Jock & Jill: How to get girls active

Before they reach adulthood, girls and young women drop out of sports twice the rate of boys. It's a disappointing statistic.

The Women's Sports Foundation (WSF), an American advocacy group, points to cost and a lack of opportunity as the two main reasons girls stop playing sports and reports that the number of U.S. school not offering sports teams for girls more than doubled in one decade. There is no comparable research done in Canada.

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Through sport, girls grow to be confident, learn to work together and become leaders in their communities. Research also suggests an active lifestyle will discourage young women from smoking or abusing drugs and alcohol. Exercise also prevents heart disease and cancer and can reinforce a positive body image and self-esteem.

Here are 10 points to encourage girls and young women to pick up a sport, make exercise a part of their lives or stick with the physical activity they currently pursue.

TEACH her athleticism is a good thing

Let her know it's OK to sweat, get red-faced and be athletic. Encourage her friends to join in and when she sees them playing, she may be persuaded to think sport is cool after all.

SHOW her the opportunities

When I speak with athletes just breaking onto the national or collegiate scene, the young women consistently emphasize how they use sport to get an education or pursue other goals. Because there are few truly professional opportunities for women, sport is one path to realizing other ambitions, and women's university sport is excellent and entertaining.

INTRODUCE her to role models

Let her see you working out, sweating and making physical activity part of your life. Take her to girls' and women's sports events in Vancouver and check out the biographies, stories and films of women sports heroes like Christine Sinclair, Billie Jean King, Lindsey Vonn and the UBC women's volleyball team.

EMPHASIZE the health benefits

Many teen girls are preoccupied with their bodies and appearance. They see a lot of flaws in their own shape, but can be encouraged to be active once they understand what exercise can do for their figure and their health. Young women can be motivated to exercise for health benefits that go beyond looks.

DISCOVER what fits her personality and body type

Suggest activities in which she can be successful and challenged, which make the most of her existing abilities and strengths. Find a challenge for her skill level and body type.

HELP her improve

If she's found a sport she loves and is intent on getting better, YouTube has thousands of tutorial videos, and there is no shortage of technical websites with sport-specific training. Some are free, others have membership or download costs.

DO it together

Don't just tell her - show her. Be active together and set a good example. The WSF suggests an "activity bracelet," which is like a charm bracelet or key chain that includes trinkets in the shape of sports gear, like a baseball or snowboard, to represent the activities you did together.

PRIASE and reward her efforts

A smile, a nod of the head, applause and kind words of encouragement can be powerful tools for motivation. Show her she's succeeding.

CHANGE the pace

Some girls, especially teens, tend to get bored quickly or have their attention easily drawn elsewhere. Make sure you are introducing her to a wide variety of activities to keep her interested.

KEEP her encouraged

Help her schedule the time to be active by keeping an exercise calendar at home or by putting your own fitness activities on a calendar. Sneak notes into her lunch or her gym bag with words of inspiration and praise. Message her on Facebook, Twitter and the social media platforms she uses most to keep her encouraged to play and aware of her commitments.

INTRODUCE sports to other areas of her life

Make a sports scrapbook or open a board on Pinterest. Start a Facebook group for her team or club if there isn't one already. From magazines and the Internet, collect pictures of girls and women being physically active, refereeing games, coaching and competing. She'll recognize herself in the photos of other active girls and women.

mstewart@vancourier.com

Twitter: @MHStewart

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