Taking girls competitive sport up a gear

Douglas Ewart School in Scotland has been looking at ways to get more girls involved in competitive sports. PE teacher, Mike McCann, explains why participation in the British Schools Karting Championship has proved particularly appealing to girls at the school.

This summer’s Olympic Games have brought a new wave of exciting role models into the media spotlight to inspire children of all ages to take part in sport.

The achievements of women like Jessica Ennis and Laura Trott during the Games have been incredibly powerful in helping to encourage more young girls to look at competitive sport in a new light.

At Douglas Ewart School, we are keen to get more girls involved in sports with a view to increasing their interest in keeping active and healthy while building their self-esteem. The Olympic legacy has provided a wonderful platform for schools to boost the profile of girls in sport but there are some challenges to overcome.

Girls and sport

According to the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation (WSFF), a charity that campaigns to make physical activity an everyday part of life for women and girls, more than 80 per cent of women are not active enough to stay healthy, while young women leave school half as active as young men.  One of the reasons women state for not taking part in sport include lack of time, while others say they are too embarrassed to be seen getting hot and sweaty.

From my experience, most teenage girls don’t particularly relish wearing kit or running around the field. That’s why schools need to think more creatively if they want to increase the number of girls signing up to sporting events.

What has worked at Douglas Ewart is introducing activities that build self-esteem and help girls overcome the concerns they might have about becoming more physically active.  Our PE Department run sessions involving the local beautician, hair stylist, dietician and school nurse.  These are used as incentives to the girls to participate in sport and address issues relating to diet and lifestyle that might be holding them back from being more active.

Revving up an interest in competitive sport

Providing a wider variety of sporting and extracurricular activities opens up the opportunities for girls to find a sport that they’re interested in too.  This is one of the reasons why we introduced karting to our sports programme. Last year, we entered 30 students in to the British Schools Karting Championship (BSKC). This created such a buzz in the school that we expect more students to compete in BSKC 2013.

There were six girls involved in BSKC 2012 and they enjoyed the experience immensely. Involvement in the BSKC allows the girls at my school, who might not find traditional sports like hockey or netball appealing, to experience a competitive sport while still representing their school.

The girls enjoy the opportunity to compete with boys on an even playing field. They understand that success in the sport requires not only stamina and strength but also flair in driving the kart. Drivers need to have an awareness of their actions in the kart, be able to have quick reaction times and make prompt decisions about speed.

Keeping sight of what’s happening around and in front of you can also increase the chances of being first past the chequered flag and a small girl can compete alongside a large boy and still win.

As we were such a large group in the 2012 championship, we initially competed against each other in the early stages of the competition. In those heats, two of the girls took overall race wins, probably taking a few of the boys’ preconceptions with them as they passed the finish line. The others challenged well and came off the track laughing having enjoyed a new experience.

The girls at my school are very excited about competing in the 2013 championship.  Opening up the opportunity to them has helped them develop a “have a go” attitude and this is key to encouraging young people to try out new experiences.

They’ve embraced the competitive nature of the sport and are determined to improve their performance on the track to increase their chances of winning for their team and the school.  I would certainly encourage more schools to offer karting as an alternative competitive sport, particularly if they would like to see more girls participating in team sport.

This post was contributed by BSKC, a non-profit organisation set up in 2006 to make karting more accessible to young people – both boys and girls. Students do not need to have had any previous experience of karting as the skills to drive a kart can be taught easily. Schools can enter teams of three experienced or inexperienced drivers between the ages of 13-18 to compete in the nationwide competition, which includes a practice session and if the team qualifies, participation in a semi-final at a local karting circuit. More information is available at www.bskc.co.uk.


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