On And Off The Court: The Effect of Girls Dropping Their Sports
Caroline Peyser (‘23) on the girls varsity basketball team, taken by Jordan Renville (‘20)
Teamwork, effort, and confidence. Student-athletes across the world participate in sports to do what they love and build these essential skills in the process. But with the increased rate of female student-athletes dropping their sports before college or even high school, can young girls build these skills with the lack of a naturally competitive, athletic environment?
According to Gatorade’s “Girls In Sports” study done in 2017, girls in the United States drop out of sports by the age of 14 at a rate 1.5 times that of boys. In August of 2017, Refinery29 partnered with Gatorade, after reading the sobering study results, in order to discover the reasoning behind the disparity. Common responses from the 1000 teenage girls polled included prioritization of school work or other extracurriculars, as well as the statement that they just “didn’t see a future for themselves in [sports].” Another study done by the Women’s Sport Foundation compiled data from over 1500 studies and reflected the common theme that many girls simply believe they aren’t good enough to continue playing. Does the same mentality prevail at Packer?
“Yes, if you look at numbers across the board for equal sports such as soccer and basketball, in general, the numbers are of a greater disparity here at Packer,” said Physical Education Department Head and Coach Russell Tombline. “I think by the time a lot of girls get to high school their interests do start going in other directions [and] they want to become more involved in other extracurriculars…I really feel, [though], that the athletic department does the best it can to give the females opportunities to participate.”
At Packer, basketball has the greatest gender disparity, with approximately fifty boys trying out in high school this year in comparison to twenty girls. “The ways I, being the varsity girls basketball coach, try to build the program up is I started coaching the fifth and sixth grade girls team to start their interest when they’re younger, and then hopefully they pursue all the way through,” Russell continued.
“Last year there were four girls who showed up to [seventh and eighth grade] basketball tryouts, now we have eighteen dedicated, passionate girls,” said JuliaAnn Weisel, who coaches seventh and eighth grade girls basketball and is an assistant coach for the varsity girls basketball team.
Often, switching schools for high school can contribute to a fear of playing on new teams, especially those that include boys and girls.
“I really enjoyed being in a friendly but competitive environment. I felt really capable, my coaches were really supportive and there was a lot of one on one time,” said Maitri Niles (‘22) about playing ultimate frisbee and running track, both of which are sports she has dropped since she began attending Packer.
“I did feel embarrassed [because] I was not at the same skill level as everyone else there. And there were very few girls to the point where I thought I had a chance [of making the team] just for being a girl,” Maitri said, recalling her experience at ultimate frisbee tryouts. After that first day, she stopped attending the team’s meetings. “I was scared to try, because I thought if I didn’t try and I was bad, it was better than trying and being bad.”
However, Georgia Groome (‘21) shed a different light on participating in sports as a new Packer student, stating that it not only acted as a space to build new relationships but equipped her with more skills in other areas, especially academics.
“On the girls teams that I’ve been on, there’s always been such an aura of acceptance and building each other up and wanting to lift up your teammates,” Georgia said, discussing her experience on Packer’s girls volleyball, basketball and softball teams. “Upperclassmen [instill] confidence and passion within lowerclassmen and [want] them to be prepared for taking a leadership position as their high school career ensues.”
Jennifer Votaw, who coaches Middle School track and field and cross country, as well as Packer’s varsity swim team, said,”I think a lot of it is just the support system women need to stay in sports [and] to not be worried about failing.” The support system Ms. Votaw discussed involves equal participation from parents and coaches, who, she said, should encourage students to take risks and accept failure. “Sports for me personally, especially when I was younger, gave me a lot of confidence, and [they] still give me confidence.”
In the Packer community, not only does closing the gap between male and female athletes allow the school to qualify for more teams and events, but it sets young female athletes on a track throughout their school years to understand what can often be best exemplified in an athletic setting: the importance of hard work and the strength it takes to take risks.