Building Leadership Skills in Middle School Girls Through Interscholastic Athletics
The transition to intermediate or middle school, beginning as early as grade four, is often challenging due to an increase in academic load, additional choices in academic curricula, an expectation of increased autonomy, and instruction by subject area teachers. Because students change classes and teachers several times a day, maintaining personal relationships is often difficult (LeCroy & Daley, 2001). Middle school-aged students must, at the same time, contend with intense and rapid changes in physical, emotional, and cognitive development, social approval, a large student body, and a student government as well as choices in sports programs and extracurricular activities.
Harter (1986) found that change in self-esteem is most likely to occur during times of transition, such as changing schools. Changes in one's environment are usually the catalyst for changes in one's self-assessment, resulting in an increase or a decrease in self-esteem. The re-evaluation occurs due to changes in self-perceptions of competence or incompetence based upon the degree of mastery of new developmental tasks, a comparison of oneself to a different group of students, and/or the creation of new social networks.
Why Focus on Girls?
Eccles et al (1993) found that girls had lower self-esteem than boys in middle school and the gender gap grew when girls transitioned from middle school to high school. Harter (1999) posits explanations for the decline in self-esteem: (1) girls are more negatively affected by experiences with failure than are boys. The sensitivity may limit their willingness to take risks for rewards or advanced opportunities; (2) many girls experience a conflict between feminine goals and competitive achievements, resulting in increased anxiety in competitive situations; (3) girls are confronted with societal and school structures that favor boys and with pressure to conform to gender roles that limit their exploration; (4) girls are less satisfied with body image compared to boys, and this is compounded by pubertal changes; and (5) girls are more likely to worry about their problems than boys and this tendency to worry puts girls at risk for depression.
Title IX Educational Amendments of 1972
Many middle schools offer interscholastic sports programs for boys and girls. Students obtain a position on a team by competing in a "try-out," a new experience for most adolescents. Once selected, membership requires a commitment to compete in several games per week and practice for many hours daily.
Sports teams for girls flourished as a result on the Title IX Educational Amendments of 1972. Often referred to as Title IX, this federal law requires that almost all educational institutions provide educational opportunities to male and female students equitably, including their athletic programs and offerings (www.womenssportsfoundation.org). Title IX seeks to level the playing field for both genders by mandating equal opportunities for participation.
What is Leadership?
Dobosz and Beaty (1999) assert that leadership is the capability to guide others in the achievement of a common goal. Leadership characteristics consist of many personal qualities, including self-esteem, determination, organizational aptitude, focus, tolerance, decisiveness, self-discipline, charisma, time management, self-confidence, social competence, communicating a "vision," and sensitivity to the needs of others, among other qualities (Dobosz & Beaty, 1999). This digest will address empowerment, self-esteem, and time management.
Reprinted with the permission of the Education Resources Information Center.
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