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We are in a golden age of women in sport. And yet, our girls are dropping out in droves.

Suncorp Team Girls
Thanks to our brand partner, Suncorp Team Girls

It’s time to stop and just take this moment in.

We are in a golden age of women in sport.

A time unlike any other in history when so many strong, determined, gutsy Australian women are smashing it in pools and oceans, on fields and greens, on courts and ovals. A time when these sportswomen are receiving the attention they deserve as they dominate headlines and Instagram feeds kicking goals and reminding our daughters that it’s about what your body can do not what it looks like.

Ash Barty in tennis. Sam Kerr in soccer (pictured above). Hannah Green in golf. Sally Fitzgibbons in surfing. Tayla Harris in AFL. All the teams in Suncorp Super Netball. The Matildas.

And yet.

And yet a disconnect is happening. Instead of running towards sport and the multitude of physical, social and emotional benefits it brings, our teenage girls are walking away. Close to 50 per cent of our girls are dropping out of sport by the age of 17, according to Suncorp’s Australian Youth & Confidence Research 2019 report.

CLOSE TO FIFTY PER CENT.

How is that even happening? Where are we going wrong?

NSW Swifts players Helen Housby and Sam Wallace are two women to watch in the Suncorp Super Netball. Image: Getty.

There are some obvious culprits. There’s the increased academic workload of years 11 and 12 at school and – let’s be real - sport tends to be the first thing girls drop from their bulging timetables. (The irony of course is that teen girls who play sports do better academically – possibly because sports provide that much-needed mental health break from the stress of study).

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Next, there’s the fact that weekend jobs become more appealing (and sometimes more necessary) than Saturday fixtures.

Finally, puberty, changing body shapes and the fragility of adolescence can leave girls feeling incredibly vulnerable when forced to wear swimmers, short skirts or bike pants on the field or court in front of their peers.

I get it.

But there’s another reason why our girls are dropping out of sport which we’re not really discussing. And we need to.

Our kids are dropping out of sport because of US. The parents.

Parents yelling abuse at coaches and referees.

Parents getting into verbal stoushes and punch-ups with other parents on the sidelines.

Parents mocking and teasing their children’s opponents.

Parents berating and shaming their own kids for not playing well enough.

A few years ago, when my daughter played soccer I watched in horror as a parent barked instructions and criticisms to his daughter throughout the entire match. She was eight.

It’s unsurprising then that a recent survey by Tampa Bay’s i9 Sports of kids aged eight to 14, found that more than 30 per cent of respondents wished “adults weren’t watching their games.”

Meanwhile, more than 10 per cent said they’d been called a name by another player’s parent; almost 40 per cent said they’d witnessed verbal fights between parents.

Take that in for a moment. There are kids going to Saturday sport who have been called names by another player’s parent.

So, when our girls tell us that sport isn’t fun anymore, that it’s starting to feel ‘too serious’, we have to ask ourselves if it’s because we’ve ruined it for them.

At what point did ‘winning’ become the single focus in kids’ sport? Because – spoiler alert – around one per cent of high school kids actually go on to become professional athletes. So why is winning the priority?

Winning (and learning to win graciously and fairly) is just ONE experience we want our kids to have playing sport. Isn’t it? Don’t we also want them to experience defeat? To develop that grit inside them to get back up and play another day? What about how to be a team player? Learning to take feedback from a coach? Finding their voice on the field - knowing that the best team captains aren’t always the strongest players, they are the people who have an ability to inspire and lead.

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Sport teaches our girls so many life skills that have nothing to do with trophies or plaques.

You know what else? We need to remember that as parents we set the tone.

• Let’s be enthusiastic: parental enthusiasm for being active and playing sport helps shape our children’s attitudes and eagerness to get involved.
• Let’s focus on what matters: Forget goals and PBs. Let’s champion teamwork, resilience, leadership and all those skills our kids are soaking up.
• Let’s learn to be supportive spectators: Let the coaches and refs do their job. As parents let’s say two important sentences after every game: “I love watching you play” and “Did you have fun out there?”

The research is clear that getting active does wonders for our children’s physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.

When it comes to sport – let’s be their cheerleaders.

What's the deal with negative self-talk? How do you convince a teenager to not quit sport? Suncorp's #TeamGirls resources have helpful articles for parents, teenagers and anyone else who'd like to help build the next generation of confident girls on and off the court. Explore now and be inspired.

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MMSurvey

Suncorp Team Girls

We know that sport builds confidence and the more confident girls are now, the more successful they can be later in life. The 2019 Suncorp Youth and Confidence Report reveals nearly half (46%) of all girls turn their back on sport by the age of 17.
So we’ve committed to changing the score.
Suncorp Team Girls is dedicated to arresting this decline in sport participation in young girls, and highlighting the benefits of staying in the game. We are committed to continuing to change the score to build a nation of confident women, on and off the court.
Find out how Suncorp's Team Girls program is helping to build a nation of confident girls.
Let’s change the score.

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