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All girls can: Insight into women and girls’ sport participation

Posted: Tue, 07 Mar 2017 13:29

All girls can: Insight into women and girls’ sport participation

On International Women's Day, Laura Holloway from Basketball England reflects on what we can learn from young female basketball players about the diverse female sporting community.

There's so much to celebrate in women's sport at the moment. From This Girl Can successfully getting more women and girls active, to a victorious Kadeena Cox on the podium in Rio, to women's WBBL basketball on the BBC red button, it feels like there's more interest in women's sport than ever.

But if those of us working in sport and recreation are to channel this and grow and improve our offer to women and girls across the country, we need as much insight as possible into what works, and why. And what works isn't going to be the same for every woman.

In August I started a new role at Basketball England as their Insight Analyst. I had presumed female participation in basketball would be really low, but we actually have over 7000 female members registered for competition, and nearly 50,000 women and girls are playing every week.

However, following my initial excitement about numbers, I realised there was a lot more we needed to know. Who were these women? Where did they play basketball? Why did they start playing? Why do they stop playing?

We could work out some of this from participation statistics, but in terms of their motivations and barriers to play it was clear we needed to talk to them. So we set up some focus groups with girls and young women. They were invaluable in understanding how complex our female market is.

From the young woman who loved online gaming as much as basketball, to the friends who had become huge fans of wheelchair basketball during the Olympics, these girls found something in basketball that they couldn't get anywhere else. A feeling of freedom and stress relief, of running fast and jumping high. But also a celebration of diversity.

We asked the girls to look at basketball images and choose their favourites, and explain their choices. They loved the photos of players of different ethnicities, ages and abilities working together on court – of boys and girls playing basketball together, of street ball on a local outdoor court, of women playing in hijab.

These images reflected the communities around them and their own experiences of basketball. We know women from less advantaged backgrounds and BAME women are more likely to play basketball, but these girls showed me just how important diversity is in the appeal of basketball to women.

So what does this mean for our understanding of female participation? We're now working on a larger survey to track female participation, including motivations and barriers. But on a wider scale, I have a real sense that the importance of intersectionality in insight into women's sport needs to grow – how do women of different ages, ethnicities, social backgrounds and sexualities experience sport? How does pregnancy and maternity fit in?

For this reason, I was thrilled to see that the new This Girl Can advert showed such a diverse range of women.

If the sector can use this as a springboard to think more about the diversity of female participants and their sporting experiences, the future looks bright. There are many fantastic people already doing this well in how they deliver sport and physical activity, but if we can bring evidence together from across the sector, we can understand more about the variation in the female sporting experience and make things better for all of us.

Tags: Sport, Policy, sport england

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