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In recent decades, data from sports researchers revealed an encouraging trend: girls were participating in sports in greater numbers. But the investigation also uncovered a huge missed opportunity. Girls drop out of sports at “alarming rates,” specifically when they hit puberty.
There’s an obvious solution that sports retail giant Nike CEO John Donahoe and many others believe they can make a big difference: more female trainers.
In the historically male-dominated world of sports, girls and women have always had to fight for their right to compete and be seen as competitive athletes. The sexism that has prevented girls from competing in sports has also prevented women from becoming youth coaches.
“I think league administrators are trained to look for dads to train and they think more often than not dads are going to be the ones to step up and do it. I think sometimes they’re not even trying to recruit women,” Mary said. . Fry, professor and director of the Sport and Exercise Psychology Laboratory at the University of Kansas.
Nearly 75% of youth head coaches are men, according to Aspen Institute’s Project Play. Even when women are offered the opportunity to be a coach, they fear that they are not good enough to take on the position due to the sexist stereotypes that society often promotes.
When Jen Welter, the NFL’s first female head coach and two-time Olympic football gold medalist, was offered the opportunity to coach football for the first time, she recalled instinctively thinking “girls don’t do that.”
“When you don’t see it, it’s really hard to say, ‘You know what, I can do that,'” Welter said.
“Most young people rarely, if ever, get the opportunity to be coached by a woman. This is a loss for everyone,” said Vanessa Garcia-Brito, Nike’s vice president and chief social and community impact officer. “For girls to get active and invite them into a lifetime of sport, you have to see it to believe it, and that starts with more female coaches.”
In March, Nike launched training HER in association with the University of Minnesota Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport. The digital coaching resource is designed to help coaches of all genders improve their understanding of gender bias and discrimination in sports.
Coaches are not only important in terms of giving young women a positive role model, but they also offer a safe space to discuss and process the difficulties that can arise with a young woman’s changing body and mind. Even for girls who grew up loving sports, puberty changes girls’ relationships with sports, often disengaging them from physical activity.
The data related to this critical period in a girl’s life is clear. One in three girls participates in a sport between the ages of 6 and 12, according to the Aspen Institute. But almost one in two girls will stop playing sports during puberty, according to the maker of Always menstrual products.
Investigation of a 2018 report The Tucker Center, a Nike partner, collected data globally and found that the highest dropout rate for girls in sports often occurs between the ages of 11 and 17, “the range in which girls feel under more pressure to conform to the identities formed by their peers and adults, including coaches,” their report states, concluding that how girls feel about their coaches is a determining factor in whether they continue to play organized sports.
The Women’s Sports Foundation, created by Billie Jean King, discovered that 40% of adolescents They do not actively participate in a sport.
“for guys, that moving through puberty can be a kind of advantage, you gain more muscle mass and you become taller, stronger. For girls, it’s not always the same case,” Fry said. “They are in survival mode in high school.”
The problem has both physical and psychological dimensions, namely periods and a lack of body confidence as barriers preventing girls from continuing to play sports, according to Youth Sport Trust chief executive Alison Oliver. As girls’ bodies change during puberty, they become increasingly insecure and physical activity begins to feel different. The charity Women in Sport found that 65% of girls don’t like being seen by others during sports, as it makes them feel self-conscious and vulnerable., and objectified. Also, seven out of 10 girls avoid being active when they have their period.
Coaches are critical agents impacting girls’ experiences in sports, according to the Women’s Sports Foundation, and if a girl doesn’t receive adequate support or is misunderstood by her coach at a time as daunting as puberty, she will be discouraged from competing. . . For example, most of the time, girls are not educated or fitted with the proper sports bras, which makes participating in sports painful.
“If you start to feel uncomfortable as a female athlete … it would be pretty difficult to go to a men’s coach about some of those things,” Welter said.
A June 2019 Nike event in London when it took over the iconic Hackney Marshes recreational sports park for a football festival to celebrate the women’s game, hosting over 1,000 women and girls, with 79 teams taking part in the tournament, in different age groups.
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“These bonds that develop between a coach or a mentor and the kids are much bigger than physical activity,” Fry said. “They have women in their lives that they can bounce things off of, that they can trust.”
Fry co-founded the Strong Girls program at the University of Kansas, where girls are matched with a college student as a mentor. Half of the program focuses on participating in sports together, while the other half focuses on positive youth development. The program typically attracts girls who tend to be less athletic and creates a safe environment where they are encouraged by female mentors to participate in sports they would not normally play.
“Girls and women can’t have enough strong women in their lives. We just benefit from it,” said Fry, who is the program’s director.
Coaches were instrumental to both the success and enjoyment of sports for Christina Collins, a former youth athlete turned coach. “She had female trainers, as well as men, of course, and that [had] I was very shocked to realize that it was an option for me to grow up and do that. And I felt like I definitely connected with them on a deeper level than I ever could have. [with] male coaches I had,” said Collins, who is now a professor of physical education and health at Westchester County, and a professor in the master’s program in physical education at Manhattanville College.
Trainers, she says, can offer unique insight based on their own personal experiences as women. “[My identity] it has impacted the way I deliver all training. Its goal is to build the child’s confidence first and second, his ability to perform,” said Collins, who is also the founder and owner of NeverStopMoving365a company that seeks to use sport and physical activity to build confidence and teach life lessons.
She says this approach not only benefits girls, but extends to young athletes of all genders and female coaches as well.
Nike’s goal of reaching 20,000 female trainers
Nike is one of the few major companies that directly addresses this problem. Corporations from Target to Disney to Bank of America are coming under fire for taking a stand on social issues in the current divisive political climate. Donahoe, who made his remarks on the issue of girls’ sports participation rate at the recent CNBC CEO Council Summit in Santa Barbara, California, said he believes Disney CEO Bob Iger is properly handling the dispute with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, pointing to Nike’s efforts in women’s youth sports as another example of how a company can focus on social issues that are core to its values and integral to its brand.
“We’re trying to train 20,000 coaches, moms and other former athletes to be youth coaches,” Donahoe said. “So that’s a less controversial topic, but it’s one we care about as a value,” she said.
Nike also has a goal of achieving 50% girls’ participation in the sports-based community programs it supports by 2025.
As a former athlete, Collins says there are lifelong benefits when young women and girls stay involved in sports and feel supported.
“I don’t use actual sports as my primary form of fitness, or just sports skills in general. But I take out of my toolbox the life lessons that athletics taught me,” he said.
Coaching HER encourages all coaches, regardless of gender, to provide girls with the opportunity to continue to develop their character and learn life lessons from sport, and offers detailed training for coaches on how to lead girls and young women in sports.
“It’s not just women, for women. It’s women and men working together to uplift girls. That’s one of the key components. How can we best work together?” Welter said.