Next week is Women’s Sport Week (#WSW16), a national campaign to raise awareness and increase the profile of women’s sport across the UK.
As Head of a large all girls’ school, I appreciate the enormous advantage girls have in playing sport. I see the benefits to their health, their well-being and most importantly their character. They learn the value of teamwork to secure a victory, resilience when the going gets tough and most importantly the recognition that failure can lead to success next time. Sport to me is all about the growth mindset.
Yet as Chair of the GSA Sports Committee I read with despair that girls across the UK are becoming steadily less and less active than boys. It begins at about age 8 and then, by the time they’re 14, just 1 in 10 girls meet the official guidelines for physical activity. The reasons are many but I do think the lack of visibility of women’s sport, in media and in everyday life, is a large contributing factor.
Much has been written about the lack of commercial investment and media coverage of women’s sport. Women’s sport sponsorship accounted for only 0.4% of total sports sponsorship between 2011 and 2013. Media coverage of women’s sport shows similar level of disparity – accounting for only 7% of total sports coverage. On any day, except during the Olympics, you can flick through the sports pages to be reminded that women’s sport is in the minority.
There is also a substantial gender disparity when we look at the number of women working in sport. For almost half (49%) of publicly funded national governing bodies, less than a quarter of their Board are women. Women make up only 18% of qualified coaches and 9% of senior coaches. Less than 10% of women volunteer in sport compared to over 15% of men.
For most young boys however, sport exists as something exciting, aspirational and absolutely for them. At GSA schools we are working hard and alongside Women in Sport to “inspire people to play their part at every level and make sport normal for women and girls”. This week we have seen 12-14 year olds compete in a national GSA netball tournament organised by Master tours, where they were coached and inspired by young women from England’s netball team. The girls loved it and were so excited at playing alongside women who represented their country. You could see the impact these visible role models had on our girls.
Tomorrow is our annual GSA Sports conference, Girls Go Gold, held for aspiring athletes, where they can listen to lectures on psychology and mental toughness, nutrition for sport, performance analysis as well as meeting their sporting heroes. Role models such as Alex Danson, a former GSA pupil, will be there, whose visibility notably increased after GB Women’s Hockey triumph in Rio this year. She is an inspirational speaker and I know will encourage the girls to believe that they too can aspire to such great heights.
It is events such as these that provide our pupils with inspiration and role models. It is events such as Women’s Sport Week that raise the profile of women’s sport and makes girls think that sport is normal for females, inspiring them to continue to play their part after their school days are over. I applaud and support their efforts.