LIFESTYLE
26/03/2015 06:15 GMT | Updated 27/03/2015 04:59 GMT

Girls Become Self Conscious And Stop Playing Sport As Young As Seven, Report Finds

Girls as young as seven are becoming more self-conscious, losing confidence and giving up sport as a result, a study has found.

The same Government-commissioned report which revealed that women aren't partaking in exercise for "fear of being judged" has also found that a number of young girls are suffering body confidence issues which is preventing them from engaging in physical activity.

The study suggests that aged seven, young girls already dislike being outside in the cold and are starting to express reservations about taking part because they feel they are not good enough.

This is also reinforced by gender stereotypes in sport, which girls are being subjected to at school age.

young girl playing football

The small-scale study, which involved 38 pupils aged seven and eight, looked at activity levels among pupils and how they feel about sport, body image and self-esteem.

It found that at this age girls are already aware of differences in how they and their male classmates see physical abilities.

"Gender stereotypes are already emerging in relation to sport among these children, with some boys saying they are faster and stronger than girls, and more sporty: 'Girls are rubbish at football ... when they kick the ball it goes like 5cm.' 'Men can play more sport than women'," the study says.

"But not all boys agree. Challenging these gender stereotypes could help to maintain a culture in school and at home which equally values sport for girls and boys.

"The girls are clearly conscious of these perceptions, and some are starting to agree with the assessment that rough or overly competitive sports are not appropriate for girls. This was also observable in the playground. However, other girls disagree, and some are keen to be included by boys in order to prove that they are just as good."

It adds that both the girls and boys questioned still see sport in general positively at this stage.

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The study also claims that "some cracks are appearing in girls' confidence" by the time they are in Year 3.

"Confidence is key to enjoying sport and some of the girls in this school age are already expressing reservations and less bravado than the boys - even girls who are good at sport.

"As a result, a perception of not being good at sport - or feeling that others don't think you are - can be very off-putting for girls who want to participate. This could be why many of the girls in the focus groups are already beginning to feel uncomfortable about taking part in PE alongside boys who fuel their insecurity.

"From Year 3, these girls start to notice the lack of female sporting role models."

The study also concluded that despite enjoying PE, many girls surveyed dislike being outside and cold while boys like the extra space.

Girls are more likely to lean towards doing swimming, dance, tennis, netball and gymnastics, while boys say they like football, cricket and rugby.

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Women's minister Jo Swinson said: "Our research shows that schools and parents have a golden opportunity when girls are seven and eight years old to support and encourage them to keep taking part in sport.

"We know that after this age, low confidence and body consciousness can combine to reduce their eagerness to take part, which is a real shame and can have lasting effects on health right into adulthood," she added.

"This can be part of a vicious circle; if women don't take part, their daughters won't either. That is why I absolutely love the This Girl Can campaign which aims to get women participating in sport.

"I'm also delighted to confirm that the PSHE Association are publishing materials to help teachers with classes about body confidence. We need to keep all girls enjoying exercise, and both schools and families can play their part."