New studies show that many young Kiwi women and girls would like more flexibility, fun and freedom from uniforms in sports, as the drop-out rates are not supported by a pandemic.
More and more young women in New Zealand want to play sports or be active – but on their own terms.
Our 12-17 year old girls face problems that are felt in society at large, not just in sports, says Raelene Castle, CEO of Sport New Zealand.
“Body image is important to them, fun is important, time with friends is important,” she says. “An appropriate uniform is important. It is important to be flexible and to be able to exercise when it works for you.
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“Young women don’t say they don’t want to participate. They say they want to do it how they want, when they want and in the clothes they want to do it in. “
These issues were highlighted in the latest study by Sport NZ, which focused on female rangatahi (teenagers) in an attempt to understand and address their significant dropout rates from exercise and active recreation. Especially when a pandemic keeps them out of the fields and courts.
Young women are also the focus of this year’s Women + Girls Summit, an all-day online event on Wednesday – with a program designed by young women.
“You are our ‘problem child’ – we are seeing a significant decline in your physical activity,” says Castle.
“Anyone who has views, ideas, or insights to improve the situation, we want to discuss. If we can develop active habits in this age group, they will carry them around with them for a lifetime. “
The descent is not new. Research by Sport NZ in 2018 showed that young women spent less time participating in the weekly participation than young men (10.3 hours versus 11.6 hours).
There is a significant decrease in active teenage girls between the ages of 15 and 17 (from 11.7 hours per week between the ages of 12 and 14 to 8.2 hours in the next age group).
But 71 percent of young women want to be more physically active.
This latest study sheds light on the barriers young women face – what makes it difficult for them to engage in exercise or active recreation – and how they want to change that.
And part of that process can be convincing their elders, including their parents.
Phil Walter / Getty Images
Sport New Zealand CEO Raelene Castle.
There will always be young women and girls who love the competitive side of the sport – “Girls who want to be the next Black Fern, Silver Fern, or Dame Valerie Adams,” says Castle. “And that’s absolutely great, and we want to keep encouraging these girls.
“But at the same time there is another group of young women who say, ‘You know what? We want to do it when we are ready, and we want to do it on our terms. “
Sport NZ works with national sports organizations as part of their women and girls strategy to think beyond the traditional sports they offer. “We want them to focus on flexibility and fun, for example girls can play with their buddies. Evolving the product they offer to be more contemporary, ”says Castle.
Research shows that women ages 17-19 prefer active recreation such as Pilates, jogging, walking, and a gym over organized sports.
“We also want to help parents understand that dancing is still physical activity in your bedroom and anything that gets you moving is a good thing,” says Castle. “TikTok is actually great if you’re into dancing or jumping rope.” Remember, breakdancing is a sport in the 2024 Paris Olympics.
“Our parents need to understand that physical activity does not have to be defined by the traditional criteria of sport. Physical activity is good for young women, whether there is a whistle, referee, or rules. It is important to find your own way to be active now. “
It has become more and more apparent that some young women are deterred from exercising because their clothes are expected of them.
Uniforms that are uncomfortably revealing or not tailored to different shapes and sizes can also discourage girls from exercising. Body image is a big deal for young women – especially for those who don’t want to wear short skirts, tight dresses, leotards or even bikini bottoms.
“I agree that a uniform can make sport egalitarian, which is good. But sometimes it’s a barrier – size, shape, cost, ”says Castle.
“The other reason for uniforms is to distinguish one team from another, but all you need is bib numbers. Like in indoor netball and cricket – red plays green. I believe in that very much. “
Making whānau easy to play together is another important way to make young women feel included.
“Volleyball, touch, 3×3 basketball – these sports are picking up speed because the entry barrier is low. Four T-shirts to mark the corners and a ball are enough, ”she says. “It just offers the option of making it inclusive and inviting.”
Finding time outside of school, homework, part-time work, or family responsibilities is another obstacle.
“We can reduce some time, cost and complexity issues – you don’t have to have a coach, you don’t have to referee, you can play with your friends and wear jerseys for identification. We have to work. It is difficult to remove all these barriers. “
Phil Walter / Getty Images
Women in Sport Aotearoa CEO Rachel Froggatt.
Rachel Froggatt, CEO of Women in Sport Aotearoa, has now “two buckets” of our female Rangatahi’s problems – one for longstanding traditional barriers and the other for those who emerged from Covid-19.
“There are deeply rooted systemic problems that we are slowly trying to resolve,” she says around a unified approach to sport. “That women and girls join an existing system and deal with it.”
Women in Sport Aotearoa (or WISPA) is committed to making sport more “consumer-oriented”, for example to ensure fair access to facilities such as changing rooms on sports fields or the time allotted to women for sport.
“A fantastic job has been done, especially in the high performance area of the Women’s World Championships [coming to New Zealand in the next two years] Creation of gender neutral institutions. That sets a real benchmark and goal for all sports to have equitable facilities across the country, ”says Froggatt.
“We have to think about well-being and safety in sport – some facilities are not physically safe for girls and women. And there are some people in the system that girls don’t feel safe with. We should push for more opportunities for trainers and administrators so that girls who get into the sport feel more secure. “
And then there is the other bucket – which deals with the effects of Covid-19 on young women and girls and their participation.
According to Froggatt, there is evidence that the employment rates of women and girls have continued to decline over the past 18 months.
“I can speculate on various reasons. First, prioritization to get the sport up and running for men and boys after the lockdowns. Then there are the family dynamics, especially in families with middle to low incomes, in which the demands of work and family prevail and health and well-being are pushed back.
“And where money has become a challenge and you decide what you want to spend money on, seasonal fees, uniform costs and transportation become obstacles to the continuation of the sport.
“We know that the sports sector is under tremendous pressure – especially the sports that rely on annual competitions to keep the income flowing. Heart of their consumers, what do they need and what can sport do to help them?”
Froggatt praises Sport NZ’s work in these difficult times, particularly in its “Balance is Better” philosophy, which creates high quality experiences for all young people to actively participate in sports.
Castle says research shows that young women and girls tend to do “polite exercises like walking” during lockdown, but when they return to normal, visiting friends, part-time jobs, and studying for exams may be a priority
“We are very aware of this and work closely with all of our sports and recreational partners to really focus on this Rangatahi age group and ensure that they return with them to a more organized environment,” she says.
Vince Fleming / Unsplash
Volleyball, touch and 3×3 basketball are growth games as the barrier to entry is low.
This year’s Women + Girls Summit, hosted by WISPA and the Shift Foundation, was “designed by young women for young women,” says Froggatt.
“The idea is that everyone who comes to the summit should sit down and shut up and listen to the stories and experiences of our young women, hear what is happening for young women and girls in sport. Instead of assuming that they know best or that the problems are not widespread and do not need to be addressed. “
The price of registration was significantly reduced for young women so that “their voices could be heard to guide the sporting sector”. Around 70 have registered so far.
“Storytellers” at the summit include eminent young sporting director Arizona Leger and 16-year-old Leilani Hakiwai, who dropped out of school at 14, struggled with dyslexia and is now a group fitness trainer, playing rugby for the Hawke’s Bay women team .
Moving the summit online due to covid-level restrictions can be a blessing as it serves as a testing event for next year’s IWG World Conference on Women and Sport hosted by New Zealand. “We use the same virtual platform, so a lot of observers from all over the world tuned in,” says Froggatt.
Castle hopes the summit will achieve two things.
“For one thing, we’ll be open to the possibilities and realize that young women want different options in different ways, and we should listen to them,” she says.
“And I want it to be an opportunity for us to think about more collaboration – opportunities between sports and leisure organizations to work together and provide young people with a wider experience.”
* The Sport NZ Women + Girls Summit, hosted by Women in Sport Aotearoa and The Shift Foundation, is a one-day online event on Wednesday September 29th. You can sign up here.