26 Nov

Why Girls Play Sports: Are Girls Motivated Differently in Various Parts of the World?

The Erasmus + program in Europe just published a wonderful “Toolkit” entitled: “How to Make an Impact on Gender Equality in Sport.” * This toolkit includes very detailed and valuable statistics on what motivates females to play sport in Europe; shedding much needed light on the issue.   The report found the following:

Females tend to be statistically more motivated by:

  • Keeping Fit

  • Improving physical appearance

  • Controlling Weight

  • Maintaining health

  • Relaxing   

Females tend to be found:

  • More recreational or health-oriented activities

  • More in fitness centres/commercially run facilities

  • More in sports that emphasis physical expression (dance, gymnastics, ice skating, etc…)

Working in the Sport for Development field (S4D), I can’t help but question whether the motivations of women and girls in Europe differ from those of girls in other nations?   I am currently working on a project in India, The Nanhi Kali Sports Program,  to introduce sports to 150 000 underprivileged girls.  Over the last year, over 37 000 girls have participated in sports and the majority have done so for the first time in their lives.  We have had the chance to ask the girls along with the community activists to reflect on their feelings about sports and girls.  Below are a few quotes and a common thread of feelings expressed from the girls and ladies involved in the sport program: 

“Girls now have a glimpse of what they can be...They want to participate. It’s things like this that show them that they can be something.” – Community Educator

“Yes, sports is good for these girls.  It can help make them stronger.  These girls are going out more and they need to be strong.  They are not staying at home all the time anymore.” - Community Educator

“I want to play sports, but my parents do not allow in the home. So today I feel very happy when playing.” –Sport Day Participant

These repeated messages suggest that the motivations for these girls may revolve more around ideas of:

  • Strength

  • Confidence

  • Safety

  • Fun

In addition, the girls in The Nanhi Kali Sports Program, have worked on their own “Sports Diary” to help them lead their own learning and monitor their sport development.  The diary includes quotes from their Indian female sport idols which include badminton, shooting, boxing, and tennis; quite different from the sports that “emphasis physical expression such as dance, gymnastics, ice skating,” listed by European girls and women in the Erasmus+ report.

Evidently there is a need for much more detailed statistical analyses to clearly understand the motivations of these girls to play sports, however the experience in the Nanhi Kali program suggests that they may differ from the girls from the European report.  With very different cultural expectations and pressures on women in Europe and women in India, perhaps this greatly influences their motivations to participate in sports.  

It is fascinating to explore this possibility and it is perhaps an opportunity to see sport for girls through a very different lens.  Undoubtedly as grassroots girls sports programs continue to grow and flourish in different parts of the world, it will be very important to better understand the needs and motivations of different groups in order to best develop girls sports programs to help serve these needs. 

* Erasmus + Council of Europe,  “Toolkit - How to make an Impact on Gender Equality in Sport, All You Need to Know”, September 2019, Documents and Publications Production Department (SPDP) 

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