April is Girls Sports Month, and as part of USA TODAY High School Sports’ fourth-annual Girls Sports Month celebration, we’re speaking with some of the most influential female athletes, coaches and celebrities in the sports world. We will also be highlighting some of the best stories from the past year as well as featuring some of the trailblazers.
It may sound obvious that having a female role model as a coach can help a young girl in sports.
A study by the Women’s Sports Foundation found that girls aged 7 to 13 “more readily identify and see a female coach as a mentor and role model.”
“It really is important for girls to be able to have experiences with women in the coaching profession as mentors and as role models because they help counter stereotypes, and they help boost girls’ confidence, their sense of belonging,” said Karen Issokson-Silver, the WSF vice president of research and evaluation.
The problem is, there’s a disproportionate amount of women coaches.
Just a quarter of the 6.5 million youth coaches in the United State are women.
The study looked into optimal practices for engaging young girls in sports. Despite these athletes competing for the same basic reasons as boys — skill-building, finding relationships, competitive drives — there’s a stigma about girls in athletics.
With the help of Nike, a Los Angeles-based initiative is working to change that.
Over the weekend, about 400 women participated in a coaching summit put on by Women Coach LA.
The event included workshops and training sessions for the women to learn coaching strategies in skill development, building supportive relationships and honing competition and comfort in the athlete.
It will also help them seek out coaching opportunities for girls basketball, softball, soccer and volleyball.
“It makes a big difference for young people when they have mentors and role models who look like them and can relate to their life experiences,” LA mayor Eric Garcetti said in a press release.
“Women Coach LA is about inspiring young women in every community to get out onto the field and the court to stay active and chase their dreams.”
More girls quit sports earlier than boys; the study showed the attrition rate is two to three times higher in females. Thirty-six percent of girls in the study said they do not intend to play a sport in high school.
Parents often place greater value on participation for their sons than daughters, the study found.
“There are gender norms that still shape the extent to which girls are motivated to participate and encouraged to participate in sport,” Issokson-Silver said.
That leads to a fewer female coaches, which Issokson-Silver said is something that can directly impact girls’ participation and retention. The study came across several programs that have trouble finding women to coach.
Having the presence of a woman can help girls improve confidence short- and long-term and help them be more comfortable in athletics.
If a young girl sees representation above, she can feel encouraged.
“If you can see it, you can be it,” Issokson-Silver said.