Reframing Sport for Teenage Girls: Tackling teenage disengagement


The Women in Sport Reframing Sport for Teenage Girls insight showed the need to engage girls in more active lifestyles has never been more urgent. This generation of teenage girls are experiencing worrying mental health issues and report being less confident, less happy and increasingly concerned with their appearance[1]. The pandemic has amplified these issues for many girls.

When teenage girls are active, they are healthier and happier, and have greater self-esteem, body confidence and wellbeing. But teenage girls are disengaging with sport and physical activity. They are less physically active generally and are also far less likely to take part in team sports than boys[2]. Worryingly girls lose their love of sport and exercise during teenage SOURCES: years and this presents a significant psychological barrier throughout life.

Teenage girls are not a homogenous group. They have different lived experiences of sport and exercise and attitudes towards it, which fundamentally influence their behaviours. Understanding their startpoint is key to creating truly effective offers that will inspire more girls to get active. To underpin Women in Sport’s extensive knowledge and understanding of this important life-stage for girls, they carried out a nationally representative survey of over 4,000[3] adolescent girls and boys age 11-18 years old to explore their engagement in and attitudes towards sport and exercise.


The findings illustrate the importance of understanding teenagers’ engagement with sport and exercise through a gendered lens. Teenage girls and boys experience it differently and require different solutions. Girls have numerous, complex barriers that influence their enjoyment and participation and understanding how these manifest across the spectrum of engagement is key to providing more targeted and effective solutions that give girls what they really want and need.

There is a significant opportunity to re-engage them and we must work harder to do so and to prevent girls from missing out. In particular, Women in Sport are deeply concerned by the number of girls who disengage from sport and exercise post primary school, with a further dip at age 17-18, once school sport is not longer compulsory. Many of these girls enjoyed being active when younger but have needlessly fallen out of love with it in adolescence. We can now pinpoint and address their needs through our insight and understanding.

Key Findings

  • Too many girls are disengaging from sport and exercise in their teens. This is huge compared to boys – a significant missed opportunity for the sector.
  • Self-belief, capability and body image concerns can be significant issues for all girls, but more so for girls who stop taking part.
  • All girls, even the most sporty, need more support to manage the physical and emotional impact of puberty on physical activity.
  • Fathers/father figures support their daughters less than their sons and could play a powerful role in encouraging girls to love being active.
  • Girls want a wider variety of fun, exciting and accessible opportunities to get active – many like competition if the context is right.

Read the Report

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