According to the The Independent newspaper, boys between the ages of 8-15 spend twice as much time taking part in sports than their female counterparts. Sadly, this is leading to a lack of confidence, aspiration and a deterioration of the mental health of young women across the country.
The article continues to argue that there is a direct correlation between a girl’s future life chances and the amount of sport she partakes in in her earlier years.
This lack of enjoyment of sport can exacerbate into womanhood. With the inevitable increase in responsibility that comes with age comes a huge decrease in free time: juggling a career, family and a house takes up an extortionate amount of hours – if sport isn’t something that you are passionate about, let’s face it, you’re not going to even think about finding time to fit it into your already hectic schedule. Wine is far easier to fit in.
A few years ago I didn’t partake in much sport. Of course, I knew the benefits of sport, I knew that to live to a ripe old age I needed to look after myself. But finding the motivation to move frequently and rigorously was difficult! I racked up a few gym memberships and went a handful of times before I was able to cancel my direct debit and return to guilt-free evenings, no longer torturing myself by constantly totting up the amount of money I was wasting on the gym, and constantly wrangling with my conscience about the fact that I really ought be doing some squats and pounding it out on a treadmill rather than sitting on the sofa eating a Ripple bar.
Hats off to anyone who has the motivation and tenacity to get up early on their own and run. Or visit the gym on their own, or indeed, do any regular sporting regime on their own. I just couldn’t bring myself to it!
But then I found group sport! I started to attend novice nights at my local rowing club, and within a matter of weeks I met a super bunch of women, we formed a team and they are now my best friends. I get up at 7am on a Saturday morning to train at 8am in the cold and the rain throughout the winter months, and I won’t try and get out of it, because my team members are relying on me. We all rely on each other. We race throughout the summer, taking pride in our huge bleeding blisters on our hands and our bottoms, of the cramp that we suffer because we have pushed our bodies to the limit for each other. God, how I have changed! After the race, the teams get together for a drink and food on the beach and discuss the race, the waves, the turns, the clashes, the whole event is simply wonderful. After only a year of rowing together we amazingly found ourselves capable enough to row with over 3000 other boats from around the world in London’s Great River Race, 21.6 miles up the Thames raising money for charity. Group sport changed my life!
I also joined a women’s rugby team. The amount of times I was asked ‘what if you break your nose?’ ‘but its not real rugby is it, do you mean tag rugby?’ Oh my god! I wonder if any man has ever been asked those questions?! It felt a little like I was living in Harry Enfield’s “Women, know your limits!” sketch. I felt like I had to defend my decision to play against this negative narrative. If I felt knocked by these comments, what must the impact be on our young, impressionable girls? No wonder they shy away from sport!
The camaraderie I felt between that team of women was immense and I wish everyone could feel it. After the first ever rugby match we played I cried and cried when that final whistle blew to signify the end of the game. We were covered in mud, sweaty, bruised and a little broken, and we lost…but pride swelled in my chest, I was proud of myself (I was 39 and had two children, playing a full rugby match in prop position felt significant both physically and mentally) I felt a bond with these women who were the same as me, the majority of us working mums, feeling the same pressures and strains of life, but for that 90 odd minutes all we thought about was supporting each other and making those tries. I sadly no longer play rugby due to to an ongoing back issue, but I tried it, for a whole season. And that’s the main thing. I tried. And it was good.
So, if you’d like to get a little fitter but lack the motivation, I thoroughly recommend you get a sport buddy or join a team if you can. There’s no backing out then!
If you’re wondering how to get into fitness and are a little intimidated by gyms, cast your eyes over these ideas that will hopefully motivate you.
Check out Devon Girls Can, which supports the national campaign This Girl Can. They hold a range of different sporting activities across Devon, from ariel fitness to netball, so you’ll make new friends too! Their Instagram feed is full of inspiring posts from amazing women getting out there and getting fit, and their Facebook page has lots of inspiring stories too. I know if I am feeling sluggish and lazy, their posts certainly help to motivate me.
Try a park run – organised completely by volunteers, the 5k weekly runs in towns up and down the UK are pretty amazing. Some people are serious runners attempting to beat their personal best times, others are there to get fit and have fun. There are people running with dogs, pushchairs, some people walk it, some people do it in silly outfits. But they all have the same aim: to stay fit and have a bit of fun, so it’s not intimidating at all.
ASK around – there are so many different things going on that sometimes we just don’t know about because are not well advertised. For example, in my town of Teignmouth there are tennis clubs, netball clubs, walking groups…the list seems endless. I only know about these through talking to people, so ask around and see what is on offer in your local area, or maybe try your town’s facebook page for advice.
I know that if I hadn’t got a strong, dependable group of women around me, my life would be a lot duller (and a lot flabbier!). I have met these women through sport, and with sport our bonds continue to grow. Sport has enhanced my life, and hopefully will help me to live a lot longer. I just wish I had discovered it in earlier.
So women, let’s get out there together and get our wobbly bits jiggling unashamedly. Let’s show our young girls there are no limits to what we can do!