girl pitching softball

Why do more girls quit sports than boys?

Girls today have the opportunity to play pretty much any sport they wish to try, including traditionally male-dominated sports such as hockey, boxing, rugby, or football. Yet as a new report on girls and women in sport reveals, getting—and keeping—girls in the game requires more than simply allowing them to play.

Research by Canadian Women & Sport presents alarming information about gender inequity in sport. According to the 2020 Rally Report [PDF], although young girls and boys enroll in sports at a similar rate, girls’ participation in sport begins to decline around age nine, and drops off sharply in the teen years.

By their late teens, one in three girls who used to play sports have quit, compared to just one in 10 boys. This gender gap persists past the teen years, and continues into adulthood.

Girls are less likely to get involved and stay involved in sport compared to boys. This comparison underscores the need for a gender lens to be used in sport. Girls and women continue to experience and benefit from sport differently than boys and men do.

-Canadian Women & Sport Rally Report
Percentage of individuals reporting weekly sport participation:
Age groupBoys/MenGirls/Women

Source: Canadian Women & Sport, The Rally Report, (2020)

A lot has already been done for gender equity since the last report from 2016, but more needs to be done. It’s a rallying cry to encourage action in order to improve sport for women and girls.

Related read: This online course is committed to keeping girls in sport

Barriers to sport participation

There are many reasons why girls drop out of sports. According to the Rally Report survey, common barriers to participation range from lack of time, availability, and awareness of sport, to changing priorities, low confidence, negative body image, perceived lack of skill, and feeling unwelcome.

Income and culture plays a role too. Girls in families with an income over $100,000 have a higher chance of participating in sports than families with lower incomes. Ethnicity is also an interesting factor that influences participation rates. Girls that self-identified as Indigenous participated less than girls self-identifying as Caucasian, South Asian, Asian, and Black. 

Two big takeaways for parents and coaches

1. Multisport girls are more likely to stay in the game 

When girls do participate in sports, they participate in many. According to the report, over 80% of girls surveyed who did participate in sport played two or more sports. Some even participated in over six. 

From personal experience as a coach and physical education teacher, I’ve noticed that multisport girls just love to play most sports and can easily pick up a new one when they’re in high school.

Even though they might drop out of community sports, many of these girls still continue to play sports for their school. Once they graduate high school, many of them decide to be active in other ways such as jogging, participating in CrossFit, or going to their local gym to lift weights or participate in fitness classes.

2. Role models matter

We all have a role to play when it comes to gender equity in sports. According to the report, same-gender role models and active parents have a positive influence on girls and teenagers.

Girls who have these kinds of role models to look up to are more likely to participate in sports and experience the many benefits, such as increased physical health and development of leadership and socialization skills.

Participation in sports has been shown to improve mental health. According to this study, women who played sports also reported perceiving themselves in a more positive way and said that the skills they learned helped them in their professional careers.

Related read: Coaching girls in sport: What the research says

In order for more girls to fully realize these benefits, communities and sports organizations need to increase enrolment and retention of players. The report encourages having more women in leadership positions within sports organizations. This includes coaches at the grassroots level and board members at every level of sport (local, provincial, and national). 

Also, if we want to inspire the next generation of girls, there needs to be better representation in traditional and social media. Women’s sport needs to be televised more often so that young girls can see and emulate strong role models.

These role models are not only players. Girls need to see that women can coach and referee matches. They need to see more female sport reporters and commentators. Having all kinds of role models in the spotlight can only better the chances of sport participation for our young girls.

Keeping girls in the game is important for gender equity in sport. It’s an important step not just for the betterment of sport, but also our society. 

8 responses to “Why do more girls quit sports than boys?

  1. Males are more aggressive and females are more nurturing but nature. It only stands to reason that as females mature, athletic competition becomes less important. Males still have the urge to physically compete even if they aren’t very good at the sport.
    As long as the opportunity to play exists, can’t we just leave it up to them? Maybe we don’t have to solvea problem.

    1. Guess you don’t go to many girls youth sports. I had one of each and both did the same sports. The girls were always more competitive by nature once the competition started, always wanted to put in more training work to be “better than the boys”. Granted they were more likely to be friends with their opponents off the field. Even in combat sports like wrestling the girls were always far more violent and aggressive in their matches than the boys.

  2. My husband coaches a co-ed U12 soccer team. He has far less girls on his team (which is true for the league), and he’s having a hard time getting the girls ‘ball time’ as the boys seem reluctant to pass. Add in lack of self-confidence which is normal at this age and fear of looking bad (particularly around boys) – I’m not surprised girls are dropping out. Could part of the answer be to have separate clubs for boys and girls sports around age 8/9?

  3. My daughter is 12, and until recently would have described herself as “sporty” I would continue to describe her as sporty. Unfortunately she is hitting an age where the focus of the 2 sports she plays is on competition. She enjoys competition but isn’t one of the fastest or best at either sport. So, she is finding she is now being grouped with more younger children. She has no aspirations to play representative sport, she wants to enjoy the training and the sport for fitness and fun. Not being with her friends is taking the fun away. She isn’t that much behind them, so the impact wouldn’t be that great and her friends are friends, they arent going to complain! . So, she is on the verge of giving up. Her confidence is down, and she no longer feels sporty!
    We need to reward clubs not just by how many representative players they have but also by how they retain young people and encourage participation, whatever the level they play at.

    1. I agree that is a reason many girls drop out of sports. My daughter is just starting grade 12 and plays basketball, but pretty much all the girls in the neighbourhood who played basketball with her 5 to 6 years ago when she was new to the sport have quit. There are various reasons why those girls quit, but the main reason is the emphasis on performance and winning.

      Playing time in basketball can be very unequal and although I think skewed playing time works when they’re around grade 9 or older, when they’re younger everyone should participate and play. If you’re in grade 8 or 9 and riding the pine you generally give up and lose interest. There should be more house/recreational leagues for girls who want to play at a non-competitive level. But as far as playing with friends, I’m not sure I agree there. If there’s a lower level of competition available then the child will make new friends and that’s part of the life lessons of sports. Learn to socialize and network. Push the child out of their comfort zone socially so they learn to be more sociable as an adult.

    2. as a teenager, i think your daughter is okay. as long as she enjoys the sports she is in it’s fine. if she wants to give up then that’s her choice. if she wants to stay then okay, and about her not having friends there, maybe you should teach her to be more social with other kids.

    3. Hi Janie, I understand that it would be of some benefit for your daughter to have a comfortable space to play sports in. I also think that competition is at the heart of sport. There would be lower levels where your daughter could play at and still enjoy playing if it really is about the sport for her. If it is more of a social outing, in that she just wants to be wherever her friends are, then that defeats the basis of the sport by making leniencies for someone of lesser ability and that I feeel isn’t fair. As for not being with her freinds, she is still way too young to be too attached – she will socialize better growing up if she isn’t constantly being accomodated for and she will always make new friends, shes 12 its not that deep.

  4. We’ve chosen a lot of short term sports for my son, consequently he’s spent a bit of time in a wide variety of sports. I always count the numbers of girls and boys. From soccer, multi-sport sessions, biking, snowboarding, cross country skiing, baseball, flag football etc, there has always been more boys. The only sport he’s ever done where there were more girls was volleyball. There was approximate parity in curling and swimming. Weekly sport participation may seem relatively equal when they are young, but I am certain that boys get more hours in sports from a younger age. Also, some Dads, (and sometimes I imagine Moms) don’t see the point of investing a lot of time or money in girls sports. There is no big league to dream of some day joining. A few ways to help change this: 1) Start telling Dads that most female CEO’s played competitive team sports as teens, 2) Explain to girls that playing a few team sports is an important social skill that will help them in both their personal and professional life, 3) Ask charities that provide funding for sports or sporting equipment to discuss, with every family that receives funding, the importance of having girls play sports, for their health and self-esteem, 4) national sports bodies need to require that EVERY girl’s team have at least one female coach.

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