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School games a turn-off for girls

Next September, hundreds of elite teenage athletes from around Britain will compete over four days in Glasgow in the first UK School Games as part of the build-up to the London Olympics in 2012.

But a recent study of 1,500 10 to 15-year-old girls reveals that this major event designed to profile youth sport and announced in his Budget speech by Gordon Brown, Raith Rovers supporter and Chancellor, will leave the vast majority of Scottish teenage girls unaffected.

They are not that keen on competitive or team sport, which they see as largely for boys, and have other things to do such as homework, household chores, chatting with friends, shopping and watching soaps.

One girl interviewed for the Sportscotland study described a classmate who was "into sport" as being "practically like a boy". Some girls also said that many images of sporting role models do not feature toned and healthy looking girls but very muscular, elite women.

Steve Grainger, chief executive of the Youth Sport Trust, which has put up pound;1.5 million to support the School Games, said the event "will help us develop for the first time a national competition framework for school-age children. This is a much needed component of the strategy to be a highly successful sporting nation".

The good news for elite sport is that the minority of teenage girls who are keen on competition may be influenced by the Glasgow event. One girl in four believes it is "cool" to be sporty, according to the study by Mary Nevill of Loughborough University.

For the three out of four who are unlikely to be influenced, more must be done by schools, clubs and recreation departments to target activities in and out of school, the study says.

Figures show that fewer than half of teenage girls take part in sport or activity more than twice a week with a further tail off as girls move up the senior school. Girls say too much emphasis is placed on activity at younger age groups.

Almost four out of five girls say that keeping fit and healthy was not important to them. Being slim was far more important to their image, said one.

Most girls hope to take part in sport and physical activity in the near future, although in reality most do not. Dr Nevill says the quality of facilities is particularly important for many who are uncertain about their bodies in the teenage years. They need enclosed, warm and clean showers with hair-driers and mirrors.

To overcome self-consciousness, they also need their friends around them, often in single-sex activities without the boys who are seen as too competitive and challenging. Dr Nevill recommends more recreational activity programmes, such as dance, aerobics and yoga, to balance competitive events.

As one girl commented: "Boys have football and basketball but they put nothing on for us."

Another said: "I live half an hour's drive away from the school so any sports and clubs going on after school here I can't take part in 'cos there won't be any way of me getting home afterwards."

Leader 18 Increasing demand for sport and physical activity for adolescent girls in Scotland is on the Sportscotland website.

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