Reframing Sport for Teenage Girls: Tackling Teenage Disengagement - Women In Sport

Reframing Sport for Teenage Girls: Tackling Teenage Disengagement

Published March 2022

This report funded by Sport England summarises our most recent survey findings of over 4,000 adolescent girls and boys to understand the similarities and differences in their attitudes towards sport and physical activity. Importantly we were able to understand how the various barriers play out for sporty and non-sporty girls, identifying the barriers that are magnified differently across three key groups The Uninspired, The Missed Opportunity, The Passionate Participants.

Too many girls are disengaging from sport and exercise in their teens. This is huge compared to boys – a significant missed opportunity.

Self-belief, capability and body image concerns can be significant issues for all girls. Our report highlights that complex barriers and deep-rooted negative attitudes are affecting enjoyment:

  • Feel judged (61%)
  • Lack self belief (50%)
  • Pressures of schoolwork (41%)
  • Don’t feel safe exercising outside (38%)

The need to engage girls in more active lifestyles has never been more urgent. This generation of teenage girls are experiencing worrying mental health issues and report being less happy, more anxious and increasingly dissatisfied with their appearance. The pandemic has, in many instances, simply amplified these issues for many girls.

An underlying narrative prevails; that girls are not as competitive; that sport is not important for girls; that they will never be as good at it compared to boys; that sport can be at odds with femininity. Add to that the harassment and unwanted attention teenage girls are subject to when exercising and quite simply, taking part becomes a burden, instead of bringing freedom and joy.

We have a significant opportunity to re-engage them and we must work harder to do so and to prevent girls from missing out. In particular, we are deeply concerned by the number of girls who disengage from sport and exercise post primary school (43%). Many of these girls enjoyed being active when younger but have needlessly fallen out of love with it in adolescence. We need to change this.