Girls In Sports: Time To Bust Some Myths

School Sports Days are here again and children are excited to take part in various activities. Here are the benefits of letting our girls play sports. Read on for exclusive insights into this topic.

By Pratibha Pal

Girls In Sports: Time To Bust Some Myths

First, the good news — girls, in the age group of six to nine years, are just as interested as boys when it comes to playing sports. Now, the bad news — by age 14, girls are dropping out of sports at almost six times the rate of boys. So, why do girls not take up sports seriously despite the huge benefits it carries? Why don’t parents encourage girls to play sports? Well, it’s because of several myths that surround girls and sports.

1. Girls aren’t physically and mentally strong enough

Fact: Mary Kom would never have become a world champion if she had thought that boxing was reserved for men. Her parents were initially worried when she chose boxing as a career, but Mary Kom won them over with hard work and determination. 

“My parents were afraid that my face would be covered with bruises. Who would then marry me? And they were also worried whether boxing would offer financial stability. But I convinced them that boxing was what I was meant to do,” says Mary Kom.

A study conducted by the Indiana University titled 'Sex Differences In Childhood Athletic Performance', revealed that girls, in their early years, are as strong as boys. Changes during puberty tend to slow girls down a bit, but with the right training, nutrition and encouragement, girls can do as well as boys in sports.

2. You’ll become dark and you can’t get married

Fact: Mithali Raj, the flag bearer of women’s cricket worldwide, faced plenty of initial hurdles for this very reason. “I remember when I was a child, I faced resistance from some of my close relatives and my grandparents too. They were not very keen on having a girl go out and play a team sport in hot and humid weather. But my parents stood by me, encouraged me and played a crucial role in my success,” shares Mithali.

If you believe Mithali is a true achiever, there’s no reason why you should not send your daughter to the playing field to help her become one too. And, if you haven’t heard it yet, let’s just remind you that dark is beautiful. So, let your daughter play her favourite sport without worrying about her skin colour.

3. Girls shouldn’t play when they have their periods

Fact: A period is a bodily function that every girl undergoes. There's nothing a girl can't do during menstruation. Using good sanitary options will allow her to go on with the routine. “No medical book states that it isn’t right to indulge in strenuous activities like sports when a girl has her periods. However, if she is suffering from severe pain, the girl may choose to rest than strain herself during that time,” says Dr Yugin Gupte, a gynaecologist based in Pune.

4. Sports is only for boys, not girls

Fact: This perception unfortunately took shape because of the poor condition of the existing system and structure for women's sports in our country and other parts of the world. Over the last few years however, with greater importance being given to women’s leagues, this perception is changing, albeit at a snail’s pace.

Anju Turambekar, Grassroots Development Manager at AIFF (All India Football Federation) says, “When I was a child, I wasn’t even allowed to watch a game of football since it was considered a boys’ game. That’s when I decided to break barriers.” Anju is glad to see a gradual mindset change in the society. 

Playing sports: Physical benefits for girls

Improved fitness and health

One of the most obvious benefits of playing a sport is the physical activity that comes with it. Children today rarely spend time outdoors.

By letting your daughter play a sport, you are gifting her good health. Children who play sports are more aware of the healthy choices they need to make. “Playing a sport helps in promoting body flexibility, maintains healthy body weight, ensures hormonal balance and reduces stress. It also improves fitness levels, confidence, concentration and stamina,” says Dr Ravi Chandra Kelkar, Consultant Orthopaedics in a leading hospital in Bengaluru. 

“So, parents, pull your children away from the computer and TV, and send them outdoors to play! You will then see a remarkable change in every aspect of their lives,” says Padma Shri awardee PT Usha − a message loud and clear!

Research has repeatedly pointed out that irrespective of gender, playing a sport lays the foundation for a healthy life afterwards. Many athletes have shown a reduced risk of illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, cancers, to name a few.

Zero risks of obesity

Obesity is a massive problem these days, with children being particularly vulnerable. Several studies conducted over the last decade have indicated that girls who play a sport have a much healthier body mass index compared to those who don’t.

Stronger bones

Bones promote activity, which in turn promotes stronger bones. Simple! Regular physical activity and participation in competitive sports from an early age helps to build ample bone mass well before girls' bones begin to deteriorate when they reach their 30s. This eventually helps protect against osteoporosis.

Dr Anil Arora, Head of Unit and Lead Consultant, Department of Orthopaedics, Max Super Speciality Hospital, says, “Just like muscles, bones also respond to physical activities like sports and exercise. Sporting activity strengthens the muscles, builds bone mass and improves muscle coordination and balance. Various researchers have revealed that active children accumulate 10-40 per cent more bone mass when compared to their non-active peers. Also, according to the International Osteoporosis Foundation, the maximum bone development in young girls takes place in the first few years surrounding the menstrual cycle. By the age of 26, the bone mass reaches its plateau and around 35, the bone mass begins to decline. Hence, by engaging young girls in sports in early childhood, you are strengthening the bones in the long run.”

Reduced risk of addiction

With tighter regulations in place, the world of sports is well-insulated when it comes to substance abuse. Children who are into professional sports are well aware of the dangers of substance abuse. This also keeps them away from addictive behaviour.

Playing sports: Emotional benefits for girls

Boosts self-esteem

Playing a sport is all about motivating yourself to give it your best shot. So, when you motivate your child to participate and succeed in a sport, you are helping her to strengthen her self-worth and positive attitude, by leaps and bounds.

According to Dr Arunita Biswas Srivastava, Consultant Psychiatry, Columbia Asia Hospital, “Sports is a medium for girls to do something new and break societal norms. For instance, people say sports like kabaddi or football are not meant for girls but that’s not true. When stereotypes are broken, it will build your child's self-confidence and strengthen her self-esteem.”

Develops social skills

Sports, especially team events, lead to improving social skills that will benefit girls enormously. There is so much girls can learn from team sports. Some of the key skills a girl can learn from sports are social skills, team-building, relationship management and decision-making. 

As PV Sindhu puts it, “Sports teaches you to differentiate between on-court rivalry and off-court friendship. After the match, we are just friends.”

Teaches life lessons

As PT Usha rightly says, “If you start jogging for the first time, you start gasping and this is the first symptom of pain. The more you gasp, the better is your pain-bearing mechanism. Your body will rise to the challenge and equip you with the stamina to survive the situation. You build resilience, which will hold you in good stead in other life situations too.”

The importance of starting something and completing it will give girls a sense of achievement and teach them the importance of dedication and commitment.

Builds character

Several studies the world over indicate that girls who take up a sport are more independent, goal-oriented and full of grit and determination. Exposure to competitive environments builds a steely resolve and allows girls to handle diverse situations and environments.

“I played to stay fit and healthy. I have always believed that playing a sport keeps a person fit, both physically and mentally. It makes a person strong and builds character. Lessons learnt at an early age while playing a sport, gives shape to a child’s behaviour in her adult life,” says ace badminton player Saina Nehwal.

Hones leadership skills

In 2002, mutual fund giant, Oppenheimer conducted a study to understand how women who played sports performed as entrepreneurs. Stunning as it sounds, 69 per cent of the women surveyed directly attributed their leadership skills to their sporting careers. What more do we need to say! Girls playing sports are considered very organised, efficient, focused and goal-oriented — all traits of great leaders.

Parents need to change their mindset and encourage their daughters to play sports. Otherwise, myths will continue to exist, and playing sports will remain an unfulfilled dream for many girls in our country.

Pratibha Pal is a Pune-based freelancer.

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