A new programme designed to provide a supportive space for teenage girls has launched to help girls find and reclaim the joy of sport and exercise during puberty. Big Sister provides girls with an extensive range of resources and support – created and shaped by other girls – to enable them to find out about the changes that happen to their bodies whilst offering ways to improve self-belief and wellbeing. Exercise can help to prevent numerous issues that affect the lives of girls and women, from anxiety and self-harm during the teenage years to osteoporosis that can plague women in later life.
Teenage girls are being encouraged to visit the Big Sister online digital hub – www.big-sister.co.uk – to access free content, support, and practical advice from peer mentors to help navigate the challenges of puberty. It also addresses the stigmas and gender stereotyping which can prevent girls from leading happy, healthy and active lives.
Recent research found 43% of teenage girls who once considered themselves sporty start to disengage from sport following primary school.* To help to prevent girls from slipping into a lifetime of inactivity the Big Sister programme has formed partnerships with Places for People, its leisure provider Places Leisure and schools and community groups to help inspire girls to rediscover the joy of sport and activity through their local leisure centre.
Teenage girls told us there were many complex barriers that prevented them from being active:
‘A lot of girls are scared of looking stupid.’
‘Periods can limit you going training as you’re in pain and uncomfortable.’
‘Up until the age of about 16, I was not aware that sports bras existed and had just been wearing my normal bra for exercise. I wondered why after most sport practices my chest hurt a little.’
‘If I don’t throw the ball properly, I’ll be judged and shouted at and put off by the boys’
As part of the programme teenage girls between 9-15-years-old are being offered a six-month free gym membership. The offer is available at Places Leisure centres in South Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Norfolk. The membership includes unlimited use of the gym and swimming pool, a selection of group workout classes and free access to virtual classes and resources though the Places Leisure Locker App.
Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston said:
“Supporting the growth of women’s sport is a Government priority so we must break the cycle which sees many young girls take up exercise but then quit as they grow older and become teenagers.
“The Big Sister programme, funded by the Government’s Tampon Tax Fund, is helping to tackle this issue and is now offering free six – month gym memberships to 9 – 15-year-old-girls. I urge all those eligible to take up this fantastic offer.”
Periods can act as another huge barrier to sport and exercise, with seven in ten girls admitting they don’t feel comfortable exercising during that time of the month.** To promote good menstrual health, break down the myths and taboos surrounding menstruation and ensure period poverty is not a barrier to getting involved in sport and activity, girls participating in the programme can get access to free disposable and reusable period products and educational resources from Hey Girls.
19-year-old Ellen is a Big Sister peer mentor. She said: “Puberty is tough for everyone, even girls who you presume ‘have got off lightly’ are going through their own difficulties. I wish I had the confidence to start exercising at a younger age. I only recently found the type of exercise for me, the one I enjoyed, where I got most sweaty and when I would finish my session on such a high and with a feeling of invincibility.
“I became confident in my ability about what I can do and stopped comparing myself to others. I also feel better in myself, I have way more energy and feel so much more comfortable in my own skin. We are so lucky to now live in a world where there are so many options for everybody so no matter what your ability is, there will be something out there for you and Big Sister can help you discover your journey.”
Big Sister is funded by the DCMS Tampon Tax led by Women in Sport and a consortium of partners: Places for People’s charity Places Foundation and local leisure provider Places Leisure, and Hey Girls Community Interest Company.