These Are The Depressing Reasons Girls Are Quitting Football

"If we can’t make girls feel welcome on the pitch and keep them playing, it’s game over for the Lionesses’ legacy," says Jill Scott.
Francesco Carta fotografo via Getty Images

It’s no secret that there are plenty of barriers facing young girls when it comes to playing – and continuing to play – the UK’s most popular sport.

Nearly a third of girls who play football (30%) stop by the time they reach their late teens, according to new research by Starling Bank, compared to just one in 10 boys (10%).

So what’s forcing them off the pitch? First and foremost are pressures to do well at school – research by the bank found a quarter of girls (27%) hang up their boots because of this.

Meanwhile others quit because of insecurities about their body image (14%), being bullied for playing (8%) and not seeing a clear career pathway into the sport (18%).

Former Lioness Jill Scott, who is an ambassador for Starling Bank, said of the findings: “Hundreds of thousands of girls have had to give up football, despite wanting to carry on. Any one of them could have been a future Lioness.

“The surge in girls wanting to play the game is really encouraging, but if we can’t make girls feel welcome on the pitch and keep them playing, it’s game over for the Lionesses’ legacy.”

Football coaches have also noted a drop off in girls’ participation – a separate survey of 411 girls’ football coaches found that just 6% of their players continue the sport into adulthood.

The findings also highlight that a smaller number of girls play the game to begin with, as 39% of girls say they have never played football compared to 12% of boys.

Of the female under-16s that have quit the sport, half (48%) say they would keep playing if they could overcome the barriers they face.

It’s part of a wider pattern seen for girls who play sport. In 2022, Women in Sport found that more than one million teenage girls (43%) who once considered themselves “sporty”, disengaged from sport after primary school.

A fear of feeling judged by others (68%), lack of confidence (61%), pressures of schoolwork (47%) and not feeling safe outside (43%) were some of the reasons given, which Women in Sport’s CEO Stephanie Hilborne branded an “absolute travesty”.

The charity surveyed 4,000 teenage girls and boys and found complex barrier and deep-rooted negative attitudes were affecting girls’ enjoyment of sport.

Body image and puberty were significant factors, with 78% saying they avoided sport when they had their period, while 73% admitted feeling uncomfortable with others watching them take part in activity.

Starling Bank’s research found football coaches want more support for girls’ football ambitions – particularly at home. Boys are twice as likely as girls to receive strong encouragement to play football from their parents, adults at schools or clubs (41% versus 21%, according to the bank’s survey).

Coaches also say that many girls (34%) stop playing when they go through puberty because of body changes, and warned that girls need to be made to feel as welcome on the pitch as boys (30%) in order to keep them in the game.

Starling Bank has launched phase two of its Kick On initiative to help boost girls’ involvement in football.

The bank is giving away £200,000 worth of kit, equipment and coaching vouchers to grassroots football clubs with girls or women’s teams through its partner Gift of Kit.

For the first time, the kit giveaway will include sports bras. Referring to this, Jill Scott said: “It wasn’t until Chloe Kelly’s iconic goal in the EURO 22 final that many people realised how integral sports bras are to women’s kit. Having the right kit is everything; it’s great to see more options available for players everywhere.”

It’s not all doom and gloom for the women’s game, though. Almost half (48%) of coaches say fewer girls are quitting football since the Women’s Euros 2022 due to greater media coverage of Women’s football.

The Lionesses were victorious over Germany in the Euro 2022 final, while they reached the final of this year’s World Cup, with Spain beating them 1-0.

But with fewer than 10% of girls seeing a career for themselves in football, it’s clear there’s still much more work to be done.