A Good Time to Be a Woman in Sports

A Good Time to Be a Woman in Sports

It’s a good time to be a female athlete. Despite the U.S. Women’s national team’s early exit from the World Cup back in August, things are looking up for women’s sports. Among the highlights as reported by Axios in “She’s Got Game: Women’s Sports are Booming”:

  • The National Women's Soccer League will add new teams next year in Utah and San Jose. Former Meta exec Sheryl Sandberg was part of a group that invested $125 million in San Jose-based Bay FC.

  • On the basketball court, the epic rivalry between Iowa's Caitlin Clark and LSU's Angel Reese drove record viewership of the 2023 NCAA championship game, and both players return this season.

  • The WNBA meanwhile, is having its most-watched season in more than 20 years, added its own national TV partner separate from the NBA, and has begun talking expansion.

It’s predicted that more money will start pouring into women's sports as well. Of note: LSU gymnast Olivia Dunne is one of the highest-paid college athletes.

Athletics are part of Merion Mercy Academy’s commitment to our students’ physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. This year, approximately 75% of our girls are playing a sport and more than half play more than one. 

The role sports can play in promoting positive development among teens has been documented in research from the Women’s Sports Foundation, which published the 2021 report Teen Sport in America, Part II: Her Participation Matters. Among the report’s findings:

  • Health Behavior: Girls who participated in sports were significantly more likely to eat breakfast and fruits and vegetables daily than non-participants were. Those who participated in two or more sports were even more likely to engage in these healthy eating behaviors.

  • Physical Activity and Rest: Compared to non-athletes, sport participants were significantly more likely to engage in vigorous daily exercise, and acquire at least seven hours of sleep every night.

  • Substance Use Behaviors: In some instances, sports participation was found to be protective against girls’ substance use. Although there were no differences between athletes and non-athletes in the likelihood to binge drink (sports was neither a protective nor risk factor), participation even in one sport was protective against smoking cigarettes. Participation in at least two sports was protective against marijuana use.

  • Academic Achievement

    • Compared to non-athletes, a larger percentage of girls who play sports reported earning an average grade of “A” in school and rated themselves as “above average” on school ability. (Fun Fact: 65% of Merion Mercy's first semester honor roll awardees are on one of our sports teams!)

    • Sport participants also were less likely to miss school because of illness and were more likely than non-athletes to endorse high educational and occupational aspirations and expectations. 

    • For all indicators of academic achievement and attainment, the likelihood of benefiting from sports participation increased with the number of sports in which girls participated.

  • Psychological Health: Sports participation showed positive links to all areas of girls’ psychological health measured. Participants were more likely to report high self-esteem, self-efficacy, and social support and less likely to report fatalistic attitudes, self-derogation, depression, and loneliness.

In addition to these quantifiable benefits, at the high school level there are even more reasons playing on a team is worth the effort, including:

  • Developing new or different friendships. Incredible bonds are built on sports teams.

  • Gaining a sense of belonging. As early as fall of freshman year or even during summer training and tryouts, girls become part of the school community, forming relationships with upperclassmen who can help ensure a smooth transition.

  • Building confidence and developing character. 

  • Increasing a girl’s sense of independence. 

FUN FACT: From the Positive Coaching Alliance, a study of 821 senior managers and executives found that 94% of female executives reportedly played organized sports after primary school. They attribute their success to the leadership skills, discipline, and teamwork they learned from their participation on sports teams.

Athletics and All-Girl Schools

According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, by age 14, girls are dropping out of sports at twice the rate of boys. Most of the key factors that contribute to this discouraging statistic, however, do not apply at girls' schools, including:

  1. Lack of access. Despite Title IX, girls have 1.3 million fewer opportunities to play high school sports than boys have.

  2. Social stigma. In a coed environment, girls in sports may experience bullying, social isolation, negative performance evaluations and more.

  3. Decreased quality of experience. In coed schools, girls’ facilities may not be as good as the boys’ and playing times may not be optimal. The availability of quality, trained coaches may be lacking. 

  4. Lack of positive role models. 

Girls in single-sex schools are more likely to get involved in school athletic programs. Additionally, college recruiters look for athletes who are dedicated and capable of competing in sports at a rigorous level—qualities that exist across all sports in an all-girls environment when the focus can be solely on the individual and team achievements of female athletes.

Merion Mercy Academy Director of Athletics Shannon Fisher says, “At MMA, we have created a culture that encourages sports participation and provides mentorship and peer support through female coaches and role models. Our dedicated coaching staff cares tremendously for the development of our athletes and teaches in the way that girls learn best, which includes support and positive feedback.” Student-athletes of varying abilities are provided opportunities to compete and stretch their skills. Fisher adds, “We also help our athletes to find their voice and build their leadership skills, whether in a formal leadership position or not.”

To learn more about athletics at Merion Mercy Academy, visit our website or contact Ms. Fisher at sfisher@merion-mercy.com.