Girls and Sports

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Girls and Sports

Sports participation is important to female high school athletes in the United States because it helps these athletes spend their time in a fun and enjoyable way, keep fit, learn self-discipline, develop life skills, achieve a sense of accomplishment, and build long-lasting friendships with fellow athletes, among other things. Being an athlete and participating in sports are a key part of the identity of most female high school athletes. Female high school athletes have intrinsic and extrinsic motivations for participating in sports.

Female High School Athletes’ Reasons for Participation in Organized Sports

  • Researchers from the Gonzaga University in Washington interviewed 37 female high school athletes in the United States’ Far West region to understand these athletes' intrinsic and extrinsic motivations for sports participation. Their study was published in the International Journal of Sports and Physical Education in 2019.
  • Of these 37 female high school athletes, 17 were sophomores, 7 were juniors, 13 were seniors, 15 were soccer athletes, 13 were volleyball athletes, 5 were basketball athletes, 4 were cross-country athletes, 30 were varsity athletes, and 7 were junior varsity athletes.
  • The interviews revealed that the top intrinsic motivations for sports participation relate to the athletes’ desire to spend their time in a fun and enjoyable way, desire for a sense of achievement or accomplishment, and desire to experience the positive feelings associated with their sport.
  • Thirteen female high school athletes said they participate in their sport because of the positive feelings they feel or the high they get while playing.
  • Eleven female high school athletes said they participate in their sport because they like the sense of achievement they get from addressing their weaknesses.
  • Nine female high school athletes said they participate in their sport because doing so is a gratifying way to spend their time.
  • The interviews also revealed that the top extrinsic motivations for sports participation relate to the athletes’ desire to keep fit, desire to stay true to themselves, and desire to meet people and nurture good relationships.
  • Seventeen female high school athletes said they participate in their sport because doing so is a great way to meet new people and build good relationships with other people.
  • Fifteen female high school athletes said they participate in their sport because doing so is necessary to keep fit.
  • Ten female high school athletes said they participate in their sport because being an athlete is a key part of who they are.

Self-Concept of Female High School Athletes

  • The findings of the aforementioned researchers reveal that most female high school athletes view sports participation as a large part of their identity.
  • Of the 37 female high school athletes who were asked why they participate in their sport, 10 said being an athlete is a key part of who they are, 7 said sports participation is aligned with their personal values, and 5 said sports participation is an opportunity to just be who they are.
  • Only six said they do so to impress other people such as their friends, family, coaches, teammates, or rivals.
  • Only two said they do so because they feel they have to, and only two said they do so out of fear of displeasing other people.
  • Fifteen female high school students highlighted the importance of playing for their own selves instead of playing to impress or please others.
  • The findings of the aforementioned researchers also suggest that athletes likely account for a large part of female high school athletes’ social circles. Seventeen female high school athletes said they participate in their sport because they believe doing so is a great way to meet new people and nurture relationships.
  • Some female high school athletes treat their teammates as their second family.
  • A few female high school athletes participate in sports for the prestige associated with being an athlete. For three of the female high school athletes who were interviewed, this was one of their key reasons for sports participation.

Importance of Sports Participation to Female High School Athletes

  • Female high school athletes derive a number of benefits from sports participation and thus find sports participation important.
  • Sports participation helps female high school athletes stay in shape, develop life skills, improve weaknesses, learn self-discipline, achieve goals, develop long-lasting relationships with fellow athletes and coaches, learn new techniques, and achieve a sense of accomplishment.
  • A large fraction of female high school athletes also mention the importance of sports participation in increasing their prospects of competing beyond high school. Around 43% of the female high school athletes who were interviewed said the likelihood of playing in college impacted their decision to participate in high school sports.
  • Female high school athletes may not know this, but ROX’s Girls and Sports Impact Report in 2018 indicates that compared to their non-athlete counterparts, female high school athletes are 14% more likely to think they are astute enough for their chosen career, 11% more likely to be contented with who they are, and 16% less likely to alter their appearance.
  • Based on the report, female high school athletes are also more likely than their non-athlete counterparts to have good friends (84% vs. 79%), get along fine with other girls (88% vs. 81%), trust other girls (55% vs. 45%), and handle stress in a healthy manner (61% vs. 40%).

Additional Insights from an Older Source

  • As part of the #MyReasonWhy campaign of the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) in 2016, two female high school athletes shared their reasons for participating in high school athletics.
  • Brynn Campbell of Glastonbury High School in Connecticut shared that her 35 best friends on the swim team were her reason for participating in high school athletics. According to Campbell, her teammates were always there to motivate and push her to do her best every day. They were her family.
  • Kylee Johnson of Bixby High School in Oklahoma shared that her primary reason for participating in high school athletics was to meet new people and make new friends. A secondary reason was the fact that colleges prefer students who not only performed well academically in high school but participated in extracurricular activities as well.
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