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I give my view on Sport England's #ThisGirlCan campaign and how 'normalising' attitudes towards female participation in sport is key to increasing the number of female participants. Elite female athletes in the spotlight are important, but even more so is the everyday normality of seeing people we are familiar with participating - demonstrating that sport is for everyone.
What a time for female sport in this country. Building on an incredible medal return from the Rio Olympics and England Women’s Football team’s third place finish in the 2015 World Cup, elite female sport is more publicised and celebrated than ever before.
But although this is fantastic, and hopefully inspiring many young girls to engage in sport, as they dream of being the next Jess Ennis, Steph Houghton, Laura Kenny or Sarah Hunter, more than international success is required to make this a long lasting engagement.
I strongly believe the key to increasing female participation in sport is normalising it. If young girls see it as something that females do in the everyday world that surrounds them, they are more likely to continue participating themselves into adulthood, and not drop out when perhaps those dreams of being an elite athlete fade, often even before girls hit their teens.
This is where 'This Girl Can' comes in. Images of girls and women of all shapes, sizes, ages, colours and fitness levels – the kind of women we are surrounded by in our everyday life – taking part in all kinds of sport. For women, it is people they can relate to – not this perfect image of a finely tuned professional athlete, but of someone who is like them. For girls, it is images of people who are like their older sisters, mums, aunties, teachers, the lollipop lady – people in their everyday life. 'This Girl Can' presents sports participation as something that everyone can engage in.
Being a parent is a fantastic motivating tool. Every parent wants their children to be healthy and happy; setting the example of being active can play significant part in this. I want my children to see it as completely ‘normal’ - that being active is something the whole family do.
Similarly, as a coach I hope that every time I step on to the pitch or the mats, even though there may be only one or two girls in the session, I hope that those girls, as well as the mums and sisters watching, have a sense that sport is for everyone, including them.
When I first began coaching football, parents would often comment that they loved that their daughters had a female coach. At the time, I didn’t fully appreciate what they meant. Now as a parent I really do. We take opportunities to expose our daughters to female coaches when the opportunity arises – not because they’ll necessarily coach them any better than a male coach, but because it reaffirms the normality of females being active and involved in sport.
The 'This Girl Can' campaign has reminded me of the importance of how, what we experience in our everyday life, shapes our expectations. The images from the campaign inspire me to get off the settee and be active and to coach; so that perhaps just one or two more girls or women may think, 'Yes, I’ll give that a go!'.
I totally agree with your comments, 2 years ago I decided to start up a woman's fitness club this was due to the fact mum's was bringing there children to a basketball session and just sat and watched for 2 hrs so to break up the waiting time I started the fitness session, I hired a room at the local school which was across from the basketball session I made this easily accessible for mum's, I started off with 2 parents this increased with time then I started to get teenage girls coming to sessions, I had some really positive feedback needed a bigger room to accommodate the new comers. I had to have an agreement with school that if I had the room for free I had to provide a free teachers fitness session which I agreed to, I had about 20 female teachers come to the sessions which they also enjoyed however the amount of work before the session I put into making the session specific for the teacher was incredibly frustrating, I would set out each session a specific routine with great music, after the first 3 sessions I started to get requests for music not just any music 70s and 80s music and specific artists, they wanted specific routines they didn't want the same exercises as the woman's fitness club they wanted Zumba I was unable to provide this as I'm not Zumba trained, they wanted to change the days and times which didn't fit in with my family life or the woman's fitness club and my job I felt under so much pressure to provide all this just for a free room. Something had to give, in the end I had to stop everything as I was unable to find another venue for free. The women's fitness club had to stop until I found a free venue I found it very difficult to find a venue so the session had to end. I had some great feed back from all the participants they was guttered that I was unable to continue. If I could have found another venue for the women's fitness club I would have continued with the sessions, the participants enjoyed each week and said the timing was great, they could fit around children and also take part in an activity for themselves, they didn't feel under pressure to go every week when they had other commitments. I had my mum of 61 joining in which was great to see, she bought along a few friends. Its a real shame that I was unable to continue as I would have been able to keep these women as well as myself active.
my above comment was I tried to keep things normal but participants had other ideas.
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