Women, Girls and your Club
Sport England’s Active Lives data (December 2019) shows that not only are more women inactive than men, but that more boys than girls are classed as active throughout primary and secondary school.
So, what’s stopping women and girls from taking part?
What can you do to attract more female members/participants and volunteers?
How can you give them a high-quality experience to make sure they keep coming back?
In order to attract and retain women and girls to your club/organisation, it’s important to recognise that they often experience different motivations and barriers to boys and men when it comes to taking part in sport and physical activity. It is also important to recognise that women and girls are individual groups and shouldn’t be treated as the same. Their experiences, motivations and barriers will all be different and are likely to change at different life stages. Being able to identify and understand the most common barriers and motivations can help you to make small, practical changes to your marketing, offer and approach. These changes can have a positive impact on both welcoming and retaining more women and girls as members/participants and volunteers.
This section sets out the most frequently cited barriers and motivations amongst younger girls, teenage girls and women. It also provides Club Matters top tips on attracting more female members and signposts you to a wide range of further resources to explore.
Explore these three areas in more detail below:
Inspiring children to get involved in sport and physical activity at an early stage can create healthy habits that last a lifetime. However, younger girls aren’t always encouraged into sport and physical activity as much as boys. Research by Women in Sport shows that even in children aged as young as seven, gender stereotypes regarding girls’ sporting abilities are already taking shape. Women in Sport also found that girls’ participation in sport and physical activity starts to decline from this age at a much faster rate than boys. Sport England’s latest Active Lives data for children and young people shows that 43.7% of girls in Years 1-6 of school are active, doing an average of 1 hour of exercise every day or more, compared to 51.9% of boys (December 2019).
Gender stereotypes, a lack of female role models and family members discouraging participation in sport and physical activity are all possible reasons for this. To help overcome these obstacles, clubs and organisations should be inclusive, welcoming and committed to tackling these barriers. Women in Sport research shows family has an important role in young girls’ lives. Encouraging parents to get involved with their daughter’s experience at your club or group could help break down the barriers for girls who feel less confident. This could be done through adding five minutes of ‘family time’ before or after sessions where family members join in activities, other family-focused events like sessions where siblings can take part or organising regular showcases for girls to show off what they’ve learned. Other top tips are provided at the end of this section.
It is important to recognise that every girl is different. Each will be motivated by different values and interests. Women in Sport have identified five ‘anchors’ of a teenage girl’s life, representing the values most commonly cited as being really important to this group. They include:
- Having a support network.
- Being socially connected.
- Being independent and having new experiences.
- Experiencing moments of pride.
- Being able to ‘keep on top of it all’, balancing their wants and needs in day to day life.
It is easy to see how taking part in sport and physical activity can reinforce each of these anchors. By using these anchors as the foundation of your offer for teenage girls, your club/organisation will be able to keep existing participants/members motivated and potentially attract interest from more teenage girls. These anchors should be clear in your marketing and communications, considered in the delivery of training sessions and should inform other club activities like social events. You could also encourage teenage girls to become volunteers at your club/group, as another way to gain new experience and create moments of pride. Currently, 40.4% of girls in Years 5-11 at school have volunteered within sport and physical activity at least twice in the previous year, compared to 36.8% of boys (Sport England Active Lives Data December 2019).
Sport England Active Lives data on children and young people show that less than half of girls at high school are physically activity for an average of 60 minutes every day. Key barriers impacting on activity levels and participation for teenage girls include:
- Poor self-esteem and body image.
- Feeling judged.
- Competition between peers.
- The effects of puberty, including periods.
Feeling uncomfortable about their body, unable to keep up with peers or dealing with periods can all factor into teenage girls being less active.
During their teenage years, friendships and being accepted by their peers become very important to girls. Being ‘too sporty’ or ‘not sporty enough’ can both have consequences socially, meaning teenage girls can feel self-conscious about their abilities and whether they fit in. Providing welcoming environments where members feel safe to explore and develop their skills is really important. Women in Sport’s research into Reframing Sport for Teenage Girls explores these perceptions and barriers in more detail.
When working to attract more teenage girls to your organisation, try to appeal to as many of the five anchors as possible. Focus on the potential benefits for them outside of just getting fit – for example, make it clear that you provide engaging sessions along with opportunities for socialising and other rewarding experiences. However, recognising the many demands on their time is also important. Make sure to encourage open dialogue with your members about what works for them, as this empowers girls to tailor activities for their own needs whilst ensuring your organisation can best support their development. For more advice on engaging teenage girls, you can check out Women in Sport’s helpful infographic or The Club Natters podcast episode on attracting more female members.
It’s important to recognise that all women have different barriers and motivations. Women in Sport’s "Understanding Women's Lives" report identifies six broad values that women prioritise and look for in all aspects of life.
Research suggests that clubs and organisations who plan for and incorporate these values into their recruitment efforts, activities, training sessions, social events and volunteering opportunities are more likely to encourage women to join and stay.
If you are looking to increase female membership/participants, try to make women focal points in your marketing strategy when promoting the activities you offer. Also try to regularly evaluate how well you are providing the six broad values identified. An easy way to do this is to check in with your members. This can be done informally, getting coaches or other members to do quick question and answer sessions, or more formally through surveys.
Some women will have their own unique reasons for not taking part in sport or physical activity. It’s important to understand the type of obstacles they may face so that you can try to overcome them. Many of these barriers fit into one of two categories – practical or personal.
Practical barriers include:
- Timing or frequency of sessions.
- Logistics such as location, transport, childcare options.
- Lack of information about the club/organisation or training/session times.
Personal barriers include:
- Lack of confidence in their ability.
- Worries about their appearance when participating.
- Social confidence - joining a new group and not fitting in.
- Fear of being judged.
- Cultural/religious barriers.
It is possible for clubs/organisations to work with women to overcome many of these issues. Encouraging your coaches/activity leaders to read Women in Sport’s Considerations for Coaching factsheets could help them run sessions that make women feel more comfortable and confident. Running a regular female-specific session can be a great way to overcome barriers such as the fear of being judged. However, if this isn’t possible, look for alternatives to help women feel comfortable. Try adapting the format of your session so that it’s a mix of warming up, coaching to develop skills and breaks for members to socialise. For more tips on making sure your sessions are inclusive and supportive of women, check out Sport England’s ‘Helping Women and Girls to Get Active’ guide.
Similarly, simple changes like pairing new participants up with existing members will help women to settle into your club faster. If you can use a buddy system like this, try to assign them quickly so new members feel like they have someone to talk to straight away. Also, make sure you always greet newcomers when they first try out a session, to reassure them and create a welcoming first impression. Making sure your club’s internal culture is welcoming and inclusive is vital – check out our infographic on increasing female participation for some extra insight. Also try to encourage female members to get even more out of their experience with your club by volunteering! Volunteering has many benefits and will give your female participants more opportunities to shape your organisation’s offering to suit their needs, but Sport England Active Lives data shows that only 11.1% of women over the age of 16 had volunteered at least twice in the previous year compared to 16.8% of men (November 2018). For more research and advice on engaging female volunteers, check out Women in Sport’s report here.
There are lots of tips and ideas in our infographic and podcast episode exploring how you can attract more female members and volunteers. Don’t forget to check them out after you’ve read the tips below!
Form valuable partnerships:
Joining forces with relevant organisations is a good way to make your club more visible to women and girls. The right partner will depend on the age group you are trying to engage with. To reach younger and teenage girls, making links with local schools, youth or uniformed organisations could provide a great new recruitment channel. Partnering with these organisations could also help you to engage with mums, but don’t stop there! Find other ways to get the word out. Don’t forget, other clubs in your area might not run women and girls’ teams or sessions – instead, they might be happy to signpost potential members to you.
Highlighting role models:
The creation of relatable, inspiring role models is important for women and girls across all age groups. You might already have club members/participants fitting this description that you can call on to inspire and motivate others. If not, there might be some great female sporting heroes local to your area whom you can use as inspiring examples! If you can, feature them in your marketing and promotion - just posting a picture of an inspiring member/volunteer and the story of their experience within your organisation on social media is a great start.
Keeping in touch:
Follow up with newcomers to congratulate them on their first session. A quick text/instant message or e-mail with details of the next session and saying that you’re looking forward to seeing them there could have a big impact on encouraging them to return and even commit. Pairing your new female members up with a more experienced club member as a buddy can also help, so try to encourage the buddies to keep in touch outside of sessions as well. Also, inviting new joiners – or their parents, where appropriate – to join an online forum or WhatsApp style group are great ways to keep them involved after the session has ended.
Talk to your members about what they want:
It’s really important that you create an open dialogue with women about their experience with your club/organisation. Consult existing members and their families, where relevant, to create a strong understanding of their needs – could session timings be changed to fit their schedules better? Is there any equipment you can provide, to take some of the strain off busy members/volunteers? Include this information in your communications, so potential new participants are aware too. You might not be able to keep everyone, but always look for new ways to tailor your activities and volunteering opportunities to what’s important to women and girls. For example, playing music during informal sessions or organising regular social events could help members have fun, feel good and spend time with friends.
Club Matters have also produced an infographic which provides top tips on increasing female participation in sports and community clubs. Click here to view the infographic.
Episode 5 of our Club Natters podcast explores how clubs/organisations can attract women and girls. Key topics covered include getting women through the door, engaging with teenage girls and what clubs/groups can learn from the rise of women’s football. Click here to listen to the podcast.
This Girl Can:
Sport England’s This Girl Can campaign aims to break down the barriers that prevent women and girls participating in sport and physical activity. The campaign aims to address common barriers by highlighting and championing women’s involvement with sport and physical activity. Further information about the campaign, real life case studies and examples of the different ways to get active is provided on the This Girl Can website.