Why do girls need athletic role models?

Wednesday, June 10, 2015 - 09:00

When role models are mentioned in sport, the first thing that comes to mind are high profile celebrities. While positive role models can be found in amateur and professional sports, it's the people they see every day that make the biggest difference. Parents, coaches, teachers or even older siblings often have a profound effect on a young girl and how they view themselves and their chosen sport.

43% of girls agree that “there aren't many sporting role models for girls” - Changing the Game for Girls, Women's Sport and Fitness Foundation

What positive effects can a role model have on a person?

  • Body image, self esteem and participation: Studies have shown that girls as young as 9 can develop a self consciousness about their bodies that can contribute to them dropping out of sport. Exposing girls to successful, confident, strong athletic female role models with a healthy body shapes helps to create a positive image for young girls to look up to and can also drive young women to want to participate in their respective sports.
  • Leadership: Today's girls need to see sport as an essential part of their everyday lives, to have women that they can look up to and aspire to be adds an excitement and a motivator to push forward; they need to see women succeed in breaking boundaries in a largely male-dominated area. Female leaders are generally different than their male counterparts in their approach to leadership, usually involving more collaboration, inclusiveness, and encouragement towards others to get involved.

Mentorship is an extension of leadership and provides a unique opportunity for young women in sport to develop their skills and work towards personal and professional goals.

  • Behaviour: Coaches and parents play a particularly important role in this. Coaches can help with developing character, confidence and assertiveness within the sport while at the same time expecting them to perform to the best of their ability. Respectful and inclusive game play regarding other players, teams, parents and officials will also assist towards providing a positive experience and will encourage girls to keep coming back.

Parents can empower their daughters to participate firstly by enrolling them in a sport or activity of their choice and then providing them with the extras that go along that – social support, transportation, and providing any equipment needed. Keep in mind that the impact of social modelling appears to be more significant for girls, and children of active families have a greater chance of leading active lives themselves.

Having a role model in sport is an important part of social learning that allows girls to emulate the positive aspects of attitude, work ethic, and social dynamics and provides them the opportunity to envision themselves in the role of coach, leader and/or athlete that they may not otherwise have.


For a more comprehensive look on girls in sport, check out the excellent resources below:

CAAWS - Actively Engaging Women and Girls: Addressing the Psycho-social Factors

Women's Sport and Fitness Foundation – Barriers to Sports Participation for Women and Girls

References from the SIRC Collection:

Armour K, Duncombe R. Changing lives? Critical evaluation of a school-based athlete role model intervention. Sport, Education & Society. June 2012;17(3):381-403.

Dubey B, Dubey B, Acharya J. Participation in sport as an assessment of women empowerment. British Journal Of Sports Medicine. September 2, 2010;44(S1):i62.

Holt N, Black D, Tamminen K, Fox K, Mandigo J. Levels of Social Complexity and Dimensions of Peer Experiences in Youth Sport. Journal Of Sport & Exercise Psychology. August 2008;30(4):411-431.

Lyle J. Role models, sporting success and participation: a review of sports coaching's ancillary roles. International Journal Of Coaching Science. July 2013;7(2):25-40.

Tuero C, González-Boto R, Espartero J, Zapico B. Gender stereotypes as a determinant of participation in sports in childhood. Science & Sports. October 2, 2014;29:S20.