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Takeaways From Women’s Sports Foundation’s Study: Keeping Girls in the Game

The Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF) commissioned a national survey called Keeping Girls in the Game: Factors that Influence Sports Participation.

In early 2020, the Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF) commissioned a national survey called Keeping Girls in the Game: Factors that Influence Sports Participation ‘about the participation and experiences of youth in sports to identify critical factors related to youth entrance into sport and those associated with dropping out of sports.’

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Founded by Billie Jean King, Women’s Sport Foundation is “committed to ensuring that all girls and women have equal access to sports and physical activity and the tremendous life-long benefits they provide.” It is our pleasure to share some key takeaways from this study, which was supported by The DICK’S Sporting Goods Foundation, an organization that believes that participation in sports makes people better and supports underprivileged and underfunded youth athletics.

While there are some positive takeaways from the survey, there is still room for growth and improvement. As Dr. Deborah Antoine, CEO of WSF, observed, “all girls benefit from multiple champions for sport in their daily lives. Parents in particular can play a powerful role in supporting their daughters’ love of sport, while also helping to break down the barriers they face. At the community level, we should continue celebrating and supporting the champion organizations that are increasing access and opportunity and ensuring that girls not only try sport, but also find joy, confidence, strength, and the sense of belonging that keeps them playing during their growing years and throughout their lifetimes.” Here are some key takeaways from the study.


Disparities persist

While progress has been made, there remain glaring disparities in sport participation across gender, race/ethnicity, geography, and socioeconomic status. Specifically, African American youth and youth from low-income households are least likely to be engaged in sports and most likely to have never played sports compared to other groups. Additionally, sports drop-out rates are higher among youth from low-income households compared to families of higher income.

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Parents play a vital role

Not surprisingly, parental enthusiasm, support (emotionally and physically) and facilitation of participation in sports is crucial in keeping young athletes engaged.

Role models are vital and inclusive representation matters

Role models are especially important for girls and other underrepresented youth in sport. According to the WSF, “role models act as a powerful force to help youth see individuals like themselves in and around the game, that directly understand the unique experiences and challenges that they face in sport, and that they can aspire to become.” Unfortunately, there is a lack of inclusivity on coaching staffs as well as in other prominent administrative roles within sport organizations.

Lack of resources

A lack of accessible resources deters youth from participating in sport. “Youth from low-income households who never played sports identified the cost of sports, inability to get to practice (i.e., transportation), and safety, as the key deterrents to participation, with cost of sport disproportionately of greater concern to African American and Hispanic families.”


Maintaining a love of sport is crucial

Encouragingly, 72% of teen girl athletes surveyed endorsed their love of sport vs. 54.8% of boys. Therefore, “maintaining a love of sport is critical, especially in the face of multiple competing interests.”

Our society should promote more positive female role models – not as an exception – but as a rule. Clearly, parental education and intervention can help encourage and propel more young girls to develop an interest in and passion for sports. In addition, sufficient allocation of resources is essential. But above all, we need to find ways to encourage more parents, role models and leaders to volunteer to their time and donate funds to support girls in sport. 

Thanks to the great work of organizations like the Women’s Sports Foundation, we believe that change can happen and that positive life changes for more girls can be made through the power of sport. Here is the report again.