CORK primary school girls have been given a boost in confidence, self-esteem and self-compassion thanks to a new club.
Eleven young girls from Gaelscoil an Teaghlaigh Naofa in Ballyphehane took part in an eight week course, run by Mini Mermaids Running Club.
The course called ‘Finding your Inner Voice’ culminated in them all running a 5k challenge at The Lough.
The girls were supported by their coach and mentor, Sarah Fahy, and cheered on by students, parents and teachers of Gaelscoil an Teaghlaigh Naofa.
Mini Mermaids running clubs began in the United States in 2009. The aim of the clubs is to teach girls to lead a healthy life by listening to their inner voice, valuing their uniqueness and learning to love movement. Mini Mermaids cultivates self-empowerment among girls, no matter what life throws at them.
The programme was brought to the UK in 2015 by Hannah Corne, CEO of Mini Mermaids UK, who launched the first program in her local primary school in Leeds in England.
This year, Sarah Fahy began the first Mini Mermaids Club in Ireland. She was completing a course in Mental Health and the Community at University College Cork and wanted to start a community-based initiative alongside her studies. Her cousin in London told her about Mini Mermaids and Sarah contacted Hannah Corne and set up the first Mini Mermaids Running Club in Cork, in the hope that the initiative would be “a preventative one, rather than a reactive one” when it comes to helping young girls preserve their confidence and self-esteem.
Sarah explains: “Research shows that girls’ confidence peaks at age eight. After that age, it starts to decline.
“We are trying to work with girls in schools before this happens so that we can help preserve that confidence and self-esteem.
“By working with the girls, we hope to use physical activity along with messages that strengthen their confidence, self-esteem and feelings of self-compassion.”
The girls at Mini Mermaids Running Club follow a variety of curriculums, as well as participating in training.
The young students from Gaelscoil an Teaghlaigh Naofa recently completed the eight-week course called ‘Finding your inner voice — self-discovery’.
The girls learned to listen to their positive inner voice and use tools to navigate the world where truth and lies often sound the same. They were taught to tell the difference between the two voices — the truth (Mini Mermaids positive voice) and muddled messages (Siren’s negative voice).
Sarah says: “We teach the girls about their inner cheerleader voices, which is the Mini Mermaid, and their inner critic, which is Siren. It’s about listening to that voice of positivity and trying to silence Siren.
“The programme is structured whereby we have discussions and chats as a group. We do some journal work. We play games. We do a lot of structured workouts and activities. Everything culminates in a 5k challenge at the end.”
The confidence decline exhibited by young girls and girls in their early teens has been well researched. American research published in a book called The Confidence Code for Girls looked at 1,300 girls aged between eight and 18. They were asked individually to rate their confidence between one and ten.
Researchers found that girls’ self-esteem declines significantly when they start puberty. They also found that girls were rewarded more by parents and teachers when exhibiting people-pleasing behaviours, suggesting they are growing up to believe it is more appropriate to stay quiet and not voice their opinions. This can lead to girls setting unrealistic standards for themselves, relating to body image and success.
Hannah Corne, CEO of Mini Mermaids UK, explained why a programme like Mini Mermaids Running Club is vital for young girls to be involved in.
“They are really important because girls’ confidence starts to dip at the age of seven or eight. Their participation in physical activities starts to decrease. We all know that being physically active is not only good for our physical health, it’s also good for our mental health.
“The initiative here is really important because we want our girls to believe in themselves. We want girls to stay active. We choose running because it is the simplest form of activity. You just put on your trainers and go. We know running isn’t going to be for everyone, but the important thing is that we are getting girls outside and active. They can run, walk, hop, skip, jump; however, they want to complete the challenge.
“It’s about getting them to love being active and understanding that they will feel a lot better after being active. Their confidence will be lifted and their mood will be lifted.”
Sarah has seen “huge changes” in the eleven young girls who have taken part in the eight-week Mini Mermaids course. “I’ve seen the girls come out of themselves and help each other. They are far more aware of their inner voices.”
Hannah flew over from Leeds for the first Mini Mermaids 5k challenge held in Ireland. She said: “The feedback from the girls is quite transformative. All of them feel that their confidence has risen. They feel they can put their hands up in class, make that mistake and if their negative voice comes in, they know how to turn it around by saying to themselves, ‘it was just a mistake. I can try again’.”
The purpose of Mini Mermaids Running Club is to work with young girls for four years before they head off to secondary school.
The first eight-week course that Sarah has facilitated in Cork has been a huge success. The 11 participants from Gaelscoil an Teaghlaigh Naofa have enjoyed the experience and are proud of each of their teammates. The girls are keen to encourage other young girls to join Mini Mermaids.
Chelsea said that before she started Mini Mermaids she “wasn’t confident. That’s why I joined.” For Chelsea, Mini Mermaids is important because “we are boosting our confidence and we are doing exercise. I know that from being here [in the group] that I can tell my friends about my feelings”.
Sophie joined because “I wasn’t friends with all of these girls so I thought I would become more close to them if I did Mini Mermaids”.
Seana “wasn’t used to running and I wasn’t really close to anyone” before joining Mini Mermaids. Like Sophie, she has built strong bonds with her Mini Mermaids teammates and has decided to continue running with the club because it is “really great”.
The friends that Ava, another Mini Mermaid, has made as a result of joining the running club has been the best thing because “we always have each other now and we can tell each other things whenever we want”.
Alicia offers this advice to any young girl who might like to join: “Just give it a go, even if you think you won’t like it. It’s a great experience. I was a bit unsure going into it, but I think if you just go through with it, it will be OK.”
Sarah, the Irish ambassador for Mini Mermaids, is keen to hear from other people across Cork and the country who would like to set up their own local Mini Mermaid Running Club.
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