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.




The Value of Girls/Women in School Sport

by Shayna T.

Holland and Andre (1987) suggest that there are numerous factors that influence the socialization and development of adolescents. Such factors include family, peers, schools, and the media. Even though family and peers tend to be considered as the more dominant influences, “…the opportunities and context provided by secondary schools also influences adolescent development” (Holland & Andre, 1987). “The academic perspective focuses on intellectual competence and stresses that the purpose of schools is the pursuit of academic excellence and transmission of formal knowledge” (Holland & Andre, 1987). Looking at things in this perspective creates the notion that extracurricular activities in schools provide a means of “relaxation or fun”, but are obviously deemed as “unimportant to the primary purpose of schools” (Holland & Andre, 1987).

On one note, “direct interactions with the academic curriculum in schools, such as the degree of success or failure in various subject matters and the degree of encouragement provided for academic effort, influence the self-esteem, aspirations, and values of adolescents” (Holland & Andre, 1987). On another note, it is “though the pattern of extracurricular activities schools allow or disallow, facilitate or inhibit, and the pattern of tangible and intangible rewards provided for participation in activities, schools influence personality development and socialization” (Holland & Andre, 1987).

I came across an article called “The Pasternak Case and American Gender Equity Policy: Implications for Canadian High School Athletics” and I really enjoyed reading the case as I was able to strongly relate to the problem. “In 2004 twin sisters Amy and Jesse Pasternak competed for the prospect of playing high school hockey, vying for the boys’ team rather than the girls’” (Beaubier, Gadbois, & Stick, 2011). Even though the school had a girls’ team, the Pasternak sisters believed that their skill set was much greater than that of the girls’ hockey team and that’s why they wanted to play on the boys’ team. “The sisters’ opportunities were negated by the Manitoba High School Athletic Association (MHSAA)” (Beaubier, Gadbois, & Stick, 2011).

Relating back to my experience in school sports, I have been an athlete on the basketball team since I was seven years old. I attended a small, rural school where the girls’ sports were always seen as “less” than the boys’ sports. However, because I had such a passion for the sport of basketball and became highly recognized throughout my basketball “career”. Because I knew the coaches of the teams, and my best friend was the male athlete most recognized throughout his career, I was lucky enough to continue my career with the boys, in part, and to have the chance to prove myself as an athlete to the school, to the community, to other teams, etc. It was because my skill level matched the boys’ skill level that I got to continue practicing with the boys even through high school.

The school and the girls’ coaches always put us in an exhibition league because they thought that an actual league (i.e., A) would be “too much” for us to handle. With the help from my female teammates, we were able to convince the athletic director, women’s coach, and the school that I, and the girls’ team, deserved to have a chance to prove ourselves in the A league. After being in an exhibition league since grade three, I finally had the chance to play at my level in grade eleven. All season the boys made fun of us saying we weren’t good enough (as a team) to be in a league and that we were going to get our asses handed to us. Funny enough, that was the year that we, the girls’ team, advanced to Senior Regionals and the boys did not. The next season, the boys never made fun of the girls’ team at all, but rather acted as leaders to help us be even more successful than we had been the year before.

In conclusion, I, as a former athlete and leader, as a current coach, and as a future physical education teacher, encourage all girls to fight for what they believe in. Although I agree with sports teams being segregated between boys and girls, I do not believe that just because we are “girls” that we should be given any less of an opportunity than the boys. Success depends on things such as motivation and drive, leadership, ability, skill level and understanding, and teamwork, not the fact that you’re a team of boys or a team of girls. It is because of the support I had throughout my time as an athlete and the experiences that I have encountered, that have given me a sense of life. Without this experience in my life, I wouldn’t have had good grades in school; I would not be here doing a Degree in Recreation and Sport Studies; I would not have gone back to the very school I came from to coach basketball to the next generation of kids who will be taking my place; and I would not value sport and physical activity nor would I have the desire to become a physical education teacher in a rural school to, not only teach the importance of sport and physical activity, but to help provide kids with the same opportunities that I once had. Sport, physical activity, and extracurricular activities can provide a means of purpose and sense of belonging to those who do not necessarily excel in the classroom, such as myself.

“Sport touches many aspects of Canadians’ lives – their health and well-being, their social networks, their sense of social connectedness. Organized sport can help children grow, giving them a sense of achievement while building teamwork, leadership, problem-solving, decision-making, and communications skills. Sport also enables children to channel their energy, competitiveness and aggression in socially beneficial ways” – (Bloom, Grant, & Watt, 2005).


Beaubier, M., Gadbois, S.A., Stick, S.L. (2011). The Pasternak Case and American Gender Equity Policy: Implication for Canadian High School Athletics. Canadian Journal of Educational Administration and Policy, 120, 1-37.

Bloom, M., Grant, M., & Watt, D. (2005). Strengthening Canada – The social-economic benefits of sport participation in Canada. The Conference Board of Canada, August 2005. (p. iii). Retrieved from

Holland, A., & Andre, T. (1987). Participating in extracurricular activities in secondary school: What is known, what needs to be known? Review of Educational Research, (57)4, 437-466.