The importance of female role models in sport for young girls

As The Echo Women’s Mini Marathon nears, EIMEAR HUTCHINSON looks at the importance of encouraging girls and women to get involved in sport
The importance of female role models in sport for young girls

Macro of woman legs in sport shoes, running over the wild terrain, under the cloudy sky. Jogging, running exercise concept.

MY husband and I have always had a huge interest in sports. From a young age we were involved in as many sports as both time and our parents would allow. All of our parents were very active and they all continue to be so, albeit with a few more creaks and complaints lately!

It’s been a natural progression that we, as parents, have actively sought to encourage our four girls when it comes to participating in sports. I was and still am very involved in athletics and GAA and my husband prefers soccer and rugby so across the board we have a wide variety of interests.

We are like ships in the evening going from one thing to another, with the girls but our end goal is clear, we want to set a good example in terms of participation in sports so that hopefully the girls will follow suit in whatever way they want.

There is no denying that there has been a shift in mentality over the last number of years in terms of supporting and encouraging girls in sports. In our village alone, most of the sports clubs have put in a concerted effort to increase the involvement of not just girls but women also, by reaching out to girls and women to encourage them to join, by bringing in more female coaches and helpers and by setting out clear goals on how to support all levels of involvement by females regardless of ability; if the interest is there they are welcomed and encouraged.

Across Ireland, there has been an increase in initiatives to encourage female participation in sport, for example 20x20, which was launched in 2018 and aimed to increase coverage of women’s sports in the media, to increase attendance at women’s sports events, and increase female participation in sport at all levels by 20% at the end of 2020.

And initiatives are excellent, they get men and women, boys and girls to stop and take note; girls are important and their contribution to sport is necessary.

Alongside these initiatives, the real heroes are probably those amazing female sporting role models that we have seen come to more prominence over the last few years. Celebrated in the media and in books, they are the ones that are really going to inspire young girls on GAA pitches, running tracks and courts across the country.

I bought my girls a fantastic book Girls Play Too, written by Jacqui Hurley, the female sports presenter from Cork. She includes a range of inspirational Irish sports women across so many disciplines. We read a couple each night and each page-long story tells the background of these women and girls and their journey, hard work and dedication that got them to where they are.

We are lucky in Cork we don’t have to look far to find some incredible sporting idols (forgive me for I am sure I will leave some out!); GAA superstars Rena Buckley and Briege Corkery, soccer player Denise O’Sullivan, this summer’s rising star Emily Hegarty who won bronze in rowing at this summer’s Olympics, and stalwarts like Sonia O’Sullivan and Derval O’Rourke - many of whom have taken part in and supported The Echo Women’s Mini Marathon over the years.

I have read many articles that all indicate that female participation in sport is much lower than men. Fear seems to be a big factor; not wanting others to judge our physical appearance when we play sport, fear at not being good enough and, interestingly, fear at being judged for putting our own pursuits over our family’s needs. I have no doubt that any woman reading this will identify with one of those limiting factors – I myself being guilty of the last one in a sense (I don’t feel fear at being judged for putting my family first, I do it anyway).

Running has always been my thing but I a combination of a now dodgy knee and the inclination to do something more social has led me to the conclusion I need to do something new for myself this year. I do try and set a good example for the girls by being involved in the sports they play, but I need to also show them that I have my own sporting outlet. A friend asked me to join tennis and before the summer I made excuses that I didn’t have the time, the usual excuse when you’re a Mammy!

She messaged me last week again and before I could find something else to fill up the time I jumped at the opportunity, so I’m starting tennis with some other mums in the village and I feel like it’s the perfect match – a well needed social outlet after the last 18 months and also an excuse to work up a sweat.

The Echo Women’s Mini Marathon is just around the corner, I think it is a great excuse to reshape that gender imbalance in terms of female participation in sport.

Look as it as a chance to inspire young girls around the county who will see women in their droves out running and walking as they take part and you may pick up a new habit for yourself.

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