Gender perceptions emerge in relation to sport very early on in life. So we’ve picked 5 traditionally ‘boyish’ after school sports that girls should have a go at…
What: Skate parks have always been male dominated environments – boys hit the ramps while their little sisters make do with roller skates. Teenage girls have been breaking into the sport for a while now and ‘girl only’ skate jams are popping up around the country, but there’s also a notable trend for girls as young as 5 or 6 to take it up – you only have to walk through a London park to see them flash past on their Penny boards.
Why: Skateboarding is a surprisingly rigorous workout because it “goes from pacing to more explosive efforts”, according to Michele Olson, a professor of exercise science at Auburn University in Alabama. Even without the elaborate tricks, on flat terrain you can burn 8–12 calories a minute. It also helps to develop strength in the legs, back and core.
Who: If speed and adrenalin are the goal, skateboarding offers both. It’s exciting and the heights, speeds and technical movements involved, let kids learn to solve problems, build self esteem and overcome fears. It’s also pretty cool.
How: The affordability of skateboarding is a huge plus. All you need is a pair of trainers and a board – fairly inexpensive even new. There are no sign up fees, team registrations or scheduled practices. Your biggest cost might end up being hair dye.
Where: Lots of skate parks now offer girl only skate sessions that are particularly good for less confident beginners who don’t want to ride with the boys. But the beauty of it is that you can just buy a board and head to the park or get your balance in the driveway before heading out in public.
2. MOUNTAIN BIKING
What: In 2013, British Cycling launched a campaign to get one million more women cycling by 2020, but while Olympians like Victoria Pendleton, Laura Trott and Lizzie Armistead have raised the profile of female track and road cycling, mountain biking (MTB) still seems to get pigeon-holed as a ‘boy thing’.
Even in more ‘outdoorsy’ countries, the numbers are still 2:1 men to women – perhaps because the perception of the sport being muddy, grungy, low-slung-jeans-wearing teenage boys risking life and limb to impress each other with gnarly drop-offs.
Why: MTB is a brilliant family activity, one that gets everyone out into nature – and away from roads. Crucially, cycling is one of the best forms of cardio fitness.
Who: MTB is fairly leveling for girls of different ages, shapes and athletic abilities as it can be done in a very low key way (trail riding with friends) through to racing cross-country (endurance) or downhill (for fearless fans of speed) and at different ability levels.
How: It does come with some entry costs. A bike with all the trimmings: water holder, mudguards etc. measured by a professional, will cost around £200 unless you buy second hand.
Where: British Cycling Go-Ride Programs has clubs across the country offering MTB development rides and classes and holiday camps for kids.
What: Climbing is not a sport that people generally tend to think of for their kids, but the increase in climbing walls means it is gaining popularity. More or less every playground in the UK has a climbing wall element, but the height (and difficulty) associated with the sport puts people off trying.
Done safely and in a controlled environment, it’s extremely safe and excellent for focusing attention and calming the mind. You don’t (yet) see many girls participating, but Sport England’s This Girl Can campaign aims to change that.
Why: It’s an extremely good adrenalin sport – the level of concentration means that you don’t realise how hard your body is working – and really great for toning and fat burning. The ‘buddy’ system makes this a great social sport, either in pairs or groups. For girls who love to be outdoors, you can look for a local club that does ‘real’ rock climbing. It’s also a great weekend activity for the whole family.
Who: Girls are often put off by the assumption it takes brute strength (and they may think they’re scared of heights), but climbing is about technique rather than strength. In fact, girls are often much better than boys their own age at climbing. There are a couple of young girls competing internationally who are great role models for those interested in getting into the sport.
How: Clubs start from 5 or 6, as a rule of thumb kids have to be able to get in and out of their own harness. You can hire most of the gear (helmet, harness, ropes and karabiners), so needn’t buy anything except good footwear. It’s worth investing in barefoot shoes as chunky-soled trainers can reduce your ability to feel the wall/rock. We love Vivobarefoot.
What: Women have been playing cricket since Victorian times but when we were at school it was still more common for women to be making the cucumber sandwiches than playing. Somehow it became de rigeur for girls to play rounders, and boys to play cricket.
Women’s Cricket in the UK has got both media and public attention following huge successes at elite level (with the England Women’s team winning and then retaining the Ashes). It has transformed the girls’ grass roots level in the last few years, but it will take time to filter through. That said, since 1998, clubs offering women/girls cricket increased by 507%.
Why: As a field sport, Cricket can increase endurance, stamina and hand/eye coordination. It involves short bursts of sprinting and throwing – great for cardio health. There’s also the team skills that have far reaching benefits, both socially and academically.
Who: Mr Fox co-founder Kate played through a local authority initiative in the 90s but it was still seen as a bit odd and something only ‘tomboys’ (like her) did. Actually, it’s an inclusive sport across a range of strengths: batting, bowling, fielding and running – offering girls who are not athletic or strong a team sport in which to experience the important bonding and collegiality.
How: Kwik cricket for primary school kids (5-11) is aimed at children of all levels of ability and experience. It’s a fun introduction to cricket and encourages fair play – across gender and ability.
Where: It’s becoming more prevalent in schools, but where it’s not offered, contact your local county cricket board to get details of local clubs and programmes.
What: Female members comprise around 16% of golf club memberships in the UK. Female participation is growing but the stereotype of the ‘lady golfer’ is of a 60-something retired grandmother in a lilac two-piece, rather than a 7 year old girl who wants to be the next Rory McIlroy. Junior Girl members are still very rare and many are lost at 11 when golf becomes ‘uncool’ and they don’t want to be seen to do it anymore.
Why: Brilliant for hand/eye coordination, high levels of focus and concentration are required, and the patience and discipline required are excellent for young kids. It’s also more physically challenging than it looks – an 18 hole round has been shown to burn 1500 calories in US study – and builds and tones muscle. It’s a social game and offers great quality time, away from screens and other distractions.
Who: As Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy demonstrate, the earlier you start, the better your chances of being really great at golf. But as it doesn’t require bursts of speed or strength, it’s an inclusive sport and can be played throughout life. Children under 6 won’t necessarily have the stamina to do 18 holes, but can always hone their technique on the driving range.
How: Golf is not as expensive as people think – there are lots of beginners courses provided at clubs around the country, and it’s easy to pick up decent second hand clubs on ebay. All you need is comfortable shoes and sun cream at the ready.
Where: Find Junior Golf Centres through the Golf Foundation.