Why are teenage girls six times more likely to drop out of sport than their male classmates? Diane Spencer on efforts to arrest the trend
NIKE, the world's biggest maker of sports shoes, is sponsoring research into luring more teenage girls onto the sports fields.
The Pounds 200,000 study, to be carried out by David Kirk, Loughborough University's first Beckwith professor of youth sport, aims to discover why girls drop out of PE and games and which strategies work to prevent this happening.
The research will focus on specialist sports schools and Professor Kirk might, for example, examine whether a new sports kit, redesigned changing rooms or different activities would boost girls' interest.
Research over the past 10 years has shown that girls take part in PE and games as much as boys in primary school, but they drop out at six times the rate of boys when they reach their teens.
The need for research was highlighted at a conference organised by the National Council for School Sport in Nottingham last week.
Gaynor Nash, from the Leicester School Sports Federation, works with girls in 11-14 middle schools. She found that they were enthusiastic about sport and said they had no intention of dropping out. "But then most do."
She said it was not enough to make opportunities available, a "changing mind-set" was also needed. For example, a sports shop in Leicester had pictures of real sportsmen to show their wares; but women's gear was displayed by models.
Girls, she said, would go to watch their boyfriends play in matches at weekends, but boys would not go to see their girlfriends play. They said they would be called a "wuss".
Three Year 11 girls from Etone community school in Nuneaton, have studied media images of women in sport. Kelly Stokes, Gemma Oddy and Vicky Stubbs presented evidence of discrimination against women's sport in a public-speaking competition after trawling through newspapers and the Internet for evidence.
They pointed out that no one knew that the women's soccer world cup was in 1999 and that traditional women's games, like netball, are being taken over by men.
Their research also covered the magazine Sports Illustrated. The three pupils found that only four out of 52 cover pictures were devoted to women. The first was in a bathing suit, the second was tennis champion Monica Seles after she was stabbed, the third was tennis player Mary Pierce because she feared her father, and finally ice-skater Nancy Kerrigan appeared, but only after she was hit on the knee by a rival.