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Movement Experiences for Children
KIN 366
Instructor: Dr. Shannon S.D. Bredin
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Important Course Pages
Lecture Notes
Course Discussion

Participation in sport is the engagement in usually organized and competitive physical activity governed by a set of rules or customs (Sport Accord, 2013). People of all ages and fitness levels have the opportunity to engage in sport because sport participation is on a continuum from recreational to elite and professional (Sport Accord, 2013). There is a worldwide consensus that participation in sport offers benefits at the level of the individual, the community and the nation (World Health Organization [WHO], n.d.). Unfortunately, in Canada there is a decline in sport participation across all ages (Canadian Heritage, 2013). There are multiple factors including socioeconomic status, gender stereotyping and health literacy that have significant influence on participation in sport, even at young age (Canadian Heritage, 2013). Those who participate in sport through childhood are more likely to participate in sport in adulthood and receive the health benefits of living an active lifestyle (Bailey, 2006).

Canadian Trends and Statistics

Sport participation in Canada has declined by 17% over the past 18 years in the general population (Canadian Heritage, 2013). In 2010 only 26% of Canadians participated regularly in sport (Canadian Heritage, 2013). This overall decline in participation translates into decreased childhood sport participation. According to Statistics Canada (2013), boy participation in sport has declined from 66% to 56% and girl participation in sport has declined from 49% to 45% in the last 10 years. In addition, participation in these sports average only 2.6 times per week meaning these children are not meeting the minimal Physical Activity Guidelines (Statistics Canada, 2013).

In fact, only 8% of boys and 4% of girls meet the Physical Activity Guidelines set by the government (Statistivcs Canada, 2013). Boys between the ages of six to eleven are the most active and girls between the ages of twelve and seventeen are the least active (Statistics Canada, 2013).

The most popular sport played by children in Canada is soccer, as over 42% of kids who engage in organized sport participate in soccer (Statistics Canada, 2013). Swimming, ice hockey, basketball and baseball also make the top five most popular sports among Canadian children (Statistics Canada, 2013). Gender differences in the sports have declined, as girls are moving away from traditional girls sports like figure skating and dance to traditionally male dominant sport like basketball and soccer (Statistics Canada, 2013).

Discrepancy in Sport Participation Between Genders

Across the world, boys participate in sports more than girls (WHO, n.d.). Males show higher sport participation rates in every stage across the lifespan and the discrepancy between male and female participation increase with age (WHO, n.d.). Girls have lower enrollment in organized sport than males (Vilhjalmsson & Kristjansdottir, 2003), and boys spend more time vigorously training and in competition (WHO, n.d.). Female participation begins to steadily decline from the age of six until adolescence where the level of sport participation and physical activity declines exponentially (WHO, n.d.) By their teen years, girls are half as likely to participate in sport as boys (Womens Sport and Fitness Foundation [WSFF], 2013).

Factors Influencing Lack of Sport Participation Among Girls

There are many personal and environmental factors that contribute to the discrepancy in participation between genders and the decline in sport participation as girls get older.

Lack of Choices and Opportunities

Many girls complain about the lack of sport options in physical education classes in school. Without a variety of activities that interest girls, they are less likely to actively engage in physical activity lessons (WSFF, 2013). In addition there are fewer teams and leagues for girls in the community in comparison to boys, so they are less likely to participate in sports outside of the classroom setting (WSFF, 2013). Districts and cities often do not offer a girls team for many sports that are predominantly played by males including football, rugby and baseball (Satterfield, 2012). While in certain cases girls are offered the opportunity to play on the boy’s team, the majority of them are denied access to these “boys only” sports (Satterfield, 2012).

In addition, in mixed gender schools, greater support is often offered to boys because more attention and resources are given to those who display superior physical ability or more skill in the sport played (WHO, n.d.). Boys often receive better coaching, more scheduled time in the sporting facilities and more funding for equipment and uniforms (WSFF, 2013). As girls age, the quality of their sports often decline leading to increased drop-out rates (WSFF, 2013).


The beliefs and expectations of the parents influence the amount of physical play opportunities for the child (WHO, n.d.). Across cultures there are differences in how parents treat boys and girls (WHO, n.d.). Commonly from young age, children are provided with gender based toys and are encouraged to participate in gender stereotyped activities (Evans, 2006). Boys are encouraged to play vigorously and participate in sport while girls are asked to play quietly (WHO, n.d.). Parents are less likely to enroll their daughter than their sons in organized sports.

Competitive Nature of Sports

Many girls dislike the overly competitive and aggressive behaviour associated with sports and instead they prefer individual, creative or co-operative activities (WSFF, 2013). Girls want to focus on play rather than competition. However the physical education curriculum in schools is limited and centered on dominant competitive sports (WHO, n.d.). Traditional physical activity classes do not address female needs, so girls become disinterested in sports (WSFF, 2013).

Lack of Confidence

Many girls, in particular those who are already less active are not confident in their ability to play sports. They are even more reluctant to participate in sport in environments where the focus is on winning rather than enjoyment (WSFF, 2013). In addition, the evaluative gaze of teachers amplifies the fear of being incompetent for girls (WHO, n.d.). Unfortunately without with the opportunity to participate in sport in a cooperative and caring environment these girls will likely not improve their confidence in their physical abilities (WSFF, 2013). Instead they begin to avoid sports and engage in sedentary activities.

Social Norms and Body Image

Across history, sports have been socially classified as an activity predominantly for males (Cooky, Messner & Hextrum, 2013). As girls get older, they commonly trade in sports for activities that are more socially accepted as feminine (WHO, n.d.). Girls often reduce their commitment to sporting activities because they are anxious of being rejected and excluded from their female friends (Evans, 2006). In addition girls become increasingly concerned about their appearance, particularly in front of boys (Evans, 2006). Many girls dislike sweating or getting their hair messy because they believe it is unattractive and not feminine (WSFF, 2013).

Lack of Sporting Role Models and the Media

Boys often name dominant male professional athletes as their role models, and in contrast girls often name their parents and family members (WHO, n.d.). This is related to the lack of female sport role models available to girls because there is minimal women sport coverage in the media (Cooky et al., 2013). In addition women in the media surrounding sports are often displayed as sexualized objects or in conventional heterosexual roles such as wives or girlfriends of male athletes (Cooky et al., 2013). Very few instances are women respectfully portrayed as athletes. This influences female participation in sport because girls perceive female athletes as sexual objects of desire or mothers rather than powerful, competent and competitive athletes (Cooky et al., 2013).

Benefits of Sport Participation

Sport participation offers a variety of benefits.

Improved Cognitive Skills

Participation in sport and physical activity are related to improved cognitive function during development (Donnelly & Lambourne, 2011). These cognitive benefits include improved performance on attentional tasks, abstract problem solving, memory, organization and planning (Donnelly & Lambourne, 2011). Furthermore there is a positive correlation between participation in sport and improved achievement on verbal, mathematical and linguistic tests (Lopes, Sampts, Pereira & Lopes, 2012). Studies also show that participation in sport can reduce boredom and induce arousal that can lead to increased attention span and better concentration in the classroom setting (Lopes et al., 2012). In general girls who participate in sport are more likely to achieve academic success than those who do not. Female participation in sport also translates to other gender stereotypes on academic aptitude, as girls who engage in sport also excel more in science and mathematics (Lopes et al., 2012).

Improved Social Skills

Sports offer a unique experience where children of different race, religion, socioeconomic background and gender come together for a shared interest. Being part of a team, a club or a program offers a sense of belonging for girls (WSFF, 2013). Sports promote a variety of social skills including cooperation, sharing and rule following (Donnelly & Lambourne, 2011). These skills can transfer into the classroom setting, improve the child’s ability to get along with their peers and increase feelings of self efficacy and self esteem (Donnelly & Lambourne, 2011).

Improved Motor Skills

Girls who participate in sport consistently exhibit higher motor coordination levels than girls who do not participate in sport (Vandorpe et al., 2011). Participation in sport provides the opportunity for children to develop fundamental motor skills and improve gross motor skills acquired in early developmental stages of childhood (Oswalt, 2005). Girls with strong fundamental motor skills are more likely to advance into more specific movements such as dribbling a basketball or throwing a football (Oswalt, 2005). Girls with immature fundamental motor skill are less likely to engage in physical activity, learn new movement skills in their daily activities and are more likely to participate in sedentary activities (Vandorpe et al., 2011).

Sports is an opportunity to learn to synchronize full body movements such as running, skipping, catching and throwing that are commonly used in daily activities (Oswalt, 2005). Participation in sports also helps girls develop improved balance, agility, speed and reflexes that make movements smoother and more refined (Oswalt, 2005). In addition it improves strength, muscle activation control and flexibility in joints which translates to increased efficiency in movements (Hamstra- Wright et al., 2006).

Decreased Risk of Chronic Disease and Obesity

Participation in sport decreases the chance of developing chronic disease in childhood and adulthood because many diseases later in life originate from lifestyle habits developed in childhood (WHO, n.d.). For example, osteoporosis, commonly found in women, can be prevented with early regular physical activity to improve bone health (Canadian Heritage, 2013). Furthermore sport participation and physical activity are crucial for weight control across the lifespan (Williams et al., 2008; Canadian Heritage, 2013). Girls who do not develop strong motor skills are less likely to participate in sports and physical activity in the future and are more likely to adopt a sedentary lifestyle (Vandorpe et al., 2011). Sedentary behaviour is linked to additional unhealthy habits such as eating high carbohydrate, high fat snacks and is positively correlated with increased risk of obesity (Kondro, 2003).


It is critical to break down barriers surrounding female sport participation because from young age girls can acquire physical, psychological, cognitive and social benefits through sport participation (Bailey, 2006). The factors enhancing the discrepancy between boy and girl sport participation must be broken down, so females have equal opportunity to engage in sport.

Improving School Programs

Girls want to participate in sports, but often they are turned off by the lack of choices and competitive nature of sports played in the education setting (WSFF, 2013). Teachers need be educated on how to modify traditional sport, so there is a decreased emphasis on competition and increased focus on fun and cooperation. Girls will lower confidence will appreciate this shift because they will be able to engage in sport with decreased pressure and greater enjoyment. In addition teachers also require additional tips to help less physically competent girls develop improved fundamental motor skills because it will also lead to greater sport involvement in the future (WSFF, 2013).

Increase Number of Opportunities

Many girls do not participate in sport outside of the education setting. It is crucial that children participate in sport and physical activity outside of school because solely being active during gym class is not enough to satisfy the Physical Activity Guidelines (Statistics Canada, 2013). An increase in the number of community opportunities in a variety of sports at many different levels will encourage greater engagement from a wide range of girls. In addition it is important that these opportunities are emphasized and presented directly to the girls and their parents because many girls are unaware of opportunities in their local communities (WSFF, 2013).

Increase Access to Role Models

Currently there are very few glimpses of respectful coverage of women athletes in the media (Cooky et al., 2013). With more women sport coverage, more girls will be exposed to female athletes who can become a source of inspiration (WSFF, 2013). This will also help break down social norms and demonstrate that female participation in sport is socially acceptable and women are equally engaged in sport as men.

Practical Application

Because children spend a great deal of their childhood in the classroom under the supervision of teachers, it is important that teachers are active in the goal of increasing female participation in sport.

In the curriculum for elementary school teachers, further education surrounding physical education and sport participation for children is required. Education on modification of traditional competitive sports can help encourage greater participation from girls who are intimidated by the competitive nature of sports (WSFF, 2013). In addition standardized lesson plans focused on motor skill development can help increase female participation in sport by providing girls with the opportunity to learn and develop fundamental motor skills prior to complex and synchronized movements (Vandorpe et al., 2011). This will encourage more girls to engage in sports because having practiced the fundamental motor skills they will be more confident in their ability to execute a physical task (WSFF, 2013). The importance of sport and physical activity needs to be emphasized to children because health habits develop from young age (WSFF, 2013). By teaching girls about the benefits of sport they are more likely to engage in sport across their lifetime (WSFF, 2013).

In addition teachers are a convenient and effective way to promote local opportunities for girls to participate in sport (WSFF, 2013). These community programs can provide girls with more occasions to develop strong fundamental motor skills and can increase their confidence to more actively engage in sport at school. It is therefore crucial that teachers are aware of what opportunities are available and share them with their students. Further steps may include talking to parents about these community opportunities or posting these community opportunities in a monthly newsletter. In addition, afterschool programs within the school setting are efficient ways to increase female sport particpation (WSFF, 2013). These programs are very convenient for students and their parents. In addition teachers often offer their time outside of the class hours to coach school teams. Because teachers are figures that children trust, girls are likely to engage in sport on school teams coached by teachers.

Teachers often inform children of current events around the world. In addition to scholarly academic content, teachers often introduce their classes to world news, historic figures and present-day heros. Presenting girls with female athlete role models will encourage them to engage in sport and inspire them to achieve their own sport goals (WSFF, 2013).


Bailey. R. (2006). Physical education and sport in schools: A review of benefits and outcomes. Journal of School Health, 76, 8, 379-40. doi: 10.1111/j.1746-1561.2006.00132.x

Canadian Heritage. (2013) Sport participation in 2010 research paper. Retrieved from:

Cooky, C., Messner, A. M. & Hextrum, H.R. (2013). Womens play sport, but not on TV: A longitudinal study of televised news media. Communication & Sport, 1, 3, 203-230. doi: 10.1177/21674 79513476947

Evans, B. (2006) “I’d feel ashamed”: Girls’ bodies and sport participation. Gender, Place and Culture, 13, 5, 547-561. doi: 10.1080/09663690600858952

Hamstra-Wright, L.K., Swanik, B., Silter, R.M., Swanik, A.K., Ferber, R., Ridenour, M & Huxel, C.K. (2006) Gender comparisons of dynamic restraint and motor skills in children. Cliln J Sport Med, 16, 56, 56-62. doi: 00042752-200601000-00011

Kondro, L. (2003) “Unorganized” sport best for preventing childhood obesity. The lancet, 362, 627-627. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(03)14202-X

Lopes, L., Sampts, R., Pereira, B. & Lopes, P.V. (2013). Associations between gross motor coordination and academic achievement in elementary school children. Human Movement Science, 9, 20, 9-19. doi:10.1016/j.humov.2012.05.005

Oswalk, A. (2005) Physical development: Motor development. Retrieved From:

Satterfield, K. (2012) Should girls play on boys’ sports team. Scholastic Inc.

Sport Accord. (2013) Definition of sport. Retrieved from:

Statistics Canada. (2013, May 30). Directly measured physical activity of Canadian children and youth, 2007 to 2011. Retrieved from:

Vandorpe, B., Vandendriessche, J., Vaeyens, R., Pion, J., Matthys, S., Lefevre, J., Philippaerts, R. & Lenoir, M. (2012). Relationship between sport participation and the level of motor coordination in childhood: A longitudinal approach. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 15, 220-225. doi:10.1016/j.jsams.2011.09.006

Vilhjalmsson, R. and Kristjansdottir, G. (2003) Gender differences in physical activity in older children and adolescents: The central role of organized sport. Social Science and Medicine, 56, 2, 363-374. doi:10.1016/S0277-9536(02)00042-4

Williams, G.H., Pfeiffer, A.K., O’Neill, R.J., Dowda, M., McIver, L.K., Brown, H.W. & Pate, R.R.( 2008) Motor skill performance and physical activity in preschool children. Obesity. 16, 6, 1421-1426. doi:10.1038/oby.2008.214

Womens Sport and Fitness Foundation. (2013). Changing the game for girls. Retrieved from:

World Health Organization (n.d.) Girls participation in physical activity and sports: Benefits, patterns, influence and ways forward. Retrieved From: