Brands should embrace a "system change" to tackle the challenge that girls as young as five are defining themselves as "not sporty", Women in Sport has warned.
Only 10% of 11- to 13-year-old girls currently fulfil the recommended daily guideline for 80 minutes of activity, while 44% of 13- to 15-year-old girls are overweight. Research also found that just 18% of girls say they are "very happy" – a fall of 20% in eight years.
Speaking at Campaign’s Future Fit event in London today, Kate Nicholson, head of insight and innovation at Women in Sport, said the industry has a "responsibility to reimagine and reframe sport and physical activity as something that girls perceive differently".
She added: "This is about a system change. There are real opportunities at a time when women’s sport has such momentum. Let’s reframe sport in the minds of these girls."
Women in Sport's analysis suggests that brands need to work harder to connect with women and young girls through sport. "[Marketing] needs to be authentic; the ability to relate to people in the real world is critical," Nicholson explained.
She said that competitiveness in sport needs to be "reframed" and pointed to the impact of brands such as Nike and its work with athletes including Serena Williams.
Wendy Hawk, head of fundraising and communications at Women in Sport, shared how the message that sport is not for girls is apparent to kids as young as five.
Research by Procter & Gamble found that 64% of girls will have dropped out of sport by the time they become teenagers.
Women in Sport has identified a series of complex and deep-rooted barriers that get in the way of sport having a meaningful role in girls' lives. These range from personal hurdles around how girls feel to social barriers focusing on how they interact with others.
Hawk urged the industry to reframe sport for teenage girls: "We want to reframe sport as a lifestyle choice for teenage girls to trigger a really positive emotional response. We can have enormous social impact if we do that."
Notably, Women in Sport’s research found that, even in the social media age, the number one influencer in a young girl’s life is her mother.
Lisa O’Keefe, director of insight at Sport England, added that in its work as part of the "This girl can" campaign, mothers often talk about family commitments as a barrier to sport and exercise.
She explained: "When we look at adults who are regularly active, what we constantly see is there is a mother who is regularly active. Actually, the impact you have on your children is massive in terms of countering some of the social norms we face."
Teenage girls and sport in numbers
- Health: 44% of girls aged 13 to 15 are overweight (Public Heath England,2016)
- Happiness: only 18% of girls aged 11 to 18 are very happy, compared with 38% of girls in 2011 (Girlguiding, 2018)
- Mental health: by age 14, almost one in four girls are experiencing high levels of depressive symptoms, compared with one in 10 boys (MCS, 2018)
- Body image: 36% are unhappy with their body and the way they look (Women in Sport and Youth Sport trust, Girls Active 2017)
Source: Women in Sport