7 ways to get girls to be as active as boys

On average, girls are less active and more sedentary than boys – 6% of girls versus 13% of boys are meeting the physical activity guidelines. This is a sad fact that needs to change. The health and wellbeing of women everywhere depends on it.

The problem, however, is that the difference starts very early in life.

Girls as young as 2.5 years old are already less active than boys their age, and the gap only widens as they get older.

A sharp decline in girls’ physical activity levels as they reach their teenage years only makes matters worse.

WHY THE GAP?

The most common barriers to girls participating in physical activity are social pressures, lack of social support and encouragement from friends and family, and limited role models. As for sport participation, numbers are low due to a lack of female-specific opportunities combined with less access to coaching, equipment and facilities that embrace female-specific skills and abilities.

While that may seem like a long list of problems, it can also be seen as a long list of opportunities to make a difference. The key is knowing where to start. We’ve come up with a list of seven tips to help you do just that:

1. Dispel common misconceptions and change attitudes

“I’m not an athlete”, “I’m afraid of getting teased”, “I don’t know anything about sports”. These attitudes and beliefs need to change. Encourage girls to be active and engage in sports. Teach girls the fundamental movement skills (think: physical literacy) to help them feel more confident in being physically active.

2. Encourage more outdoor play

Oh, the great outdoors! Not only is outdoor play linked with increased levels of physical activity and greater health benefits, but natural play environments are also gender neutral and offer more gender equity.  And don’t forget to dress for success—send kids out in clothes that can get dirty, or don’t care if their clothes get muddy. 

3. Introduce girls to physically active women

Everybody loves a good role model. Whether it’s officials or leaders in sport, athletes, or coaches, encourage girls to look up to women that embrace sport and physical activity in their everyday lives.  And don’t underestimate the influence you can have on your kids as a parent—if they see you try something new, fail, succeed or have fun on rollerblades or doing cannonballs off the dock, they will remember.

4. Expose girls to a wide variety of physical activities – not just sports

While sports are a great way to be active and form friendships, they are not the only way for girls to get their hearts pumping. This is particularly important for girls who lack confidence in their skills and abilities. Dancing to music, raking leaves, shovelling snow, trying yoga, taking the dog for daily walks or skating with friends are just a few suggestions.

5. Join in!

One great way to get girls more active is to join in on the game or activity with them. Whether you’re a parent, older sibling, teacher, or childcare provider, show them that being active should be part of everyone’s life. Working up a sweat with someone else is also a great motivator and adds some accountability.

6. Embrace the messy hair

Emphasize to girls the health benefits of being active. Encourage girls to embrace the messy hair, sweaty, and red-in-the-face look. Their minds and bodies will thank them! Use these moments to emphasize to girls what their bodies can do versus how their bodies look.

7. Keep it fun!

However girls choose to get active, they need to enjoy what they’re doing. Otherwise, they’re not going to keep it up. Maybe it’s a team sport like soccer, hockey or volleyball? Or maybe something more solo like dancing or running?

Establishing a link between activity and enjoyment is essential to developing a lifelong passion for being active. Regardless of their activity or sport of choice, the important thing is that they are moving and having fun!

The Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity (CAAWS) is one powerhouse championing to create more opportunities for girls and women in physical activity and sport. Check out their website for more information on their campaign and other helpful materials.

Need more ideas? Check out ParticipACTION’s 150 Playlist for a list of fun activities appropriate for everyone!

ParticipACTION and the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador are working together, with support from Recreation Newfoundland and Labrador to inspire families to make physical activity a higher priority in daily life.