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5 ways to increase girls’ participation and enjoyment of physical activity

5 ways to increase girls’ participation and enjoyment of physical activity

Not only are boys more likely to be active than girls, but they also have more positive attitudes to sports and physical activity. Why is that? Are the sporting opportunities we are currently offering girls in school outdated and due for change? Find our expert advice from Adam Powell on how to increase girls’ participation and enjoyment in sport.

Meet the expert: Adam Powell

We spoke to Adam Powell, Head of Education and Welfare Officer at Huddersfield Football Club and England Girls Talent Pathway for ages 14+.

Beginning at the grassroots himself, Adam played football for Huddersfield Academy and England schools. Inspired to work with children to get them into sports, he completed his PGCE in Liverpool and travelled around Ukraine, Mexico and America, coaching and teaching sports.

Adam is passionate about sports participation and enjoyment. He recognises the importance of players’ personal development alongside technical sporting skills. In this blog, he advises schools on increasing girls’ participation and enjoyment in physical activity, helping them build a positive relationship with sport early on.  



The current picture of girls’ sport

Girls are less likely to be active than boys, and the gender gap in physical activity participation has yet to improve since 2017. Recent research shows that the increasing gap is noticeable even in Years 1 and 2 in school, with more boys participating and enjoying sports than girls. Unfortunately, with age, the gap gets bigger.

The most significant drop in girls’ sports participation occurs between the end of primary school and the beginning of secondary school. For a few reasons, girls are more influenced by their friendships than boys, meaning sports participation is also impacted if a girls’ friendship group is disrupted with the move from primary to secondary school.

It is no coincidence that the drop-off rate aligns with the average age of puberty for girls. The menstruation cycle impacts strength, energy, concentration, and motivation levels. There is some momentum within sports research to understand more about females in sports. However, as it stands, there needs to be more awareness and exposure within the current PSHE and PE curriculum.


The benefits physical activity has on mental health are well-known. Reducing rates of anxiety, depression and stress. Sport helps girls to:

  • Build friendships
  • Tackle negative body image
  • Improve sporting skill
  • Develop leadership skills
  • Reduce obesity rates

Girls who join and excel in sports at an early age are likely to have a well-balanced sporting and academic career. Adam has noticed this with his work with the England 14+ Talent Pathway team,

“Girls on the elite sporting pathway are diligent sportswomen and balance academics and sporting excellence exceptionally well.” Adam Powell, Head of Education and Welfare Officer at Huddersfield Football Club and England Girls Talent Pathway.

The inactive groups are girls keen to participate in sports and physical activity but who face barriers and obstacles in their way.

To tackle some of the barriers in school, they must first be known. Let’s unpick some.


How can Fawns help increase playtime enjoyment?

Looking for some playground inspiration to help increase movement and physical activity with the girls in your school? Our playground design experts can offer recommendations and advice to suit your pupil’s needs, budget, and playground space in one of our free design consultations, including how to spend your Sports Premium Funding best.


Here are some of our most popular social physical activity products:

Athen sport health trek

Slingshot with children


3 barriers to participation and enjoyment in sport for girls

The reasons why girls do and don’t participate in sports are individual. However, there are three common reasons girls may be less likely to join in with physical activity.

Attitudes to sport and exercise

In a study, 48% of girls asked thought that getting sweaty wasn’t feminine. The concept that being sporty is a masculine trait and to be feminine, by definition, is to stay clean, tidy and composed is outdated.

Although large corporations and charities are doing excellent work to raise the standard, opportunities, and ambition around female sport (This Girl Can is a great starting point to share with the pupils in your school), more still needs to be done to challenge negative stereotypes that are acting as a barrier to girls’ participation.

“The thought that some sports are only for boys and that girls shouldn’t be sweaty due to exercising is acting as a barrier for girls to join in and enjoy sports,” Adam explains. “We need to break these negative stereotypes and get more girls involved at a younger age.”


How families impact sports participation

Families have the largest impact on sports participation. This is due to encouragement but also practical facilitation if the sport is outside of school hours—especially if the child is primary school age and relies on parental transport.

“Parents’ attitudes towards girls’ sports can often unintentionally set a ceiling they are unaware of. When a parent is open-minded to the types of sport and exercise their daughter may be interested in and invests the time to support trying different sports with them, it makes such a large difference in participation.” Adam Powell, Head of Education and Welfare Officer at Huddersfield Football Club and England Girls Talent Pathway.

We know several families will struggle with the financial expectations associated with clubs outside of school time: paying for transport to training and competitive matches, kit cost and replacement, club memberships, and the time cost of committing to training practices and matches.

This is why improving the school sports offer for girls is so important, especially for disadvantaged pupils who may not have the means to join a local club.

Sporting opportunities for girls

School PE is the main place where attitudes and interest levels in sports and physical activity are formed. The majority of girls are positive about the benefits movement, and physical exercise has on mental and physical health. However, the sporting opportunities offered are different for boys and girls in school.

The government has recognised the importance of sporting equality. It has recently announced that the School Games Mark will recognise and celebrate when schools offer equal opportunities for boys and girls in their schools.

“We must evaluate the sporting options that are currently available to girls in school. The majority are likely to centre around traditional sports like netball, football, and tennis. Some girls don’t like the competitive nature of sport and want to join in just for the fun.” Adam Powell, Head of Education and Welfare Officer at Huddersfield Football Club and England Girls Talent Pathway.


How to increase participation and enjoyment of girls in sports

There was recently an announcement of cross-government funding that aims to increase activity in children, particularly inactive groups like girls, and will offer schools additional resources and funding in the coming years to improve participation and enjoyment for girls.

So, how do you get started now?

Parental engagement

Girls are more likely to participate in sports if their mother or a female figure in their household does. Consider running a parent workshop or exercise class to increase parental participation in your school. You could choose a minimal-resource activity like yoga, football, netball, or dancing to get started.

Get creative with non-traditional sports for girls

Adam recommends getting creative with your sporting offer, “The aim is to increase movement and enjoyment in sport simultaneously. However that is achieved depends on the resources and staff expertise you have available.”

Here’s a list of non-traditional sports for girls to try:

  • Rock climbing
  • Athletics
  • Martial arts
  • Table tennis
  • Line dancing

And if non-competitive is their thing, try some of these:

  • Zumba
  • Swimming for fun
  • Rounders
  • Bowls
  • Archery
  • Darts

Invest in playground equipment

All too often, the boys take over the multi-use games area (MUGA), and the girls are faced with confidently joining in or moving to the side. Your playground should be inclusive for all, meaning all abilities, interests, and confidence levels are catered for. Offering areas that promote physical movement away from traditional games like football can inspire girls to get moving.

Have a look at the trim trails we have available for schools, or ask one of our experts for their recommendations to get girls moving!

Positive female sporting role models across school

After the Lionesses participated in the Euros in 2022, girls involvement in female football increased by 1.5%. Similar trends were noticed after the Cricket World Cup and Six Nations for Rugby Union. Exposure to different sports personalities is essential to encourage girls in the world of exercise.

Promote physical activity just for fun

Adam recommends that schools consider introducing a before- or after-school club for girls, with the aim of engaging in fun activities. Get some music on and have a dance, play on equipment before the rest of the children join in, and play some table tennis—whatever resources you have available to boost girls’ interest in movement in a fun way!

Contact our sales team for a free brochure to access all Playtime by Fawns products, we can’t wait to hear from you!

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