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Are Sports Good For Girls?

Are Sports Good For Girls?

In this week’s New York Times “Well” blog, Tara Parker-Pope asks an interesting question: “Do sports make a long-term difference in a woman’s life?”  So far, it’s been difficult to gauge whether sports, which seem to be associated with lower teenage pregnancy rates, better grades and higher self-esteem, are the direct cause of these benefits.  Almost forty years out from Title IX, which opened up high school and college sports to women, Michelle Obama has begun a nationwide campaign to improve schoolchildrens’ health.  But other researchers have asked a different question: what effect do participation in sports have on girls’ lives?

Betsey Stevenson, an economist at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, has taken it a step further, focusing on state-by-state variations.  Parker-Pope reports that “using a complex analysis, Dr. Stevenson showed that increasing girls’ sports participation had a direct effect on women’s education and employment. She found that the changes set in motion by Title IX explained about 20 percent of the increase in women’s education and about 40 percent of the rise in employment for 25-to-34-year-old women.”

This seems pretty radical, right?  As a person who never did sports as a child, this makes me wish that I had picked up a soccer ball.  Other researchers studied the impact of youth sports on women’s long-term health, and found that “the increase in girls’ athletic participation caused by Title IX was associated with a 7 percent lower risk of obesity 20 to 25 years later, when women were in their late 30s and early 40s.”

Others say that for children of both sexes, sports teach valuable life lessons.  Darrell Burnett, a California clinical psychologist who wrote the book It’s Just a Game!, said that team sports teach kids how to make mistakes.  “I think the biggest thing that sports teaches kids is that it’s OK to make a mistake,” he said. “In baseball [if] you hit .300, seven times [in 10 at-bats] you were out. When you make a mistake it’s OK. You can learn from it and move on.”

There is still, clearly, room for improvement.  Today 1 in 3 high school girls play sports, compared with half of boys.  And others compare sports for children to a pressure cooker, rather than an affirming team experience.  But the idea that sports might be particularly useful for girls is an interesting one, especially with complaints that women’s voices are missing from the people who are planning the Olympics.  And who knows – maybe someday soon, female athletes will finally start to be compensated like their male peers.

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Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

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93 comments

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3:53AM PDT on May 24, 2012

To each their own

9:07PM PST on Mar 6, 2010

cool article

11:14AM PST on Feb 25, 2010

Sports are great for girls-unfortunately teachers can make sports in school miserable for students that are not good in sports- I believe that participation should be the only grade, plus a grade for a test on the information on the sport. Coaches should be monitored and be kicked out along with parents who misbehave. They were when I was in sports- Umps had final say.

1:44PM PST on Feb 23, 2010

Sports give girls more self-confidence. Barbie doll's message about being able to do anything is great. Anything you can do I can do better.

8:27AM PST on Feb 23, 2010

This reminds me of how when boys play with cooking or food or kitchen related toys, they are told not to. Just as girl are told not to play contact sports, boys are told not to play with kitchens and house wares. You know, I am the house husband of my home, I do the cleaning and the fixing. I am also a chef so I do the cooking. I did remember being told by my teacher and the other girls that boys were not allowed to play with the kitchen set. The girls being told not to play soccer, is just a fact of life. Like I said, boys are told not to play with cooking and food toys, and they sell those toys in the girl section of toys r us, but yet there are more famous male celebrity chefs than women.

7:27AM PST on Feb 23, 2010

Why not! They have every right to engage in sports. They just need to be wise enough that they don't get involved in a sport they can't handle.

5:49AM PST on Feb 23, 2010

I don't know if playing sports lowers pregnancy rates, but it does help with self-esteem and grades. Your self-esteem gets higher as your body gets toned and healthy, and as you become a better contributer to your team. Most team members recognize and praise when they see a good effort. Your grades will go up because of the link between memory and exercise - better memory with daily exercise.

3:39AM PST on Feb 23, 2010

I was a shy girl who was bullied, and as a teenager was often embarrassed that I couldn't get anything right in PE. I do believe that if I had been encouraged to do sports as a kid, I would have been more comfortable "in my own skin" and with my own body. I am trying to start doing physical stuff now, but gee I wish I had started when I was a girl.

3:45PM PST on Feb 22, 2010

Sports can help girls or hurt them..just like boys!

1:42PM PST on Feb 22, 2010

Sports are needed to be healthy

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