THE BLOG

This International Women's Sports Week We Need To Encourage More Non-Athletes To Get Active

20/06/2017 15:53
This Girl Can

Recently I was invited onto talkRADIO's Badass Women's Hour to talk about a back-dated badass - or rather my favourite historical sportswoman.

As This Girl Can's advert returns to screens this week, I thought about who best would sum up the campaign's spirit. I chose Annie "Londonderry" Kopchovsky - the first woman to cycle round the world in 1885.

Her accomplishment is made even more amazing considering it was over 100 years ago; bikes were creaky, rusty things, and generally a lady sweating it out on a bike was deemed to be uncouth.

But what intrigues me about her most was her attitude - which was as fabulous as it was eccentric.

She had only been cycling for three days when she took up a $10,000 bet from two wealthy businessmen that a woman couldn't ride around the world by bike in 15 months. Annie was the queen of giving zero f***s, and took them to task.

As a 5ft 3, 7st mother of three, in a male-dominated world, to say the odds were against her would be an understatement - and her journey wasn't without hazard and ridicule.

She was hit by a horse and cart, she crashed into a group of pigs, she had her bike confiscated at one point and newspapers wrote nasty comments about her appearance. Amazingly, she brushed off these setbacks and made it back home with fourteen days to spare.

Fast forward to 2017 - and you could question why I'm mentioning Annie altogether. Fabulous women like Laura Trott, Laura Muir and Hannah Cockcroft have been dominating the sports landscape over the past year. We even have the women's Rugby and Cricket World cups to look forward to.

This week is International Women's Sports Week and it's important to cheer on these fantastic ladies who are continually breaking barriers in the sporting world. But from Sport England's research we know these brilliant ladies don't always encourage the average woman like you or me to get active.

That's why, this week we should consider what we are doing to encourage non-athletes into getting active, and how they can overcome the barriers to being active of their own.

Anyone who is familiar with the This Girl Can campaign will know that there is still a gender gap when it comes to everyday women getting active.

For many women, starting a new sport or activity can feel just as daunting as being asked to cycle across the world.

To help eliminate this fear, This Girl Can has included real jiggly, sweaty women who the average woman can identify with in both our adverts. So far, our campaign has reached has encouraged 2.8million women to get active. But that gap still exists.

Through research by Sport England, we've found that the main barrier into exercise for women is a fear of judgement.

This can manifest itself in different ways - some women might feel "too fat" to exercise or feel embarrassed about how they look when sweaty. Others may be more concerned about their ability - that they won't be able to keep up with the rest of the gym class.

And then finally there is a fear with women especially that they should be prioritising other things in their life - perhaps they are worried their boss will think they are slacking if they slip off to a gym class at lunch, or that they should be spending more time with their kids.

In our latest advert, we've worked with real women who have pushed past this fear of judgement to be active - in a way that works for them. Take Lydia, at 4ft 10 she had always believed that sport wasn't for her until she found roller derby where she could use her small stature as an advantage. She also found a network of friends and a new confidence that she could be active on a regular basis.

There's also Vanessa, who took up rugby - traditionally a "boys'" sport. When she tells plays rugby, she often faced with the question: "what, you?". And yet with each match and training session, she defies stereotypes that women can't tackle or take a bash. She wears her cuts and bruises with pride - referring to them as her battle scars.

While we don't expect every woman to pick up a push bike and cycle across the globe, we all face challenges when it comes to being active - whether that's taking a breather and having the confidence to go back to a sport or an activity, trying something new or allowing yourself time to be active.

These worries may come and go but what This Girl Can aims to do is help women manage the fear of judgement and feel that little bit braver to try each day.

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