Confidence crisis in primary girls stopping them from getting active

Data released today by children’s charity the Youth Sport Trust (YST) shows a confidence crisis in girls is stopping them from getting active from as young as the age of seven.

The research involved 5,454 boys and girls aged 7 to 11-years-old across England. It shows that even in primary school, almost twice as many girls as boys report that a lack of confidence stops them being active in school.

The YST survey aims to identify the barriers that prevent primary-aged children from being more active. It builds on the charity’s 2017 Girls Active survey which looked at secondary aged girls’ attitudes towards PE and physical activity and the challenges they face in getting active.

Gemma Muttitt, PE teacher at YST member school Great Marlow in Buckinghamshire, said:

Some of the Year 7 girls starting school have negative pre-conceptions of what PE is about. I have had some girls coming to PE in tears because they don’t want to do it. It completely depends on what their experience of PE and physical activity has been prior to starting secondary school – it’s so crucial to engaging girls for life.

"The Girls Active programme and Stepping Up for Change initiative at our school and feeder primary schools is transforming this experience for girls. We kickstarted it with over 60 Year 7 girls attending the club. The programme has allowed for a smooth transition for students, and a chance to make new friends whilst engaging in physical activity.

"Year 7 students were enquiring about the club during their first few days at Great Marlow based upon the positive experience they had last year through the Stepping Up For Change Initiative that our GLAM leaders had helped to deliver."

The latest research shows a correlation between levels of confidence and levels of physical activity with the least active girls most likely to be affected by lack of confidence. Among less active girls, 32% said confidence was an issue preventing them from being activity.

The study was carried out through the Girls Active programme, which is developed by the charity and delivered in partnership with This Girl Can and Women in Sport. The programme is funded by Sport England through the National Lottery and delivered in over 450 schools.

Kimberly Wyatt, YST school sport ambassador and Grammy nominated artist from girl band the Pussycat Dolls, said:

The statistics from the Youth Sport Trust show that kids need our help. Kids decide how they feel about their bodies between the ages of 6-8 and this choice lasts the rest of their lives.

"We are at a tipping point with the effects of excessive social pressures and it’s time to make change! Kids deserve the best chance possible at a happy and fulfilled life and our duty is to do what we can. I believe by offering wellness and fitness through dance with my well-fit programme and initiatives like Girls Active we can make a difference."

Girls Active consults girls and empowers them to take the lead giving them influence over PE, physical activity and sport, making it more appealing and relevant to their everyday lives. In the past year the programme has expanded into primary schools through Girls Active Stepping Up for Change which sees secondary school-aged girls becoming role models to engage primary school pupils in physical activity. More than 63,000 girls have been reached because of Girls Active.

Ali Oliver, Chief Executive of YST, said:

"The fact that confidence levels in girls falls considerably behind boys from as young as age seven is deeply concerning. We know that lack of confidence is a major factor in why girls are less active than boys throughout their time at school. The alarming finding of this research is that this gap starts to open at such a young age.

"At a time when young people are struggling with their mental health, stress and growing levels of obesity, it has never been more important to unlock the power of sport and play to help them tackle these challenges and thrive in life.

"Physical activity and sport have a huge part to play in developing young people’s confidence and resilience. But we know that the gap between girls’ and boys’ levels of physical activity only grows as they get older. It is vital that the confidence crisis is tackled in primary schools if we are to give all young people the best start in life.

"The Youth Sport Trust is working with teachers and girls through Girls Active and Stepping Up for Change to address the barriers girls face and support them to influence the PE and sport offer in their school to build confidence and increase all girls’ participation."

Overall, boys at primary school said they are more active than girls with 39% of boys saying they do more than 60 minutes of activity a day, compared with 25% of girls.

Top five reasons primary-aged children say they don’t enjoy physical activity:

  1. I don’t like getting hot and sweaty (Boys 18%, Girls 23%)
  2. I am not confident (Boys 13%, Girls 21%)
  3. I am not good at it (Boys 14%, Girls 20%)
  4. I can’t keep up with my friends (Boys 15%, Girls 18%)
  5. I worry about trying new activities (Boys 12%, Girls 18%)

Girls produce marketing films to take back to school and engage their peers

Through Girls Active Stepping Up For Change, primary and secondary school-aged girls receive training from YST and inspirational athlete mentors. Girls work together at the training and beyond with younger girls being mentored and supported to take positive action in their own schools to improve the physical activity experience for all girls.

Kate Dale, Head of Sport England’s ‘This Girl Can’ campaign, said:

"It is incredibly sad that girls as young as seven don’t enjoy PE because they’re not confident, don’t like getting sweaty or worry they’re not good enough – all of which is a fear of judgement, which we’re trying to address through This Girl Can.

"We know that our attitudes to sport are formed when we are children, so helping children have more positive attitudes to getting active will be fundamental to improving the physical and mental health of girls and women for generations. To do this, we need to tackle all the cultural cues that make girls feel that sport isn't for them - from giving them kit they feel comfortable in, to ensuring they have the facilities they need. The whole sport and physical activity sector must work together to let girls and women know that they really do belong."

Heather Smith, Associate Head of Innovation at Women in Sport, said:

"This research shows that a lot of work still needs to be done to make sure girls feel confident in taking part in sport, PE and physical activity in schools. It is vital that we make sure girls receive the right support during this critical stage of their development to prevent a drop out in their teenage years and develop good activity habits for their future."

At a time when primary schools are receiving additional investment to improve their PE offer through the Primary PE and Sport Premium, the YST and its partners are encouraging schools to engage more girls at a younger age by:

Making PE and physical activity relevant to girls’ lives.

  • Empowering girls through involving them in design and delivery of PE and physical activities
  • Developing role models by using girls as positive influencers and advocates with their peer group
  • Placing the development of self-confidence at the heart of PE and physical activity
  • Recognising the power of friends to drive progress
  • Taking a long-term approach to engaging girls.

For more information about Girls Active and the Stepping up for Change initiative which engages primary-aged girls as peer leaders and advocates and uses secondary school-aged girls as role models visit: www.youthsporttrust.org/girls-active

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