by Shannon Fisher and Kim Shimer
February 1 is National Girls & Women in Sports Day, a day of recognition initiated by the Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF) to advocate for sports equity and honor all female athletes and their contributions to the sports world. In this year-long celebration of the 50th anniversary of Title IX, we celebrate the tremendous strides that have been made for women’s equality in sports.
Trailblazers among Women in Sports
This past year has produced some remarkable moments, including:
- The first woman to lead an NCAA men’s soccer program to a national title
- The retirement of living legend Serena Williams, the best tennis player ever
- Villanova University’s Maddy Siegrist becoming the all-time leading scorer, male or female, for the Wildcats
- Army’s female athletic trainer saving a hockey player’s life on the ice
- The first black woman, Sasha Smith, winning the US soccer Player of the Year award,
- Females as officials for NBA and NFL games
- And many more
Women in sports today are able to follow their dreams because of those who forged a path for them. They in turn will chart a new course for the generations to follow. These trailblazers demonstrate the grit, determination, and resilience that education-based athletic programs seek to teach their young athletes.
Benefits of Sports for Females
The benefits of sports for girls are well known. The role they can play in promoting positive development among teens has been documented in research from the Women’s Sports Foundation, which was founded by Billie Jean King in 1974. A 2021 report, Teen Sport in America, Part II: Her Participation Matters, provides new data that identifies the health, academic, and psychological benefits that teen girls obtain on a sport-by-sport basis. It offers close examination of girls’ participation across 20 sports and the benefits shown to be critical for long-term healthy development. Interestingly, the report reveals that “Adolescent health, well-being, and educational achievement vary from sport to sport.” They are also impacted by how many sports a girl plays. It’s a fascinating study that parents are sure to find interesting.
Among the findings of this report:
- 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.
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:
Lack of access. Despite Title IX, girls have 1.3 million fewer opportunities to play high school sports than boys have.
Social stigma. In a coed environment, girls in sports may experience bullying, social isolation, negative performance evaluations and more.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.