Sports Score Big Benefits for Girls
Playing sports can boost a girl's mental and physical health, her self-confidence and even her report card, according to research compiled by the World Health Organization. Athletic girls also may be more likely to delay sexual activity, and girls who continue to exercise regularly may reduce their risk of heart disease, osteoporosis and certain cancers later in life.
"Whether your daughter is or isn't involved in sports, parents should still encourage girls to get active and stay active," says Dr. Mary Lou Gavin, medical editor for KidsHealth.org, part of The Nemours Foundation's Center for Children's Health Media. "Girls who exercise or play sports get fit, but the benefits are more than just physical."
With so many potential benefits of sports and physical activity, KidsHealth.org polled more than 3,000 girls ages 7-12 to find out how they felt about sports and their participation.
To help motivate girls to be more active, KidsHealth.org offers two sets of tips: for parents whose daughters love sports and for parents whose daughters need help finding a sport they enjoy.
Have a sports-loving daughter?
* Find more time for sports. Look for opportunities for your daughter to try new sports and enjoy sports in a casual way. Of the 88 percent of girls who enjoy sports, 90 percent said they'd like to play sports more often than they do.
n* Guard against injury. Girls said getting hurt was the hardest part about playing sports. Insist on protective gear, such as helmets and mouth guards, and be sure your daughter has the right shoes and equipment. Good conditioning and well-trained coaches can help protect your athlete, and don't let your child play when she's hurt.
* Reduce the pressure. A quarter of girls said they felt pressure from their parents about sports. Another 20 percent said they don't like when their parents come to games because they embarrass the girls with loud cheering or are too critical after the game.
* Elevate girls' sports. Teach girls about the history of women's sports and let them know they deserve equal opportunities to play. More than a third of girls polled said they had been teased about playing sports. Attend sporting events to support your daughter and other female athletes.
* Encourage a lifetime sport. Nearly 80 percent of athletic girls said they plan to play sports after high school. Help them meet that healthy goal by introducing them to sports that can be played for a lifetime, such as tennis and swimming.
No sports for your daughter?
* Start with a clean slate. More than 60 percent of girls who were not athletes said they had quit a sport. They reported being worried they won't be good at new sports, so they don't want to try. Offer your daughter a "do-over" with sports and let her know she might need to try several before finding one right for her.
* Try the buddy system. Your daughter may be more likely to try something new with a friend. Investigate classes and local programs that she and a friend can do together.
* Ask about workout clothes. Some girls, especially those who are overweight, may shy away from exercise because they don't like how they look doing it. It can help to have a comfortable workout outfit, including a supportive sports bra if needed.
* Make it easy. Organized sports are great, but also consider sports and games that can be played at home or in a casual way. Take inventory of what you own — balls, whiffle ball sets, bikes, skates — and help identify times when your daughter can play outside.
n Inspire her. Playing sports can help your daughter feel capable and strong. Energize her by attending girls' sporting events and introducing her to female role models in sports history. And when your daughter gives sports a try, be sure to praise her.
— Compiled by staff and tips from KidsHealth.org
Sports Beat Other Activities
An online poll by KidsHealth.org of 3,000 girls between the ages of 7 and 12 found 88 percent of girls like sports, and they like them so much they would rather play sports than text (81 percent), watch TV (80 percent), or go to the mall (55 percent).
Girls who don't like sports worry they won't be good at them or that people will laugh at them. But more than 60 percent of nonathletes say they'd like to get better at sports and they'd most like to try swimming and dance.
Girls who didn't like sports were more likely to say that boys were better at and that boys' sports programs were more important than girls'. Most girls — 90 percent — had not heard of Title IX, the 1972 federal legislation that required equal opportunities for girls to play sports. Girl athletes were no more likely to know about Title IX than nonathletes.
Also across the board, 93 percent of girls say they hope their own daughters will play sports one day.
The poll was administered between November and December 2010.