As part of girls’ development, it is critical they connect with positive peers- especially other girls.
Those of us at middle school sites tend to cringe at the idea of girls “connecting” with other girls because nine times out of ten there is some drama involved. However, contradictory to what media feeds us, girls are not born with a “mean gene.” Research stresses the importance of healthy relationships for girls can have a significant impact on their self-esteem, connection to school, as well as involvement in positive activities. Wondering what great tool can achieve this? The answer will probably not surprise you: athletics.
Participation in athletics provides multiple benefits for adolescent and teen girls, some of which include:
- Increased self-esteem and confidence
- Higher academics
- Decreased chance of involvement with violence and/or drug use
- Listening skills
- Goal setting
- Positive thought thinking
Not every student may be attracted to playing a particular sport- let’s face it, some of us aren’t athletes (yours truly included). However, your after-school program can take the foundation of a sport and apply it in a slightly different setting. For example, some of your female students might enjoy participating in a step class/group. There’s also the latest cardio craze- zumba! What about cardio-dance? The foundation principles are the same- it is merely the application that varies.
Another great benefit to physical fitness activities is the obvious: health benefits.
We all know that child obesity rates are the highest they have ever been and athletics is just one part of the solution. There is some research that links obesity in girls to their early entrance into puberty, which can lead to starting their menstrual cycles at an earlier age. Girls who begin puberty at an early age may often experience insecurity over their bodies, which unfortunately can contribute to low self-esteem. All the more reason to engage girls in physical fitness activities- build up their endurance and at the same time build up their positive self-image…sounds like a win-win to me!
Aside from health benefits and developmental advantages, there is one more critical reason to support and promote athletics among girls. According to Dr. Joan Steidinger, “in sports, girls not only care about their sport but also about the quality of the relationships connected to the sport. This translates into how well they get along with teammates, coaches, trainers, non-athletic friends, and parents.” (source: Blood, Sweat, and Cheers, 2011). So, athletics can help you deal with the ongoing “girl drama” that all too often gets in the way of actual learning. I don’t know about you, but I think this is pure genius! The idea of having girls work together on a consistent basis is the key to breaking down barriers…and it can all be done in your after-school program. Physical fitness activities are key in motivating students (especially girls) to build positive relationships, stay connected at school, and make overall healthier life choices.
What are you waiting for?
Start planning your next Frisbee competition, running or walking club, dance crew, group yoga- whatever is going to get your girls going! One last note, make sure that staff members join in on the fun! We have to, after all, always role model what we expect from our students. Perhaps a staff vs. students game is in order to kick off the integration of athletics in your program.
As part of the BOOST Breakfast Club, I’m supposed to tell you what I had for breakfast. Well, I actually skipped breakfast this morning because I had a physical. I’m happy to report that I’ve been moving quite a bit (walking and running) and lost 10 pounds in six weeks. I’m motivated now more than ever to keep reaching for my goal. Why am I doing it? I can’t expect kids (especially girls) to take physical activity seriously if I don’t- plain and simple.
Until next time, Boosters!
Author: Gaby Baeza