Barriers Girls Face in Sport Participation

By Andrea D.

Participating in physical activity is an important part of being healthy – it helps with physical, mental, social, and emotional health. So, encouraging physical activity and reducing barriers is something that we as a society should be trying to do. I would like to discuss some of the barriers that girls face in regards to physical activity and then some of the things that we as a society can do to help. I chose to specifically discuss girls because they generally have a lower participation rate in sports and it is when we are young that we learn the basic skills that are used throughout a variety of sports which sets us up for being physically active for our entire lives.

Some barriers come from lack of opportunities – this can come from less girls teams in certain sports to less opportunities for sports in rural areas. There are economic barriers – boys teams often get more sponsors and funds meaning that for more expensive sports, there are more barriers that girls teams face. Also as youth get older, there are less recreational-level sports, and some girls identify this as a barrier as they don’t want to play or don’t make the team for a more competitive level.

One article cited three main self perceived barriers to physical activity, but the one I would like to focus on was about gender roles and the social acceptability of participating¹ which is important because sports are very gendered. For example, it is more socially acceptable for girls to participate in sports like swimming, dance, cheer leading, and gymnastics than it is for boys. Just like it is more acceptable for boys to participate in sports like hockey, rugby, martial arts, baseball. An example of this is found here at UNB – we are only now creating a women’s hockey team despite an interest from the students; and this is Canada, a country that is known for its love of hockey. If we are not willing to give women their own hockey team, then who will.  This leads to girls facing bullying, a lack of support, and feeling left out when they do try to participate in certain sports. This negative environment is not one that is good for fostering a positive environment that encourages girls to do their best in sports.

So what can we as a society do to help? First of all, we need to make sure that there are enough opportunities to become active in sports including making sure there are girls teams and that they have the funding they need.  Advertising is also important – if girls don’t know about the opportunities they have, then they can’t participate. Keep recreational level sports for adolescents gives more chances for those who are taking up a new sport and those who don’t feel comfortable with a highly competitive environment.  Lastly, we need to support all the youth who want to join sports and encourage any interest in sports and physical activity, so following anti-bullying and discrimination policies is important. So let’s work together to create a sport environment that everyone is welcome at and help improve their health.


¹Fisette, J. L. (2013). ‘Are you listening?’: adolescent girls voice how they negotiate self-identified barriers to their success and survival in physical education. Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy, 18, 2, 184-203.




4 responses

  1. I enjoyed reading your blog post Andrea. I agree that lack of positive opportunities for girls and women to engage in leisure activities where they feel safe and have a sense of support to learn and develop their skill sets, is a very common deterrent for female’s participation. I think as a society our discussion about the importance of creating inclusive opportunities for all genders, no matter how the individual identifies, keeps the issue in a relevant position for organizations to act on. I feel like there are more organizations now than ever before that seek to support females in sport, whether the individual is in a coaching, participant, or volunteer role, and I think that this is because of society’s continued discussion of the matter.

    Going forward, I personally would like to see organizations that not only support female sport endeavours, but ones that do so in a less stereotype perpetuating way. For instance, one organization that always comes to mind when discussing female support in sport, is the Fast and Female organization. This is a great organization that does amazing work in creating opportunities for females to engage in their desired sport and one that acts to remove the barriers that might surround it, but their branding is hot pink. I remember attending ski races and seeing other skiers with the hot pink Lululemon Fast and Female hoodies or the hot pink Buffs, and feeling slightly uncomfortable. I was proud of being a female ski racer, but a big part of that pride came with being a valued part of my team and identifying support to my team through the wearing of our team uniform (our team was a mixed gender team). I understand why the organization chose this branding technique, but I feel like it sends the wrong message about the female sporting experience. Cross country ski racing in particular is a very high intensity sport and I personally feel like the hot pink branding reinforces society’s typically feminine values.

    Tamsin, F.

  2. Great post Andrea! I love reading posts like this, with the recognition of the barriers that young girls face in sports. Recognizing there are lower female participation rates in sports is key, and that it isn’t just because “girls aren’t interested”. Why aren’t girls interested? Is their interest in something that isn’t offered? Are there opportunities for them? Is there a girls team? Is there a recreational level? These are all barriers you identified and are all prevalent in everyday life. Coming from my small town, there isn’t a girls hockey team in the area, and people have to drive a half an hour to be on the closest girls team, or play on the boys team. Also because it is so small, our high school is grades 6-12, and it was common not to have enough numbers for a girls Varsity team and a JV team. In those cases, the only option to play was if you made the one team offered, and there was no recreational team; so this would absolutely be a deterrent from sport that many face.

    I like that you specify that this is focused on young girls because of the low participation rates and it is when we are young that we learn fundamental movement skills and the basic skills required for sports later in life. If someone hasn’t properly learned to run, jump, throw, kick or even fall, or had the enjoyment of youth sports, the chances of them joining sports teams or participating when they’re older is much lower.

    I also enjoyed your comment Tamsin about hot pink branding!

    Good job!

    Paige H

  3. Great blog! I agree with all of your great points to how society can help make change and try to eliminate barriers for girls in sport. It is evident that there are many more opportunities for males to become involved in sport and that girls often face a greater amount of barriers. I remember location and travelling being a major barrier for me growing up. I live in a rural community and was a competitive hockey player. There was opportunity for recreation and competitive level boys teams in my community, however no girls teams. If I wanted to play on a competitive girls team I had to drive 45 minutes to play. This was only for practices and home games. For most away games I was travelling over an hour to play. This was straining on my mother, being a single parent, with two other brothers in sport as well. I remember always car pooling with other girls on my team for our parents to save time and gas money. I don’t know if this reason was because there was not enough girls in my community willing to participate or there was nobody stepping up in the community to provide the opportunity in the first place. All I know is that a lack of opportunity is still an issue being faced by girls everyday and that male sport consistently over powers female sport. Males seem to have numerous opportunities for participation in sport even within rural communities. I agree with your point that advertisement is important and we, as future recreation and sport leaders, need to make sure that people are informed about opportunities but also recognize where opportunities are lacking in order to govern for change.

    Rachel B

  4. Great post Andrea, I completely agree with what you’ve written here, I find that there are so little leisure activities where women can engage in a sport without worrying about actually taking part. As you said, this is definitely down to actual barriers such as limited sessions, and I also agree with the fact that self perceived barriers are a major factor in the participation of women. An example of this would be that my mum took 10 years out of playing tennis competitively because the ratio of women to men dropped significantly at our home club. Only recently due to me pushing her back into it, and as more women have joined the club has she engaged in playing again, but because of an accidental, but huge barrier created by the club, it took away 10 years of actively playing her favourite sport.

    Opportunities for women will always result in more taking part, my club at home introduced women only sessions that then led into a mixed session with the men. By doing this the participation of females at the club has grown ten fold, simply by giving them the opportunity to take part in leisure! It’s incredibly simple as opportunity clearly creates leisure time and exercise, but it still takes local clubs, councils and universities an unnecessarily long time to actually figure this out.

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