students, both athletes and non-athletes.
Lower risk for breast cancer and osteoporosis: Females who exercise at least two hours a week can reduce chances of developing breast cancer by 20-30 percent, and four or more hours of exercise a week (45 minutes a day) can reduce the risk by almost 60% (McTiernan, 2006).
While girls are often as active as young boys in sport, the peak age of participation is 12 or 13, when many girls drop out of sport for a range of reasons. The drop out rate of females in sports is six times that of boys, and occurs during a time in development and identity formation when these characteristics would be most important. However, as females approach adolescence, they become aware of the socially negative aspects of being an athlete. This is the time when they will need the most encouragement, as the potential benefits of continuing (or beginning) become so much greater.
So, encourage them to get involved, and to the best of their abilities, encourage them to remain involved. Young girls will learn so much more than just how to catch a ball.
‘If you Let me Play’
If you let me play.
If you let me play sports. I will like….myself more.
I will have more self-confidence.
If you let me play.
If you let me play!
I’ll be 60% less likely to get breast cancer.
I’ll suffer less depression.
If you let me play sports.
I’ll be more likely….to leave a man who beats me.
I’ll be less likely…to get pregnant before…I want to.
I will learn
I will learn
What it means to be strong…To be strong.
If you let me play…Play sports…If you let me play sports.
Rachel Nelson, Jennifer Smieja, and Angelina Vieira (1996) of theWeiden and Kennedy Ad Agency for the Nike Corp. Some research by Karen Sarpolis, M.D.
McTiernan, A. (2006). Cancer Prevention and Management through Exercise and Weight Control. Boca Raton: Taylor & Francis Group, LLC.
Dr. Niilampti is a licensed psychologist at Southeast Psych. One of her specialties is sports psychology.