Girls in Sport and PE

Posted: March 4, 2013 in Uncategorized

This week I am discussing a topic of interest to me, which is Girls in Physical Education. Sports has been stereotyped as a masculine activity with males expected to be strong, independent and athletic. In contrast females are expected to be quiet, obedient and attractive in Western society (Wilde, n.d). We are bombarded with stereotyping since birth, with males being dressed in blue colours and given trucks and soldiers, while girls are dressed in pink and given dolls and animals to play with at infancy (Malszecki and Cavar, 2005), sports is no exception.

 I view myself as a controversial person especially on a tennis court, I throw/break my racket, shout, swear; these are deemed as aggressive masculine behaviours which is typical in tennis. Now, imagine a female doing the same, what would be the view of the public and society of that behaviour? She would most likely be stereotyped as “butch or lesbian”, due her expression of aggression, which are not deemed “feminine” traits (Wilde, n.d). This is a major issue in sport nowadays, from grassroots up to elite athletes, making it much difficult for girls to participate in physical activities due to the labelling issue within western society.

Back on topic now, physical education and girls. Last week I discussed the fact that only 12% of 14-year-old females partake in enough physical activity (NHS, 2013) and prefer a social approach to sporting activity. From my experiences in school, this issue is a major one as inter- class competitive structures are apparent during PE e.g. cross country, athletics, fitness testing; and in turn not addressing these social factors in females (this is an example from my school only). A finding Luke and Sinclair (1991) studying into gender differences In PE found that 25% of females who did not take part in physical education classes identified teachers as the second most common cause of not participating in physical activity because they disliked the methods of evaluation and take part in decision making within the lessons. The researchers stated that participants indicated that they did not like the evaluation system basing it on fitness or single skill test only on the students. The curriculum was the most common cause as the teachers control the PE programme for that school. The research suggested that the teacher plays a big and major role in female PE participation. Biases towards certain activities and testing may leave females left out and vulnerable because of the curricula set and not controlled externally by governing bodies, only advised on the content to partake and address at all levels from the UK education department.

The main reason I picked this subject this week has an additional incentive following university have been employed by Tennis Wales in a programme: Girls in Tennis (2013). Tennis Wales are setting targets for coaches across the country in order to increase girls’ participation between the ages of 4-6 years. The goal is to work in the schools, attract the most “athletic” players into the sport, followed by 3 times a week of tennis and many competitive tournaments in “mixed events”.

` However research from Gneezy and Rustichini (2004) found that competition works better for males aiding and improving performance compared to girls, and that mixed competitions do result in a decline in girls and an increase in boys’ performances. This research shows that one of the main bodies of Sports in the UK is failing basic properties and facts about females in competition. Not splitting up children’s gender groups in competition can have a detrimental effect on females competing in competition thus affecting their self-esteem using competitions in this format. A relevant study to follow up this is from van Daalen (2005). The researcher investigated why girls drop out of physical education after receiving the core credits for the course.  The findings again found that girls much preferred social sports such as “road hockey and skipping” with their friends, but when athletic ability was tested this affected their self-esteem and causing resentment for physical activity as they were evaluated in public and subject to scrutiny, more for their athletic abilities by the teachers. Another aspect, which contributed to the resentment, was the forced competition amongst their friends, rather than expressive and creative PE.

Following research in to this topic this week, I have found a lot of problems with the way that physical education is implemented for girls, and the implementation of projects within an important tennis body is failing girls in sport. We can see that

  1. Girls prefer a more social and less competitive atmosphere in the Physical Education classroom
  2. Teachers and the curriculum are main contributors to girls not partaking in physical education classes with no variation
  3. There is no concrete curricula by the government which is problematic and causes biases and scrutiny in classes
  4. LTA mixed competition have no benefits towards girls in competition and potentially could be more harmful to the sport
  5. Analysing athleticism in children affects their self-esteem
  6. Girls prefer much more sociable physical and fun unstructured activities

To finish this blog, last week I mentioned the 5×60 programme which has been implemented and supported by many due to the positive effects it has had in the participation of secondary children in schools (Leyshon,2009). This incentive has addressed the issues concerning girls partaking in physical activity (and boys) through allowing them to participate in an unstructured, fun and multi-sport model, and is currently having a positive attitude towards this.

Should the other institutions follow suit?                                                  

Wilde, K. Women in Sport: Gender Stereo Types. Available: Last accessed 4/3/13.

Malszecki, G. and Carvar, T. (2005). Men, masculinities, war and sport. Race, Class and Sexuality (4)

Luke, M. D. & Sinclair, G. D. (1991) Gender differences in adolescents’ attitudes toward physical education, Journal of Teaching in Physical Education, 11. 31-46.

Gneezy, U., and A. Rustichini. (2004)Gender and Competition at a Young Age. American

Economic Review, 94 (2), 377-81.

van Daalen, C. (2005). Girls‟ experiences in physical education: Competition, evaluation, and degradation. Journal of School Nursing, 31(3), 115-121.

Leyshon., A. S. (2009) Physical activity, Extracurricular Sport and the 5×60 initiative: Leisure Lifestyles and Young People in Wales, 2007-2009. Retrieved from:

Girls ‘are being put off exercise and PE’ – Health News – NHS Choices (2012). Girls ‘are being put off exercise and PE’ – Health News – NHS Choices. Available at:



  1. te9192 says:

    I think this is a really interesting topic, and I take a lot of interest in sport myself, but do find this highly stereotypical of women, as not all women (including myself) shy away from the competitiveness of a sport. As you’ve noted, sport in general is a sexist institution, male-dominated and masculine in orientation (Sabo, & Jensen, 1992), but there are no biological reasons as to why women shouldn’t participate in sport (Millar, 1999). Over the past few decades, this stereotype seemed to have dropped within most sports which was obvious in the 2012 Olympics with more and more female competitors (Berntein, 2002) and in football the amount of female teams jumping from 500 in 1993 to 4500 in 2000 (Campbell, 2000). So why should education not motivate this competitiveness in girls? There are plenty of female role models, such as Kelly Holmes and, (being a hockey player) the whole women’s England hockey team after gaining a bronze medal at the Olympics. Within hockey, participation at a young age is high, and up until high school you train in mixed gender groups as well as competition. So maybe it is just the nature of the sport that this form of competition needs to be split, as tennis is more of an individual sport, and hockey is of a “social- nature” working within a team, therefore should education base its curriculum on sports of this nature as well?

    Bernstien, A. (2002). Is it time for a victory lap? Changes in media coverage of women in sport. Retrieved from

  2. psuc18 says:

    Hi David, I found your blog this week to be controversial as always! However I did find it interesting although it was stereotypical of how society believes women should behave.

    You state that Gneezy and Rustichini (2004) found that competition works better for males by improving performance in comparison to women. However I know a good amount of women that are incredibly competitive in athletic games and I also know a few males that are not even interested in competitive sports therefore I don’t agree with this study at all as it can not be generalised to the whole population.

    I don’t agree that sport is male dominant. I think that statement is rather old fashioned! Cambell (2000) stated that there is an increasing number of women’s football teams being formed today and I believe that women athletes are now being respected in professional sports just as much as males. Jessica Ennis is a prime example of this.

    You have stated that Van Daalen (2005) found that girls drop out of physical education after receiving the core credits for the course. Again I don’t see that this can be generalised to the whole population because so many women are now professional athletes, football players, rugby players etc.

    I don’t doubt that you have a point and that physical activity does have different effects on men and women however I don’t think that this is demonstrated in research due to the stereotype that women are not equivalent to men when it comes to sport and competitiveness.

    I really do hope to see developments made in this field in the future and therefore will be looking forward to reading your remaining posts in order to observe if there is a progress!

  3. psuce says:

    Hi I found your blog very interesting again this week. After researching online Casey et al (2009) claimed that to promote sports and physical activity in adolescents girls, focus must be placed on appropriate activities that are fun, offering opportunities for single sex classes. In addition to that they also claim a way to encourage girls to participate in sport would be to encourage non-competitive and self referencing girls. This would mean girls would participate in sports without feeling the need to be the best if there is no competition only to perform comfortably to the best of their ability, which I believe is the way forward for girls to participate in more sports.

    Casey, M. M., Eime, R. M., Payne, W. R., & Harvey, J. T. (2009). Using a socioecological approach to examine participation in sport and physical activity among rural adolescent girls. Qualitative Health Research, 19(7), 881-893.

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