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March 17, 2024

Why Participating in Sports Helps Girls’ Mental Health

By Kate P.
, 16
, from San Juan Capistrano, CA

To honor Women In Sports Day last month, I decided to sit down with three different female athletes to talk about keeping women and girls in sports. The question I presented to each of them was: “A recent Dove ad brought to light that 45% of girls will drop out of sports by the age of 14. How does that make you feel?”

The athletes were: Grace Allen, Alyssia Fossorier, and Kate Demars. Grace Allen runs the social media platforms @smesathletics and @smesfootball. Alyssia Fossorier was a Division 1 tennis player and captain  at UC Irvine, a team consistently at the top of the Big West Conference. She now serves as an assistant coach at UC Irvine. Lastly, Kate Demars is a collegiate field hockey player at Pace University who has been a competitive athlete throughout her life. All of these incredible athletes shared what sports means to them and what sports has done for them.

Of those 45% of girls, the majority dropped out due to issues surrounding body image. Not surprisingly, each of the athletes I spoke to was shocked by this number, as was I when I first saw it. The common theme behind each of their answers was that it made them sad. Alyssia Fossorier and Kate Demars both said that they had had so many defining moments in their life on a field or court, whether it was hearing their team being named to the NCAA tournament or winning a state title. Sports brought them friendship, gave them life skills, and was an outlet to focus their competitive drive into a goal. For Grace, she wanted to emphasize the importance of girls putting themselves out there. Sports can be intimidating and starting them is the hardest part. Holding yourself back is holding yourself back from a whole world of opportunity. She is trying to create a world for girls where their participation in sports is talked about, noticed, and celebrated so that percentage can continue to shrink. 

Although body image plays a big role in girls leaving sports, it’s rarely talked about. It took a major company’s Super Bowl ad to bring it to light, which shows the importance of talking about women in sports. Athletes like Caitlin Clark, Katie Ledecky, Serena Williams, and many others are showing why women’s athletics deserves the same recognition as male athletics. The more inspirational female athletic figures we put in the spotlight, the more young girls will have role models and leaders to look up to so they feel like they are supported in their athletic endeavors. 

Research shows that participating in sports leads to higher self-esteem, more confidence, and lower rates of depression. It creates a sense of community and purpose. It can be a boon to girls’ mental health. That’s why Women In Sports Day is important to me and teens around the world. I hope that more girls will be encouraged to take that first step and try something new for both their physical and mental health.

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