The Reluctant Athlete reports that research from Women's Sports Foundation reports that beginning in middle school and through high school, girls experience a 23 percent decline in sports participation, compared to 10 percent for boys. In addition, a report released by the Girl Scout Research Institute reported that 40 percent of girls age 11 to 17 whom they surveyed said they don’t participate in sports because they don’t feel skilled or competent, and 23 percent don’t participate because they feel they don’t look good doing so.
Girls have made monumental strides in participating in sports, largely because of the passage of Title IX in 1972, which mandated equal access for males and females to educational programs and services -- including sports programs -- in schools receiving federal funds. According to Women’s Sports Foundation, the rate of girls’ participation in sports has gone from 1 in 27 in 1981, to 1 in 3 today.
Still, social relationships with her peers begin to take on more importance. Girls at this age may start to feel that they won’t be considered attractive if they’re strong, fit and can outrun a boy.
“Unfortunately our society continues to place more emphasis on a girl’s appearance than her ability, which doesn’t help during this developmental stage,” said Kamla Modi, Ph.D., research and outreach analyst for the Girl Scout Research Institute and former Division I gymnast at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey. “Being a star athlete doesn’t quite bring out a girl’s ‘feminine’ side unless it’s a performance sport, such as gymnastics, figure skating or cheerleading. Boys, on the other hand, are socialized to do sports at an early age. Sports are masculine by nature, and boys doing sports does not compete with boys getting attention and being well-liked. They go hand in hand.”