Have you seen a boy playing netball recently? When I was at school, there was a clear distinction between the girls and the boys when it came to sport. The lads did football and the girls netball. That was it, no joint games, no change in tradition – you were expected to know where the gender line was drawn.
Fast-forward 15 (okay, 25…) years and it seems nothing has changed. Today, in the Independent Newspaper, Judy Murray, tennis coach and mother to Andy, said that, “Schools could encourage more girls to take up sport by being more sympathetic to the image conscious world that young women grow up in.”
Now, look, I agree with that statement – to a point. Yes, there’s a lot more that could be done to encourage girls into sport, and with real reason. In a survey carried out just last year, for example, it was found that a worrying 40 per cent of 16-year-old girls do no vigorous physical activity at all. But the question is, does providing girls with activities that bow to an image conscious society, help? Isn’t that just like putting a plug in the hole without fixing the hole itself?
Natasha Devon, author and broadcaster, said activities such as Zumba and Yoga should be considered in schools to encourage girls into sport. Now, yes, without doubt, more choice is a good thing, but what would be damaging would be for schools to introduce Zumba but only for the girls, effectively turning Zumba into the new netball, and so would start the whole inactivity, inequality cycle again.
I have two girls and I wouldn’t dream of turning round to them and saying, my dears, girls are expected to not sweat, so best do Zumba. In fact, they tried it once a few years back when they were at Brownies and hated it. But, whether they liked or not is beside the point, because what’s interesting is that the boys in Cub Scouts, boys the same age as my girls, were not offered Zumba at all, and instead played football and running games, activities which were never offered to the girls.
What should be happening is a sea change in how we view young woman and woman in general when it comes to sport. We can get dirty, sweat, stink, play rugby, football, cricket or do Zumba or dance, but we should do it because we want to, not because it fits a pre-defined gender role.
But of course, they only way girls are going to want to do any of these sports is if society gives them a huge, bloody break and gets off their case. The answer? To encourage girls to just be. Be themselves, be strong, be smart, whether that involves getting muddy on a rugby pitch or dancing hip swinging moves to Latin tunes.
Break down the gender demands and not only will we see more girls get involved in sport, but we’ll see more of a change, more of an openness across the genders, too. And then maybe boys can finally start playing netball.