The benefits of sports for girls are well-known. Sports teach girls commitment, respect for others, how to relax, concentrate under stress, set and achieve goals, accept responsibility and failure and be gracious winners.
Extensive research shows that physical activity and sport can enhance the mental, psychological and spiritual health of American girls and young women:
Better physical health
The health benefits of playing sports for girls are numerous:
- Better self-reported health. Regardless of grade level, a higher percentage of female athletes in the Women's Sports Foundation 2008 Go Out and Play study dsecribed their health as "excellent" than non-athletes. While girls were less apt as they got older to describe their health that way, three times as many female high school athletes as non-athletes (20% and 6% respectively) labelled their health as excellent.
- Fewer chronic illnesses. Girls who play sports have stronger immune systems and run a reduced risk of chronic illnesses later in life such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, endometrial, colon and breast cancers
- Higher body esteem. As noted in the Women's Sports Foundation's 2008 study, Go Out and Play, "[G]irls are especially pushed by mass media to develop unrealistic ideal body images, and this can lead to unhealthy eating behaviors and personal dissatisfaction ... [with a] Harvard Medical School survey of fifth- through 12th-grade girls [finding] ... nearly six out of 10 were dissatisfied with their bodies." The study found a positive relationship between athletics and body esteem among girls, with higher scores on body esteem more likely at all grade levels among girls who played three or more sports per year.
- Reduced risk of obesity. The acceleration of 12- to 17-year-old girls' participation in school sports between 1971(before the passage of Title IX) and 1980 was accompanied by a 24% increase in physical activity and a significant decrease in the obesity rate of girls. Today, about three in 10 6- to 11-year olds and 12- to 19-year olds are overweight. Health experts estimate that obesity and sedentary lifestyles are responsible for over 400,000 deaths per year in America, and that inactivity and obesity in the current generation of girls is likely to result in significant health problems later in life. Obese children are also more likely to be bullied than their non-overweight peers. Girls who play sports are less obese than non-athletes. According to the Go Out and Play study, eighty percent of high school girls who played on three or more athletic teams had a healthy BMI (body mass index), compared with 75% of moderately involved athletes and 60% of non-athletes.
- Healthier menstruation: Girls who play sports have lighter and more regular periods and experience less cramping and discomfort.
- Stronger bones and reduced risk of osteoporosis.
- Reduced cigarette and illicit drug use, less sexual activity. Two national studies found that female school or community athletes are significantly less likely to use marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and hallucinogens. A 1998 study sponsored by the Women's Sports Foundation found that female athletes were less than half as likely to become pregnant as non-athletes, more likely to abstain from sex through high school and use contraceptives. The protective effect of sports in this regard is particularly true for Caucasian girls.
Better grades in school
Playing sports help girls do better in school. Girls who play sports:
- Are better at organizing, setting priorities, and budgeting time. Playing sports adds to - not detracts from - a girl's time, energy, and commitment to schoolwork and increases the desire to attend college.
- Perform better in math and science. A 1998 study found a strong and positive correlation between a girl's participation in high school sports and higher grades in science.
- Have a lower dropout rate.A 2004 study found that sports participation reduces the dropout rate for female students in grades eight through twelve. High school athletic participation significantly lowers the dropout rate for white females in suburban and rural schools and Latina athletes in rural schools.
Better social life/more community involvement
Girls who play sports are more socially well-adjusted than girls who don't:
- Entry into an achievement-based social network: Sports provide girls a core of buddies, integrating them, as Sandra Hanson and Rebecca Kraus, researchers at Catholic University argue, into male -type "networks that are larger, less intimate and more based on achievement" which are different from the small, intense friendship groups based on building and maintaining relationship to which young girls are naturally drawn. This type of network may give female athletes an edge, Hanson and Kraus argue, in other areas of achievement as well.
- Greater popularity among peers. Like male athletes, today's female athletes are more popular. Sports can gain girls entry into the often complex social hierarchies of high school. The Go Out and Play study found popularity gains associated with involvement in sports were particularly evident among elementary and middle school children.
- More community involvement as adults. A recent study of Canadians found young people who play organized sports are more likely to be involved in community acitivies as adults.
Better emotional/psychological health
Playing sports helps girls emotionally and psychologically:
- Higher self-esteem. Teenage girls generally experience a self-esteem crisis far more serious than boys. Girls playing sports have higher self-esteem and look to relationships with boys less to build self-esteem. They say that sports give them more confidence.
- Better self-image. Female athletes obsess less about their looks and whether they are attractive, although this is not always the case. High school girls find participation in sports a way to break gender stereotypes.
- More self-confidence. Teenage girls suffer from a lack of self-confidence far more than boys. Studies have consistently shown that girls who are physically active perceive their academic and athletic ability in a better light.
- Lower rates of depression and risk of suicide.Sports and physical activity are linked to decreased likelihood of symptoms related to stress and depression. Teenage girls who participate in sports are less likely to be suicidal than girls who do not participate in sports.