Why Mums Need To Be Sporting Role Models For Our Daughters

14/08/2014 16:58 | Updated 20 May 2015

Cheerleaders posing together

Girls need more 'feminine sports' like cheerleading and Zumba, according to the minister for sports and equalities (yes really) Helen Grant.

Heaven forbid we should actually try to persuade girls that getting a bit muddy and breaking the odd nail isn't the end of the world.

No, instead we should pander to the pretty, frilly pink stereotypes and encourage them to take up sports which make them 'look feminine'.

Oh, please. Give me a break. I'm already battling with my five-year-old daughter over her desire to wear nail varnish and lip gloss. Cheerleading is not going to help matters.

I've got a better idea. Let's start a revolution, mums.

If our daughters see us pulling our trainers on, getting sweaty and muddy, kicking a football around, riding bikes and swimming, surely THAT's the best way to get them involved in sport?

A report in 2012 found that schoolgirls were turning their backs on sport because they were embarrassed to exercise in front of boys and thought getting sweaty was 'unfeminine'.

Muddy teenage girls laughing and holding football on field

That's the mindset we need to change – we shouldn't just be throwing in the towel and accepting that it's okay for girls to think like this.

What girls need are real role models. If enough mums get moving, this could actually have a knock-on effect on the health of the nation. In England, most people are overweight or obese. This includes 61.3 of children aged between two and 15. That's 1.3 million obese or overweight children in England.

Researchers have found that parents have a strong influence on their children's decisions – up until adolescence, anyway, when obviously they start completely ignoring us. That means that mums who exercise can inspire their children to lead healthy, active lives too.

Becci Henderson has inspired her 10-year-old daughter to take up running. "I took her out for a little two-mile circuit," she says. "I gave her lots of little tips on how to pace herself and conserve energy. I needn't have bothered as she left me for dust!"

Kathleen Batty takes her children to a regular park run. "I just love that they enjoy it so much and I love running with them," she says. "I just hope they carry on being enthusiastic about healthy living when they reach their teenage years."

They're both members of the Run Mummy Run Facebook group, which is growing in popularity as many mums of all ages decide to get fit for themselves and their children.

Kevin Fenton, the director of health and wellbeing at Public Health England, tells me that mums have a crucial role to play in their children's health and fitness.

"Parents are important role models and it's great for families to exercise together," he says.

"We know that children become less active as they get older so it's important for them to enjoy being active and they keep it up into their adult life. With rising levels of obesity amongst children, active lifestyles and healthy eating are essential to maintaining a healthy weight.

"Being active also brings benefits to heart health and skeletal development for both children and adults. Other advantages include social interaction and improvements to mental health."

This is serious stuff.

With two young girls, aged two and five, exercise is vital for me - to set a good example for them as much as for myself.

They see me running in all weathers, they see me cycling in the rain, they see me swimming, they see me return from running hot and sweaty, and they want to join in.

Sure, if they choose to do dance classes instead, that's fine. But I don't want them to be put off other sports because they think they're unfeminine. I want my daughters to have every opportunity in life. That means altering the mindset that some sports are more 'feminine' than others.

Oh, and one more thing. If you want to make PE lessons more acceptable to teenage girls, abolish communal changing rooms and ban the leotard. Easy.

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