How the perception of 'girls' sports and 'boys' sports continues to evolve
Sport PEI says it's important to find ways to keep teenage girls playing sports — and that includes changing perceptions of what some may consider a "boys" sport and a "girls" sport.
Gemma Koughan, executive director of Sport PEI, says there are different reasons why girls tend to drop out of sports more often than boys when they reach their early teens.
"Sometimes it's just puberty, their bodies change and it's hard for them, they start to look at other things they might like to do," she said. "Sometimes it's just that they didn't have a very good experience and they try something new and they get their passion back."
Koughan said it's important to introduce girls to as many sports as possible at a young age.
"We want them to participate in whatever sport they have the passion for because that will keep them playing," she said. "If playing something that might be considered non-traditional for girls is the way to go for them, then that's great."
In some sports on P.E.I., boys and girls start out playing on the same teams. But when they reach a certain age, if girls want to play only with other girls, there may not be enough players to form their own teams or league.
That is changing in some sports, including some that have traditionally been played mostly by boys, Koughlan said.
"Each sport may evolve to add that female component and I think it's to the betterment of the sport. Hockey would be a great example, where it was really thought of as a more of a traditionally male sport but I don't think anybody would think that now," she said.
"We look at wrestling as another example. People might think of that as a male-dominated sport but ... this province has produced some excellent female wrestlers."
More girls playing baseball
Baseball is another sport that is growing in popularity with girls. According to Baseball PEI, there are 52 girls over the age of eight registered to play baseball this year, up from 36 last year. It's estimated there are at least that many in the under-8 programs, though they are not broken down by gender at that age.
Last year, P.E.I. had enough girls to field its first all girls under-16 team.
Tessa Hood, 18, grew up playing baseball on boys teams on P.E.I., but suited up for Newfoundland at the nationals when she was 16 because P.E.I. didn't have enough girls for a team.
Hood grew up with nine brothers, so playing sports with boys wasn't new to her. She said she wasn't treated any differently, and enjoyed the competition, but playing on boys teams wasn't always easy.
"It was hard for me to stick with playing with the guys," she said. "I did because I love baseball, but playing on a girls team, it was a new, exciting experience. I think, personally, it would help other girls."
Hood said skill level is not necessarily a factor, especially at the early ages, and girls are just as competitive as boys on the baseball diamond.
"Once the boys hit puberty, they all got strong.... It was a bit of a game changer, but there are girls that I have played baseball against out west and they are playing on men's senior teams and they are just as equally as good."
Hood said some girls may be hesitant to sign up for baseball because some people consider it a "boys sport." But she'd like to see that change.
She said she's seen girls leave baseball for other sports simply because they want to play with other girls.
"Having a girl stick to a sport where it's usually all male dominated, I guess it's intimidating. I know a few of my friends used to play, they switched over," she said.
"And it kind of makes it easier for them because they get to play with other girls who they all have common interests with and they're all playing their own sport and doing their own thing."
But more girls might stick with baseball if there were more girls playing, Hood said. That's one reason she and others from Baseball PEI held a clinic in Charlottetown last week to introduce more girls to the sport.
"Baseball PEI wants all girls to know that they're all definitely welcome to play baseball and to not think that it's just for boys," she said.
Hood said girls are showing they can enjoy and excel at physical sports like rugby.
"If you don't play it, everyone says, 'Oh it's too aggressive,' but if you play it, you play it and you love it, you don't want to stop."
She doesn't think sports should be stereotyped as "boys" or "girls." It may not only discourage girls from playing a certain sport, but also boys. She pointed to field hockey as one example.
"Everyone thinks it's a girls sport but it's actually a very popular men's sport over in Europe," she said.
Koughan, meanwhile, said Sport PEI doesn't differentiate between "girls sports" and "boys sports." She said it's nice to see not just more females playing male-dominated sports, such as baseball, hockey and rugby, but also more males playing female-dominated sports, such as ringette and synchronized swimming.
But she said the most important thing is that everyone — especially girls who may consider dropping out of sports altogether — gets the opportunity to play whatever they choose.
"Our desire is to ensure girls continue to play sports, because what you see is a decline in their participation generally once they hit that 13, 14, 15 years of age. We just don't want to lose them."
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