GoGirlGo! Tips to Get a Girl Active (page 2)
You've heard many of the reasons girls should be active. We know that if a girl does not participate in sports by the age of 10, there is only a 10% likelihood she will be participating at age 25. (Bunker, 1988). Research suggests that physical activity is an effective tool for reducing the symptoms of stress and depression among girls. Sports help girls develop leadership and teamwork skills. Girls who participate in sports have higher self-esteem and pride in themselves.
So how do you get the girls in your life to get on the path to being physically active and reaping all of these rewards? These tips will give you all the information you need to introduce physical activity to a girl and make a critical difference in her life.
I. What It Means to be Physically Active
II. Change Attitudes about Physical Activity
III. Keep It Fun!
IV. Buddy Up: The Importance of Teamwork
V. Stick With It: Reinforcing Participation and Interest
VI. Interested in Learning More?
Physical activity is anything that moves your body and gets your heart pumping. Working out on a regular basis (at least three days a week) will make you strong, increase energy and flexibility and turn you into a physically active person. You don't have to run a marathon or swim the English Channel to be considered active. Whether you engage in light activity like throwing a Frisbee or more vigorous activity like running, you are still engaging your body in movement, and that's what matters.
It's important to also emphasize that being a physically active person means a lot more than the numbers on the scale. Here are some of the other benefits of being active:
- Strength is good for all sports as well as life. Getting stronger means your muscles are more capable of kicking a soccer ball far, lifting and carrying more or jumping higher.
- Stamina means more energy. You can keep going; you can run further, climb more stairs, keep working and playing longer—without feeling winded.
- Flexibility feels more graceful. You feel more elastic, have more bounce in your walk and are able to touch your toes or reach a high shelf.
- Improved self-esteem This is probably one of the most important benefits for girls. When girls work out, they start to appreciate and respect their bodies for the awesome movement it's capable of. This in turn will help them to have higher self-esteem than girls who aren't physically active.
Techniques for introducing physical fitness to a girl will depend on what stage of life she's in. Here are some tips for different age groups:
Elementary School – ages 5 through 12
- Every day, if possible, build to 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity.
- Allow for short periods of rest and recovery.
- Make those 60 minutes of activity feel effortless. If it feels like a chore or a scheduled nuisance, kids won't be excited to participate. Examples of fun kids’ activities include what you would consider "party games," like potato sack races or Red Rover, where kids run from one side to the other and break a chain of people.
- Vary the activities. Getting girls this age active is all about fun energy release. Trying more things means finding more activities to like!
Teens – ages 13-18
- Every day, if possible, build to 60 minutes of moderate physical activity; and, when it gets easier, add at least three days per week vigorous sessions of 20 minutes or more. (Sallis and Patrick, 1994)
What do we mean by moderate or vigorous activity? Here’s a quick guide:
- Light Activity. Playing catch, throwing a Frisbee, walking slowly, dancing slowly, horseshoes, ping pong and fishing
- Moderate Activity. Walking briskly, hiking, leisurely inline skating, bicycling on level terrain, trampoline jumping, weight-training with free weights, dancing, doubles tennis, shooting baskets, recreational swimming, canoeing, skateboarding, surfing, snorkeling, t-ball, horseback riding, volleyball and playground activities
- Vigorous Activity. Running, energetic aerobics or dancing, swimming continuous laps, bicycling uphill, climbing stairs, jump rope, jumping jacks, fast-paced inline skating, ice hockey, intensely training for competitive sports
Beginners, regardless of age, should start easy and build to regular, moderate activity. Regular means just about every day. Moderate exercise is when you are active enough to increase your heart rate and breathing for an hour. You should be able to talk to someone, but you shouldn’t be able to sing. With more skills and training, regular moderate and vigorous activities should be part of your routine.
At an early age, young women are programmed to shy away from sports and activity because they are afraid of being perceived as unfeminine or are afraid of failure or being teased. Here are some tips on how to turn those attitudes around:
“I’m not an athlete.”
Many inactive girls think that the world of physical activity is black and white: you are either a jock or not. Some girls believe that unless you are going to go all out or if you're just not a "natural," there is no use in being active. The label of jock can be perceived as unfeminine or possibly just a clique that they don't want to belong to. Girls need to be reminded that it’s ok to work up a sweat, get your heart pumping and challenge your body.
What you can do:
Encourage her. Tell her that you don’t have to be a hard-core athlete to get up and move (and follow this advice yourself!). There doesn't have to be competition involved to be physically active. Also, reinforce that no one is ever born an athlete. Even champions had to start at the beginning and learn how to play their sports.
“I’m afraid of getting teased.”
This is such a vulnerable age, and girls are very sensitive to peer-group influence. “Fitting-in” becomes a primary goal so girls don't want to try anything new that steps outside of the world they already know and are comfortable in. This is especially true of girls' participation in sports or even just their school's PE program. Girls fear that stepping into a game might make them a target of ridicule.
What you can do:
Understand and identify with her fears and talk to her about them. Girls want to fit in and be accepted. Sports can be all about belonging — being part of the group — with team names, uniforms and cheers. Most of us remember how nervous we were about our junior high and high school PE classes. Many of us also have funny stories to tell about embarrassing things that did happen and how we got over them. Ask her what her worst fear is. Maybe she's nervous about wearing the gym uniform or having to climb ropes in front of her classmates. One she identifies the worst-case scenario, you can discuss how you would deal with this and take away some of her fears. Or share something that happened to you and let her know it really wasn't a big deal.
Barrier: “I don’t know anything about sports.”
Girls may worry that their lack of knowledge about sports or physical fitness will make her look dumb when she attempts to play. They also may not know what sports are available to them. Even if they do know, they might not feel confident or capable enough to be proactive and sign up on her own.
What you can do:
Teach her the skills to be successful. Start to watch different sports together so she can understand the rules and how different games are played. Learn the sports lingo. Go to a local girls' sporting match so she can see that girls just like her can master the skills needed to play the game. Experiment with different sports until she finds one that comes easily for her. If she has good hand-eye coordination, maybe softball or tennis is her game. In trying different sports, she may be surprised in how great she is at a sport she never thought she could master. You also don't want to rule out sports just because she may not be the perfect physical match for it. For example, she could be on the shorter side and end up loving basketball.
For other activity suggestions, visit GoGirlGo.com/pickasport. There’s an interactive survey you can do together or she can do on her own that allows her to express her interests and preferences and gives suggestions for sport and activities that meet her profile.
Once she has chosen a few activities she's interested in, call the office of that sport’s national governing body (for example: USA Basketball) to have them give you local program contact information. Many girls’ organizations have sports and physical activities — the YWCA, PAL, community recreation centers, local park and recreation department, the Girl Scouts, etc. Ask the PE teacher or counselor at school. Look in the local papers, check the Internet at the library or look in the yellow pages of your phone book for specific activities. Check out local hospitals and rehabilitation centers for programs for disabled girls. These programs are usually affordable and some even offer scholarships for some girls.
As you investigate local programs together, consider these general tips in what you should look for in an activity program:
- Small group environment. A group with 15-20 girls and two adult leaders is ideal for girls to learn together and develop a strong sense of belonging (Finn, 2002; Lou, et al, 2001; Ozerk, 2001). Look for programs that have at least one adult leader for every 10 girls to ensure each girl will get individual attention.
- Safe and nurturing all-girl environments. Co-ed physical activity environments are problematic for inactive girls because they contain opposite sex and same sex teasing about the skill level and body of inactive girls and other pressures characteristic of co-ed group dynamics (Women’s Sports Foundation, 2004; Stabiner, 2002). When girls are concentrating on what boys think, a cultural requirement for teen girls, they don’t take care of themselves.
- Fun and supportive place. Does it look like fun? Are the girls all participating? Is it a caring, supportive and positive environment? Are girls allowed to express themselves, participate in decision-making and develop relationships with other girls? (Ewing and Seefeldt, 1989; Women’s Sports Foundation, 1988). The program shouldn't be about winning and losing. Beginners need a friendly social environment where they will learn skills together in a fun way.
Reprinted with the permission of the Women's Sports Foundation. © 2008 All Rights Reserved.
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