Why are fewer women, girls participating in sports?

“At least for me, track and field has become less fun as I’ve gotten older.”

Christina Hollingworth has been in track and field for ten years of her life. Athletics is a sport that includes running, high jump, throwing, and general athleticism.

From the age of six, her parents instilled in her not only the desire to practice and achieve better results, but also to enjoy and have fun in sports.

The 16-year-old Edmonton resident still lives by those values. She ranks second in Canada in the discus throw, an athletic event in which participants throw her 2.2-pound discus.

Christina’s road to the top has been a lonely one.

She has witnessed some of her friends fall off track, mentally or emotionally unable to cope with the pressure, sometimes abuse and stigma placed on young women and girls in sport. Did.

For the young Enoch Cree Indian woman, it was heartbreaking to see so many talented athletes walk away from the sport.

In an interview with, Christina said, “I had to deal with fat shameful girls and a coach who was very emotionally and mentally taxing.

“For throwers, they last for about two years, then they leave. And I never see them again.

According to the Canadian Women’s and Sport Organization, 50% of girls in Canada will drop out of sport by adolescence due to continued pressure from society and a lack of dependable female leadership.

Christina Hollingworth is Canada’s second-oldest discus thrower of all ages. (Contribution)

And coming out of the pandemic, Christina has seen girls and young women in particular playing sports.

She believes the lockdown has affected her peers. Even before the pandemic, women and girls were less likely to continue playing sports. As a trend, female athletes are not returning as COVID-19 has not impacted sports in the same way.

Impact of COVID-19 on women and girls who play sports

A report by the Women and Sport Organization of Canada, a Canadian nonprofit that advocates for fairness in all sports, shows that fewer girls and women are participating in sport in the post-pandemic world.

The “Rally Report” is a compilation of a survey of 4,500 girls and women. and 350 sports leaders talk about their experiences in sports in 2022.

What the researchers found was that the number of women and girls playing in sports was “steady” during the pandemic, but as years of turmoil came to an end, many female athletes fell back into full swing. I’m thinking of leaving to

“The fact that we didn’t lose so many girls and women to the pandemic is a huge win,” the report said.

COVID-19 has forced sports organizations to disband ahead of the summer of 2020 due to physical distancing requirements, leaving people with few options for participating in sports.

Researchers noted that many girls and women found alternative activities when sports were discontinued. According to the Rally Report, 2022 statistics show that one in three young adult women who are playing sports, from the age of 13 to the age of 18, are not sure whether they will continue to play sports. not.

And even with reports that many female athletes continue to play sports, about 13% of girls aged 13 to 18 and 10 girls aged 6 to 12 who participated in sports before the pandemic. % have not returned to sport.

In a post-pandemic world, Christina found the racetrack she once loved felt different.

“When you go to these competitions and compete, it gets very factional,” she said. If you are not among this “crowd” of people who speak to you, you are very much outcast.

The pandemic has played a role in shaping the way young people see the world, impacting their mental health and social skills. Like her other teens, Christina has been away from her school and track and field peers for two years.

During the pandemic, parents reported that 20% of girls aged 6 to 12 were less interested in sports than they were before.

Despite low dropout numbers among female athletes, the report notes that the overall participation rate of women and girls in sports across Canada is too low. compared to men and boys of the same age.

Some of the reasons the report says women are less likely to participate in sports relate to barriers such as racism, poverty, ageism and equality. This problem forces girls like Christina to ponder why they continue in the sport even though the rewards are minimal.

According to data from the rally report, By puberty, half of girls are no longer participating in sports, and older women are less likely to do so.

As women get older, their opportunities to play or continue sport as a career are affected as the continued participation of older women becomes less valued and role models in society become scarce.

Even female Olympic athletes have limited opportunities to forge their own path to financial security. Now, Canada’s gold-medal-winning women’s soccer team is fighting Canada Her Soccer for equity and rewards in funding.

Sexism, abuse demotivate athletes

WARNING: This section contains references to suicide and eating disorders.

Women’s excellence in sport and their positions of power within sports organizations have a positive impact on young female athletes like Christina.

Christina can recall having had female coaches twice during her entire discus throwing career. Christina said that when she was coached by women, she felt that women understood her point of view.

“She made sure I was training and tried to help me perform better in sports,” she said. It was different in the sense that I did.”

For most of her time in track and field, she described herself as a mentally abusive male coach.

An example of how female coaches may approach things differently is that there is pressure on young athletes to run faster, hit farther, and jump higher, which can result in girls not eating. Christina says.

When she was growing up, she repeatedly witnessed older male coaches and event organizers commenting on the weight and appearance of young female athletes.

“I remember competing with girls from[the Frog Lake Native American tribe in Alberta]and some of them were not skinny,” Christina said. “They were basically fat-shamed while running the 600m and 800m…not only from other athletes, but from the track and field officials…I never saw those kids again.” rice field.”

Another pressure that Christina’s father and lifelong discus coach Chris Hollingworth observed was how coaches put pressure on young female athletes to win.

“Unfortunately there are a lot of rivalries. They don’t always get along. Some coaches over-train their kids,” he said.

Chris and Christina described how some coaches physically push their athletes too far, injuring them and causing them to become mentally insecure. Christina recalled the effect this pressure had on one of her friends, who was 12 years old at the time.

“She was one of the best athletes in the state at the time,” said Christina. She said, “When she was practicing the high jump, the reason she couldn’t get over the bar wasn’t because she couldn’t jump, but because she was mentally blocked.”

Chris believes there are good coaches in the sport, but very few in between.

“Every year, we keep finding coaches who end up abusing kids … It keeps happening,” he said.

As Christina grew up, she realized that many girls who started the track had left and could not cope with the ongoing emotional abuse and pressure. she was 15 years old.

“It used to be a lot of fun and really turned into a community that I really enjoyed being a part of. Now it’s this very lonely thing,” she said.

Throwing the discus is important in the young athlete’s life, but it’s not her future.

When Christina graduates from grade 12 in 2024, like many Canadian women, she will be one of the female athletes to turn her back on the sport.

Participation challenging for low-income households

Some female athletes never leave the sport, but are never given the opportunity to explore it because of their financial background.

‗Girls aged 13 to 18 from low-income households reportedly face 10 to 15 per cent higher rates of barriers related to access, cost, racism and bullying than girls from high-income households. ,” the report said.

The financial burden of sports equipment and practice time can be a factor in girls’ adoption of sports.

Low-income and racialized LGBTQ2S+ women and girls are less likely to participate in sports, and after COVID-19, these women and girls face more barriers, according to the report.

Molly Carlson thanks her single mother for prioritizing her sports career.The high diver, now Team Canada, faced financial barriers early on.

“My mother was a single parent who raised me on welfare and would eat craft dinners every night,” Carlson told in an interview. We laugh like we do now because we’re on our way to the Olympics.”

Carlson grew up in Thunder Bay, Ontario, the largest northern city in the state. She started her diving career because of her “raw talent”, not because her mother could afford to take her into the sport.

“In diving, it was very talent-based. Then the federation applies money to talented people,” she said.

From there, Carlson worked his way up the ranks and was able to join the national team by the age of eleven. Competing internationally from a young age before mental barriers got in the way.

“When I was in 12th grade, I started seeing my body in a certain way … I experienced mental health issues with body dysmorphia and binge eating disorder,” Carlson said. “I had to step away from the international stage.”

According to Rally Report, 25% of girls between the ages of 13 and 18 cite negative body image as a reason for not participating in sports. About 12% of young girls aged 6 to her 12 said body image issues were the reason.

Carlson specifically found that the difficulty of diving and her sport of giving points to looks were part of the reason she began to view her body negatively.

“I think it’s a decline in women who want to keep going because of the self-loathing we’ve imposed on ourselves,” she said. I totally agree that it’s a critical time…but you’re growing up and you can’t easily do a dive.”

Carlson moved away from that particular “vibe” that focused on self-love and acceptance. I was hoping for

“When I got back to where I love, I reached out to Canada. I wanted to get back on the international scene,” she said. I switched to diving and now sits second in the world, replacing Canada.”

As she continues her professional career, she hopes that young girls and women will find inspiration in her story to continue to persevere through the hardships of the sport.

“I share my journey and struggles to inspire the next generation to be kind to themselves and to love themselves.” .”


If you or someone you know is in danger, the following resources are available.

Canada Suicide Prevention Helpline (1-833-456-4566)

Addiction and Mental Health Center (1 800 463-2338)

Crisis Services Canada (1-833-456-4566 or text 45645)

Kids Help Phone (1-800-668-6868)

If you need immediate help, call 911 or go to the nearest hospital.

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