Girls Sports Boosts Preteen Body Image & Self-Worth

volleyballsolo.jpgAh, football season, home to toxic media messaging for girls.

A time when beer billboards of buxom cheerleaders spill from every corner, “scoring” innuendos abound, and tacky wardrobe malfunctions remain fresh in the mind’s eye.

Seems timely to post tips on ways to promote girls’ self-image through SPORTS, since body image and self worth is being pummeled in media and marketing.

Girls tote their soccer cleats past larger than life ads. Lip-smacking women in provocative poses sell Cheesy bites pizza, Hooters-n-fries. It’s enough to make an adolescent girl put on her track shoes and run from the seemingly inescapable saturation…

…So it’s heartening to see research shows BOTH genders are getting a rocket-powered preteen self-esteem boost through SPORTS in adolescence!

There’s slam dunk evidence that athletics is a winning proposition, with more confidence, higher achievement test scores, less depression, improved mental health, more academic success and even greater lifetime earning potential.

Girls’ sports participation is paying off, but there’s no room for backsliding.

To make the progress stick, we need to ensure the preservation of Title IX, and perhaps an elbow in the gut for the obnoxious ‘Uncle Buck’ types who make lewd jailbait comments about ‘hot’ cheerleaders on game day, whether they’re on screen or in school.

And ditto to comments on the bodies of the girl players themselves!

As it is the stakes are high to keep girls actively engaged, as Child & Family Canada reports:

“Girls who play sports are also more likely to turn away from risky behavior, be it unprotected sex, promiscuity, or experimenting with drugs and alcohol.”

So why is Title IX funding in jeopardy? Why are we having to save Title IX by signing petitions?

This seems wildly inconsistent and paradoxical to me.

Check out this videoclip to see how the preservation of Title IX goes far beyond sports into academic achievement and job skill opportunities.

Then explain why we would want to undo all the preteen progress being made in girls self-worth, much less the high school and collegiate access to programs that contribute to healthier emotional and physical beings?

Despite all the marketing of Girl Power, it’s a misnomer…for every positive sports step forward, pop culture sets girls back with media messaging to the contrary.

Slogans like “There are no limits,” and inspiring movies like Bend it Like Beckham and A League of their Own, pale in comparison to the 24/7 cues of girls as boy toys.

As it is, girls have an entirely different view of sports competition than boys, so keeping them actively engaged requires finesse.

According to CFC: “Girls tend to worry about competing against their best friend, being yelled at by the coach and wondering if they will be more or less popular depending on what sport they play and how good they are at that sport. Girls also worry more about disappointing team mates and making mistakes.”

I’ve witnessed every single one of these instances firsthand in a mere few weeks when my own preteen daughter segued into middle school with guarded restraint only to receive a joyous dose of self-confidence by making the volleyball team after tryouts.

The nuances among team members and the way they interact with each other are entirely different than watching boys’ competitions. As the bonds grew and her team inched toward the playoffs surprising even themselves, the dramatic tension and ‘tween’ angst rivaled a made for TV movie.

And by the way, she had never been on a regimented team of any kind, nor played volleyball before, and voila…an untapped passion!

This kind of ‘unknowing’ potential needs nurtured in girls, and confirms that girls don’t have to be fast-tracked into the “jock” team circuit as wee ones to enjoy stepping into the mix in middle school and beyond.

A great resource to leverage this first timer dynamic is the Women’s Sports Foundation’s GoGirlGo site for girls along with their GoGirlGo adult resource programs.

Their websites tap into encouragement to ensure team experiences are positive ones, and offer subtle ways to recruit girls that dislike highly organized, competitive sports by starting with solo activities and low-key classes.

“All too often girls give up on exercise after the childhood years, assuming that they’re different from the “jock girls” who seem successful at it,” reports Donna Lopiano, director of Women’s Sports Foundation in Daughters bimonthly.

“The kind of activity doesn’t matter much as long as a girl likes it,” says Lopiano.

The Women’s Sports Foundation has pull down menus on multiple sports to help girls pick an activity, tons of advice and guidance on how to get inactive girls active and how to stay that way, and links to grants, free curriculum, and funding resources for starting a girls group of their own.

Daughters the national bimonthly for parents of tween and teen girls, also noted in their article that media perception conveys there are tons of girls playing sports; when in actuality there’s considerable untapped potential:

“A recent study showed that the rate of sports participation among high school girls has hit a plateau…one-third of girls participated in school sports during the last six years, (which is a nice jump from the 25% participation rate for girls in the 1980s) but the current 33% rate is one indication that two-thirds of girls don’t necessarily get regular activity,” wrote Daughters’ editor Helen Cordes.

Clearly there’s plenty of room for growth and encouragement, especially for those preteen payoffs during the precarious years when girls’ body image and self-worth takes a nosedive.

Another fabulous site to get girls going is Girls At Play, which has an ‘ask the expert’ forum on girls nutrition, fitness and psychology as well as a ‘what’s hot’ focus for girls growing into their own voices and bodies. Inspiring.

And since girls and boys differ greatly in the way they excel in sports competition, coaches, parents, and even spectators need to understand the variance and hot buttons so we can support them effectively in these arenas.

A ‘shout out’ to one could be mortifying to another. Criticism can be construed as judgment. Cheering, coaching from the sidelines can be a help or a hindrance, depending on the girl…Family Education has a nice roundup of helpful articles along these lines.

Finally, girls are often OVERLY attuned to dear ol’ dad’s opinion, which can make or break a spirit, particularly in girls sports…

Shaping Youth asked Joe Kelly, founder of stellar nonprofit Dads & Daughters about ways DADS could promote girls’ self-image through sports.

We’ll be featuring Joe Kelly in a multi-part interview, because frankly, he has so much relevant info to share that it crosses vast seas of subject matter and needs torn into sound bites to impart all the knowledge. But for now…

Here are a few jump-starts from Dads & Daughters free e-newsletter:

1. Make sports fun from an early age: e.g. an athletic-theme party like kickball& pizza.

2. Demonstrate interest in her athletic activities: Attend her games, or be sure to talk or email with her after every game to hear how it went.

3. Go to the games to cheer: For your girl, and everyone who is playing! Every child & parent should remember why they call it “playing” sports.

4. Leave coaching to the coaches: Tina Syer of the Positive Coaching Alliance says, “You’re there to fill the kids’ emotional tanks and make sure they bounce back from mistakes, not to tweak their throwing motion or tell them where to be on the field.” (Be smart about choosing coaches tuned in to her age and skill level, or volunteer)

5. Be a model fan: Consider if someone were videotaping you instead of the game. Be sure you (and your daughter) would be proud of what you’d see.

6. Ask: “What do each hope to get from the experience?” Then tell her what you hope she gets. If you don’t talk (and listen), she may assume all you care about is a winning record or how good her stats are. Make sure she knows you want sports to be a fun place to make friends, test herself, be healthy, and feel good about herself.

7. Let her play with boys: In “Raising Our Athletic Daughters: How Sports Can Build Self-Esteem and Save Girls’ Lives,” authors Jean Zimmerman and Gil Reavill suggest utilizing coed or single-sex programs according to your daughter’s comfort level and what will contribute most to her learning and growth.

8. Help her use “mistakes” productively: When she messes up, she’ll look to you first. So illustrate how to put mistakes in perspective by showing her how to let go of them and encouraging (but not demanding) her to use them as motivation to improve her skills.

9. Make sure girls and boys have equal sports opportunities and resources: Support Title IX and encourage school and other sports programs to be aware of and promptly address inequities.

10. Keep a relaxed and fun approach: Team sports teach girls how to be self-reliant while also working collaboratively to be competitive.

And…here are a few MORE activity tips for girls courtesy of Daughters bimonthly. Daughters not only offers advice on keeping girls active, but goes in-depth into the sticky subjects and unique perspectives on all aspects of raising a daughter in these wild media and marketing times…

More Activity Tips From GoGirlGo & Daughters:

*Younger girls often like games such as Red Rover or potato sack races.

*Give lots of things a try before deciding: Buy used equipment or rent
it to see if an activity’s fun.

*Start a bracelet with different charms for new activities

*Keep a log or use a pedometer, to cement a feeling of accomplishment.

*Take advantage of the seasons–ice-skating, swimming, basketball etc.

One more news flash:

Shaping Youth will be marking our calendar to participate in National Girls and Women in Sports Day on February 7, 2007.

Support the theme Throw like a girl – Lead like a champion!” along with thousands of sports educators, coaches, athletic directors, recreation directors, association members, sponsors, students, and parents across the country.



  1. very good

  2. Well said!

  3. Thanks for your attention to PCA. You may be interested in our new online sports parenting course at

  4. We agree! Girls need encouragement and compliments. Go to our web site because we celebrate all girls doing all activities.
    I am so glad you’re addressing girls with low self-esteem and poor body image, especially in conjunction with the negative messages and images of girls and women in the media.
    Our mission is to promote positive images and empowering messages that girls can do anything! Get active, be healthy, and go after your goals in life.

  5. Wow, thanks Lisa…I’ve been out of town and just returned. Excellent site. Let’s do an interview in Sept. when school sports start to kick in. You game?

    After all: As one of our Shaping Youth board members (who runs Starlings Volleyball Clubs for at risk preteen girls) cites:

    Girls who participate in sports are:

    * 92% less likely to use drugs
    * 80% less likely to have an
    unwanted pregnancy
    * twice as likely to graduate from
    high school and attend college
    * far less likely to suffer from
    childhood obesity

  6. Current Sports News says

    Love your post!! Finally someone got it right!!! Would you mind if I put a blogroll link back to your post? 🙂

  7. Well, if you liked that one, you’ll probably like the Positive Coaching Alliance one here too:

    Or this one on GLTR Girls (girls learn to ride) re: various sports boards (snowboarding, wakeboarding, surfing, etc.)

    Feel free to blogroll us…sports is pivotal in ‘shaping youth’ which is why we partner with Starlings USA Volleyball (club sports for middleschool girls) and the others in our sidebar. Thanks for the kind comments. Best, Amy

  8. hey this is a cool website

  9. Well thanks, Jay…usually when I get a new comment that’s a short-n-sweet compliment it’s someone ‘linking’ for SEO sales, so this is a very genuine and refreshing change! Thank you!

  10. your welcome amy

    i know of these really cool chips…they are made out of apples and are really tasty and healthy… go to for more information

  11. Jordan Hall says

    Hey I was looking at your site and wanted to advertise through you for my upcoming product launch. I have a great track record, my last launch grossed about half a million (Bullet Cash Method). My new product is going to be big also (Life Modification). So anyway I would love to talk ASAP, so please email me at or call my personal cell at 512-825-4772. Thanks, Jordan

  12. We don’t do advertising, Jordan…we’re a nonprofit using a social entrepreneurial model, but tx for the kudos.

  13. Womens self esteem - Susan says

    I agree, it’s important for young girls and women to engage in sports or some kind of physical activity. It helps them to set and acheive goals in all areas, which is a skill they can use for their whole life.


  14. I totally agree, through sports we can prove that we have something good about ourselves and there will be no reason to feel any self esteem issues.

  15. Building Confidence in Children says

    Great Site! I was wondering if I would be able quote a portion of your site and use a handful of items for a term paper. Please email me whether or not that would be fine. Thanks

  16. of course…it’s all creative commons open source with attribution per graphic on the sidebar, so just follow the links/terms and feel free to ‘build confidence in children!’ 😉

  17. confidence in kids says

    In activity is one of todays greatest threats not only obesity but depression and other health related issues.

    Getting your child active 4-5 times a week plus playing out and being active are essential to their well being.

  18. Yes We should respect the girls perspective what they want to try. If they want to play we should let them buy soccer cleats to start the play from our guardian perspective.

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