Research Report: Reframing Sport for Teenage Girls: Building Strong Foundations for their Futures - Women In Sport

Research Report: Reframing Sport for Teenage Girls: Building Strong Foundations for their Futures

Published 2019


Too many women and girls are needlessly missing out on the lifelong benefits and rewards of sport and physical activity and what happens during teenage years is a huge contributor to this issue. At this life-stage, girls become less active and less engaged than teenage boys the same age and by the time they hit mid-teens, only 10% of girls 13-16 meet the recommended Chief Medical Officers activity levels of 60 minutes every day (Sport England, 2018).

Too many girls are also developing negative attitudes towards sport and physical activity during this time, labelling themselves as ‘not sporty’ and they stop enjoying taking part. These attitudes become increasingly difficult to change and act as barriers throughout their lives.

Sport can be a powerful force to support girls on their journey to being happy, healthy and self-assured young women but to do so, we must broaden our knowledge to gain a more holistic understanding of what really matters in teenage girls’ lives and start to challenge our thinking in this area to create solutions that will have a long-lasting and sustainable impact.

Our latest insight puts the spotlight on the wider world of teenage girls. We have put them at the heart of this research, through online ethnographic work, co-creation sessions and discussions, letting them lead our understanding. We also reviewed over 30 reports, shared knowledge and developed thinking together with 25 other organisations both from inside and outside the sports sector. This has helped us to start the journey of reframing how sport and physical activity can have both relevance and appeal during this time.


We uncovered five important anchors which reflect what girls’ value most in their lives and these build the foundations of who they will become;

  • Support Network – family and friends give girls a sense of place in the world, relationships with mums being particularly important.
  • Socially Connected – social media use gives girls validation, time dedicated to this means deprioritising other activities.
  • Independence and New Experiences – girls want independence and freedom to make choices and have new exciting experiences, which build formative memories.
  • Moments of Pride – a sense of achievement that fuels self-worth, builds confidence and personal growth.
  • Keeping on Top of it All (re-prioritisation) – girls have to set their own priorities, what they ‘must do’ vs what they ‘want to do’ in their day-to-day lives.

We need to reframe sport and physical activity as something that girls’ value and perceive to enhance their lives. We have developed 8 Principles for Success to support organisations to bridge the ‘relevance gap’ in sport for girls and ensure it has a more meaningful place in their lives.

The 8 Principles for Success

  1. No Judgement – take the pressure off performance and give girls freedom simply to play
  2. Invoke Excitement – bring a sense of adventure and discovery.
  3. Clear Emotional Reward – reframe achievement as ‘moments of pride’, not winning.
  4. Open Their Eyes to What’s There – redefine sport as more than school sport.
  5. Build into Existing Habits – tap into existing behaviours in other spheres.
  6. Give Girls a Voice and Choice – allow girls choice and control to feel empowered.
  7. Champion What’s in it for Them – make it much more than just about health.
  8. Expand Image of What ‘Sporty’ Looks Like – create truly relatable role models which inspire.


  1. Expand the relevance of sport to meet all girls needs
  2. Make the sports opportunities truly hard to resist – FOMO!
  3. Apply the 8 Principles of Success in developing and evaluating initiatives
  4. Collaborate more as a sector to build long-term solutions with wider and sustainable impact

We have created a Reframing Sport for Teenage Girls Toolkit, to support organisations in their understanding of teenage girls and to apply the 8 Principles for Success in practice.


Funded by Sport England.

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