First-year Biomedical Science student Aimee Work is the Chairperson of Active Girls Committee Aberdeen, who work to encourage more girls and women to participate in sport and physical activity. From speaking with the committee and RGU students, Aimee now shares the top barriers that some women face when participating in sports, how the university is tackling them, and shining a light on some of RGU’s role models.
Female participation barriers
- There was a 14% decline in sport’s participation among girls between the 11-14 and 14 -16 age groups.
- While 81% of girls aged 5-7 meet physical activity guidelines, only 49% of girls do by the age of 13-15.
So why are the numbers of young women in sport and physical activity declining as they get older?
After engaging with young women across the city, Active Girls Committee Aberdeen outlined the main barriers which we felt contributed to the reluctance of many young females to participate in sport or physical activity. Interestingly, when comparing these barriers to a group of female university students, there were common themes which continue to impact participation and confidence levels within young women.
Here are the top 3 barriers to sport and physical activity in young women we encountered:
1. Male participation
From our research, male dominated sporting activities can impact on whether or not women take part. It can impact on confidence levels if they are criticised or excluded. Some sports have been previously defined as being a male activity and “less feminine”. Unfortunately, these traditional connotations of male domination in sport can put women off.
From Sport Scotland’s “Women in Sport” research in 2008, national and local media only dedicate an average of 5% of sports coverage to women’s sports. This indicates that there are less female sporting role models publicised and celebrated for their sporting achievements for young females to look up to.
2. Low self-esteem and fear of failure or judgement
Another barrier which came from the research of young women in the city and the RGU Instagram poll, is the fear of not being good enough to participate in sport or physical activity. Low self- esteem in young women can impact their ability to believe they are just as capable of learning, improving and being successful at a particular sport as others.
Young women may also be put off sport due to the competitive element. That’s why the emphasis should be on enjoyment and the positive social and mental factors of participating in sport. Feeling that they may be judged for being unaware of the rules in a game, lacking technique, or not feeling they are physically fit enough as others can result in the accumulation of negative feelings towards physical activity prior to participating.
3. Body image
Body image can contribute to low self-esteem. The portrayal of young women in social media is a challenge young people face, with some wanting to look like the stereotypical body image associated with a fit and active young female. As a result, young women who are critical of their bodies can lack self confidence in their physical ability and performance.
The importance of encouraging women at RGU to participate in physical activity
Jordan Moore, President of Sport & Physical Activity at RGU for the year 2021/2022 has learned through her course at RGU the importance of engaging in physical activity for overall health. With an extensive background in sport, she shares her passion with others to encourage more women to participate:
“I’ve dabbled in many things. My drive in sport when I was younger was very much centered around performance, with a lot of competitions with netball. Then, I realised through my degree in Food, Nutrition and Human Health, the health importance of physical activity. After changing my perspective, I tried to drive participation in sport through leadership roles like this one by advocating that one’s perspective, like the one I had before, doesn’t necessarily encourage everyone to get involved. I advocate for sport and physical activity sector-wide to make sure that as many students are participating as possible!”
Overcoming barriers with inspirational female role models
Given that a major influence on young people is social media, where there are unrealistic expectations of what being healthy and active means, it is important that we show the real meaning of an active lifestyle when promoting sport and physical activity. Therefore, identifying key sporting female role models, where they could be coaches, volunteers or athletes at any level is essential in inspiring and motivating young females into sport and physical activity.
Jordan thinks that having female role models is essential. For example, she has personally looked up to female Olympians throughout her life:
“The determination that they put in, the time, the effort, the sacrifice, is absolutely incredible. I look up to female performers who do things for themselves.”
Role models at RGU
As previous President of Sport & Physical Activity, Jordan can be seen as one of the university’s role models for women wanting to enter the world of sport. Interested in sport from a very young age, she started playing netball when she was five years-old and has been trying out different activities along the way, such as athletic cross country.
But Jordan herself has role models within the university that have inspired her in her career:
“In terms of examples of high performers, I’ve also looked up to women within RGU Sport such as Katherine Corbett. I’ve definitely been inspired by their work ethic and how they got to where they are.”
Getting involved in sports at RGU
At RGU, it can be seen that participation among female students is already positively demonstrated and encouraged by RGU Sport. Jordan Moore states that there are more women participating in sport at RGU than men, by a slight percentage. She shares:
“I think that just shows how the environment that we’ve created is very much driven towards women in sport. They feel comfortable to participate at any level and any kind of sports, not just female dominant sports like netball.
I think some of the courses that are delivered at RGU also have a real emphasis on the importance of sport and physical activity on overall health. And when you look at gym user numbers at RGU, women overtake men in terms of participation.”
RGU Sport promotes competitive and non-competitive sporting activities and provides a welcoming environment for female students. They can experience the benefits and enjoyment of regular physical activity, and have the opportunity to be an active part of teams and sessions. Aberdeen’s famous student boat race showcases women’s participation as many take part in the competition every year as part of RGU’s team.
RGU Sport have also looked to facilitate female-only sessions and clubs as seen with the popular female only swim class every Wednesday from 1-2pm, as well as the ladies tennis, football, rugby, hockey clubs and many more!
And finally, RGU also offers a free gym membership for all students! This is the perfect opportunity for women studying at RGU to try something new without putting a strain on their finances. There is really nothing to lose!
Who are the Active Girls Committee Aberdeen?
Active Girls Committee Aberdeen is a group which was set up in 2016 and is funded and supported by Sport Aberdeen’s Active Schools team. The committee gained recognition locally, as well as nationally for our efforts through our many citywide promotion events, sporting events, presentations, interviews and awards in relation to our campaign and committee members.
We consist of a group of young women from various academies across the city, who volunteer as representatives. We share the same vision of establishing a campaign which extends to girls and young women, to enhance the opportunities available to increase participation in sport and physical activity levels.
Our main aim is to encourage and increase participation within girls and young women into sport and physical activity, whilst therefore reducing the inequality gap between female and male’s participation levels. Additionally, we look to support, guide and motivate girls and young women. We try to educate them on the importance of a healthy and active lifestyle, whilst addressing important issues such as mental and social wellbeing, self-confidence and body image.
It is important to note that we want to emphasise that participation isn’t necessarily about taking part in a specific sport or competing. The priority is young females becoming more active whilst also highlighting the social, mental and emotional impact of physical activity.