'We must work out a way to bring more female coaches and role models into schools'
Michael Davidson, director of sport at Brighton College, outlines a need to bring more female coaches and role models into schools to help prevent girls turning off sport.
This week, the BBC reported that despite the UK’s chief medical officer recommending that school age children do an hour of exercise each day, a survey of 25,000 secondary pupils showed that only 8% of girls and 16% of boys managed this.
What’s more, when teenagers were surveyed by Youth Sport Trust and Women in Sport, figures showed that nearly two thirds of girls and a half of boys were not keen on sport.
On top of the hard facts of these surveys, any sports teacher will tell you anecdotally that engaging teen girls in physical games at school can be a challenge. The reason often cited for this is lack of self-confidence and I do believe that is an issue.
However, I believe one of the biggest reasons why girls turn off sport is because there are not enough female coaches. That is a legacy of the days when men dominated sports coaching and women were not encouraged to take on this role.
And we are still paying a price for that legacy – it remains difficult to find female sports coaches to teach girls at a crucial age when they may be turning onto sport or off it.
So why is it important that girls are led by their own sex in sport? I think that boils down to how men and women instruct differently. A male coach may often give broad brush directions to a group of pupils about what a planned activity entails. The boys will immediately rush out onto the field and start the activity even before they fully understand what they are meant to be doing. Meanwhile, the girls are waiting for more fine detail instruction about what is expected of them and when they don’t get that, they may start to switch off.
This sociological backlog breeds future inequality because if less girls are engaging in sport, then the lack of women coaches will continue into the next generation and the one after that. It is addressed admirably in campaigns like Sport England’s This Girl Can, but we still need to do more.
At Brighton College, we work incredibly hard to create an environment where concerns about appearance do not arise. Girls and boys look the same when they are doing sport – wearing school tracksuit bottoms and jacket – and there is no room for customising their look. When they are engaging in physical activity, there is no differentiation between boys and girls, they are simply pupils in a sport lesson.
Every girl must do four hours of sport a week minimum, with the option to do many more outside school hours plus weekend fixtures. We also ensure that female sporting success is celebrated and individual girls’ achievements highlighted.
We think it works. On any given Saturday, we will have up to 14 girls’ matches taking place in one sport or another and we have produced some of the country’s top female cricket players (the 2013 Ashes winning side included former pupils Sarah Taylor, Holly Colvin and Laura Marsh).
Girls arrive at secondary school full of enthusiasm, drive and sporting ability. If we are to maintain and bolster that youthful love of sport, however, we must work out a way to bring more female coaches and role models into schools.