A Yonder Whitepaper series


Throw like a girl

You might be asking – if this piece is about exploring the low participation of women in sport and physical activity – why are we drifting into the realms of fashion and playthings? Crucially, research has found that cultural representations – such as a phrase, T-Shirt or toy – are influencers of physical activity and behaviour from a young age. As such, young girls become more familiar with what is projected towards them, and lack confidence in what is not. The result of this is a confidence imbalance between the typical girl and typical boy, surrounding all things sport.

This confidence gap is not a new finding, especially not where sports are concerned. In 1966, psychologist Erwin Straus launched a study into the different ways that young boys and girls – without prior instruction – approach the act of throwing a ball. The differences he noted were that girls do not make use of the space around them. They did not stretch their arms, or move their torsos. Their legs remained largely stationary while the ball was thrown with the force of one arm. Meanwhile, a boy of the same age would throw using his entire body weight and force, prompting him to release the ball with greater acceleration and speed.

In other words, the main difference was that the young girls did not bring their whole bodies into motion – or take control of their surrounding space – when tasked with physical activity. This sentiment was echoed by the people we spoke to, many of whom isolating bodily confidence as a sure but inexplainable barrier among girls:  

Girls just don’t have the confidence to go and kick a ball or run or climb or jump, like boys do. And it’s, it’s really hard to put your finger on why.

Sports expert (Rugby)

Gender theorists such as Iris Young have since suggested that women tend to approach a physical engagement with things with timidity, uncertainty, and hesitancy. Typically, they lack a sense of trust in their bodies and do not perceive themselves as equally as capable of lifting heavy things, pushing and shoving, pulling, squeezing, grasping, or twisting with force: all vital components of the eight sports Yonder tested. It is vital that sporting bodies are mindful of these typical – though by all means not universal – gender traits when looking to drive fuller engagement. How can sports reposition their games, or the way in which a sport is taught, to cater to these traits? 

We have already seen innovation in the form of touch rugby (lessening the contact of traditional rugby) or five-aside football (reducing the size of the pitch). Alterations of this sort have had their fair share of criticism. This was evident in the controversy sparked when Emma Hayes, manager of Chelsea Women, spoke out in favour of reducing the size of the goal in woman’s football games. Elsewhere in sports, however, minor adjustments are common methods of rendering a game more accessible to women: a smaller basketball in the women’s game, a shorter net in women’s volleyball, Olympic hurdles which are nine inches shorter than men’s, and best-of-three sets in women’s tennis tournaments. These adaptions shed light on the field of opportunity ahead of sporting bodies and brands which, when executed well, stand to maximise their offerings.

Traditionally, the format [of cricket] would have been a problem. When I started playing it was hardball or nothing. You had no choice. You had to wear white clothes, you had to wear pads, you had to have a you know, five-and-a-half ounce ball lobbed at you from 22 yards by somebody who probably just finished playing for England, because there were so few players back then anyway.

Sports expert (Cricket)

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