A young girl stands in a park with her foot on a soccer ball and her hands on her hips. She's smiling.

Do girls feel safe and supported in sports?

To many parents of daughters, encouraging girls to participate in sports is an obvious choice. There’s a wide range of both physical and mental health benefits when girls are active and engaged in activities they enjoy, making girls’ sport an overall positive experience.

Yet a recent report released by Canadian Women & Sport might tell a different story. According to the 2022 Rally Report, research shows how 4,500 Canadian girls and women, and over 350 women sport leaders, experienced sport in 2022. And the results are clear: “Our current sport system is failing to provide girls and women with access to safe, quality sport as participants and as leaders.”

The benefits of sports for girls

According to the report’s data below, there is an overwhelmingly positive effect on the mental health and well-being of girls when they participate in sports. From building confidence, self-esteem and resilience to lowering anxiety and reducing stress, girls’ participation in sport appears to be very important to kids and teens alike.

A bar graph from the 2022 Rally Report shows the percentage of girls reporting various specific benefits from participating in sport.

Yet, despite that, the Rally Report points out that sport participation alone isn’t enough. While coaches and decision-makers play a critical role in enabling girls’ full participation in sport, they also have a responsibility to support girls’ mental health. But the following statistics are alarming:

  • Only 41% of sport leaders feel well-equipped to talk about mental health with girls. “Even fewer sport leaders feel comfortable discussing mental illness.”
  • Even though 50% of sport leaders “feel equipped to speak to girls about sport-related stress, most girls (67%) don’t feel comfortable approaching their coaches on this topic.”
  • Over 90% of girls believe sport benefits their physical and mental health. But almost half (46%) of parents report low quality programming as a barrier to their 6- to 12-year-old girls’ ongoing participation in sport. This jumps to 55% for girls age 13 to 18.

This points to a clear need for more education and support in the field of mental health for both female athletes and the coaches instructing them.

A young girl plays tennis on a sunny day. She bounces the tennis ball and prepares to serve.

What can parents, coaches, and sports organizations do?

While it may feel daunting to face these kinds of statistics and facts, there are things everyone can do to help improve the sport experience for girls. The report concludes with suggesting that girls and young women continue to raise their voices and demand better. Further, everyone can advocate for sports organizations to do better. Here are some suggestions:

  • Call on sport organizations to train coaches and activity leaders in gender equity so they understand and can meet the needs of girls and women
  • Request that sport organizations train administrators and staff on why and how to apply a gender equity lens to everyday decision-making
  • Call on board members to become gender equity champions

The key is putting girls at the centre of plans. Because gender inequity creates unsafe spaces particularly for girls, women, and gender-diverse people, it’s crucial for everyone to support women and girls and work towards advancing gender equity.

In the end, this will eventually lead to safer sport for everyone.

You can read the full 2022 Rally Report here.

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