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Rio 2016: Six Team GB Women Athletes Discuss How To Inspire More Girls To Take Up Sport

These girls can.

05/08/2016 15:27 | Updated 11 August 2016

If the ground-breaking ‘This Girl Can’ and ‘Like A Girl’ campaigns taught us anything, it’s that generations girls and young women have been avoiding sport like the plague. 

Whether it’s body confidence issues or lack of visible role models, not enough girls are aspiring to make it big. 

In London 2012, team GB’s female athletes outperformed the boys securing 15 of the 29 medals. So something’s got to change.

So we caught up with six Team GB women athletes heading to the Olympic and Paralympic games in Rio to discuss how to inspire more young girls into sport.

Helen Glover, 30, Rowing

Glover is an Olympic champion, triple World champion, quintuple World Cup champion and triple European champion.

David Davies/PA Archive

How did you first get into sport and what made you stick with it? 

I’m a naturally competitive person so when I discovered I was good at sport it channelled my focus towards being the best I could be. Having groups of sporty friends when I was growing up meant that sticking with it was easier as it was also part of my socialising.

What do you think needs to be done to get more girls into sport?

The increase in sporting role models from 2012 has made a positive impact but I feel the media coverage needs to reflect this too. Girls' decisions to give up sport can often be a reflection of societies expectations. The more ‘normal’ and positive it is to see female sports stars the more girls are going to ‘dream big’ and believe they can pursue their sports.

What are the biggest challenges facing women in sport? 

I have never experienced any gender-specific hurdles. I’ve been fortunate that my coaches (mostly male) have been engaging and exciting but this is an area I know I have been fortunate in. The teachers and coaches around young female athletes need to understand the important role they play in keeping girls engaged with sport.

Jordanne Whiley, 24, Tennis

Whiley was the youngest ever National women’s singles champion in wheelchair tennis at the age of 14.

Jordan Mansfield via Getty Images

How did you first get into sport and what made you stick with it? 

My dad got me into tennis so it was much easier sticking to tennis as it was in the family. Not a lot of children have that privilege I know but it helps when a parent is supportive and encouraging.

What do you think needs to be done to get more girls into sport?

Stop the media and fashion companies from telling women and young girls that they need to be a size 8 and have plastic surgery, magazines Photoshop all of their images so young girls think they have to look perfect and skinny when really it’s not possible, so no wonder girls don’t want to go into sport and look “manly”.

What are the biggest challenges facing women in sport? 

Media coverage! It’s hard enough to get disability sport televised so me being a disabled woman makes it very hard to generate coverage and interest, although my management team do a good job for me.

Ellie Simmonds, 21, Swimming

Simmonds competed in the 2008 Summer Paralympics in Beijing, winning two gold medals for Great Britain aged 13.  

Ellie Simmonds

How did you first get into sport and what made you stick with it? 

For me, I loved sport and I loved being active. I loved PE and loved having those after-school clubs that I joined I liked ballet, swimming lessons and I think that was my personality - just wanting to be on the go all the time.

I had a lot of friends at my swimming club and, being naturally competitive, it just clicked and I started swimming competitively.

What do you think needs to be done to get more girls into sport?

We need to make sure that girls are aware of competitive sports, so they can aspire to get into it if they want. With This Girl Can to role models like Jess Ennis and Laura Trott, we can really help promote women in sport.

What are the biggest challenges facing women in sport? 

Personally I haven’t found any disadvantages with being a woman in sport, but I know others have. I guess it’s important to make sport accessible. It doesn’t need to be competitive though, girls can go out with their mum or friends and go out for a run each week, that’s being out there and active.

Amber Hill, 18, Shooting

Hill has won three gold medals in a major international competitions, including the ISSF World Cup series and the European Games held in Baku. 

Richard Heathcote via Getty Images

How did you first get into sport and what made you stick with it? 

My Grandad first introduced me to shooting when I was 10-years-old and it just came so naturally to me and I quickly realised I had a talent. I felt like if this was something I was good at, why couldn’t I use it to help me achieve the ultimate dream of competing in the Olympics?

What do you think needs to be done to get more girls into sport?
I think that education of the wide range of sports available is key. If parents and teachers are introducing kids to non-mainstream sports then the opportunities for young people are endless! 

There are slowly more and more young girls getting into competitive sport and I’ve noticed that other countries are leading the way with this. I hope to encourage girls in Britain to do the same.

What are the biggest challenges facing women in sport? 
I think one of the biggest challenges is that many girls have a preconceived attitude that something like shooting is a masculine sport and therefore they aren’t going to be any good at it. I hope that I can be a positive role model for girls across the UK to show them that all sports are suitable for all genders.

Laura Trott, 24, Cycling

Trott, who has an OBE, is the most successful rider, male or female, in the history of the European Track Championships.

Action Images / Reuters

How did you first get into sport and what made you stick with it? 

I did sport from such a young age it was my parents who gave me the confidence to carry on with it. At school people used to tease me because it wasn’t cool.

I never played out or anything after school because I’d be off cycling. There were parties I couldn’t go to, I’d come back to school and everyone would be speaking about it and I guess that’s one reason why girls give up on sport. You feel lonely almost because of it.

Also, when I was much younger my mum lost a lot of weight (some eight-and-a-half stone) and seeing her determination taught me to never give up.

I was quite young at the time, but seeing someone go through that and going through the ups and downs was inspirational. It’s something that’s stuck with me throughout my life.

What do you think needs to be done to get more girls into sport?
I think it’s inspiring them at a young age, improving their confidence and encouraging them to stick with it.

Puberty and teenage years are difficult for girls when it comes to sport, so many used to give notes to get out of PE. Boys don’t go through that, it’s all rough and tumble and it doesn’t matter.

I think campaigns such as ‘Like a Girl’ will help to improve things It pushes women into the forefront - if we can get more role models, which obviously starts by getting girls into sport from a young age, then that’s the way it will continue to push women in sport forward.

What are the biggest challenges facing women in sport? 

I can only really speak from a cycling perspective. For track cycling, things are pretty equal, but for the women on the road the lack of media coverage is an issue. 

But things are improving. Women in sport is massive now. There are people like Jessica Ennis-Hill who are idealised by both men and women.

 

Siobhan O’Connor, 20, Swimming

O’Connor has represented Great Britain at the FINA world championships and European championships, and England in the Commonwealth Games.

Michael Steele via Getty Images

How did you first get into sport and what made you stick with it? 

I am very fortunate in that I have an incredibly supportive family and circle of friends. I also went to schools which were very accommodating of my training and competition commitments. This allowed me to make the most out of my swimming and compete at a home Olympic games at 16 which was a dream come true. I did have to drop out of school during my A-levels as I had missed so many lessons, so I can understand that young people struggle to stick to sport as it can be very time-consuming and juggling studies and training is really tough.

What do you think needs to be done to get more girls into sport?

For me, growing up in an environment where sport was encouraged, I never doubted that sport was cool and fun. I think that a lot of girls perhaps don’t participate because they are worried about the social consequences.

I would love for girls to believe in themselves and have the confidence to do what they would like to do without feeling like they shouldn’t, whether that’s sport, the arts or any other passion.

I think initiatives like Sky’s weekly Sportswomen programme and Women’s Sport Week really encourage girls to get into sport and more initiatives like this will help increase participation.

What are the biggest challenges facing women in sport? 
My journey into sport has been great and I have had plenty of opportunities which I am incredibly grateful for. I think that is perhaps the biggest challenge facing women – the lack of opportunity.

When you grow older many of those doors which were once open to you as a child at school, are now no longer available. I think gyms, sports clubs and societies are already doing a fantastic job in opening up those doors for women and encouraging them to try new things, so a continuation of that would be fantastic.

I recently attended the launch of the Speedo Dive-In Campaign which does just that. Speedo is offering 10,000 free swim sessions for adults, at local leisure centres nationwide. Swimming also has equal coverage at all major competitions, so I am very lucky in that sense too. I think it is great that so much more woman’s sport, not just swimming but Netball, Cricket, Rugby etc…

 Amber Hill is part of the Christopher Ward Challengers Programme, which aims to support up-and-coming athletes achieve their ambitions.

  • Rio2016.com
  • Rio2016.com
  • Rio2016.com
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