Mixed gender social sport: Increasing participation of female college students

Sport Wellington has been working on a project with Porirua and Bishop Viard Colleges, aiming to increase sport participation of the students by targeting the needs and reducing the barriers for current non-participating students (students currently not engaged in school sport).  This summation briefly explains the project but specifically focuses on females involved with the pilot.

Research was conducted by Sport Wellington in 2012 (Secondary School Sport Research) to look at sport participation rates among five different colleges.  Based on this research, recommendations to help increase participation were made to College Sport Wellington.  Several of these recommendations were then used as a basis for this project including:

  • offering have-a-go sessions for students to try a sport before committing to it
  • offering sports the students were interested in
  • organising social leagues within the community hub that have a short season length (4-6 weeks)
  • offering mixed gender grades in the social leagues

For this project, students had the opportunity to participate in futsal, kick boxing (girls only), indoor bowls (Porirua College only), and volleyball.

Students initially indicated that mixed teams were preferred for the futsal social competition, however, during the course of the league, the girls seemed to back away from this idea and not participate.  Observations showed that their confidence in futsal seemed to decrease, especially when the boys got a bit more physical around the ball.  The same thing was observed with the volleyball have-a-go sessions.  When boys were spiking the volleyball, the girls, especially non-participants, shyed away from the ball.  When the groups were separated by gender during the session, the girls seemed more confident in taking part.

In the 2012 research, “lack of confidence” was identified by girls as the third biggest barrier to participating in sport (28.8%), only behind “cost” and being “too busy”.  Running ‘girls only’ social competitions along with extra have-a-go / coaching sessions are now being planned for since female sport participation at both Bishop Viard and Porirua Colleges is still very low compared to males.  Hopefully this will help to reduce the “lack of confidence” barrier, while still providing a social and fun environment for participating in organised sport.

An example where this has worked was the kick boxing opportunity for girls.  The classes proved to be very popular, especially with non-participants.  Girls taking part made comments that it was fun and that in private they had the chance to try something new without being judged.

Despite the girls behaviour during the futsal and volleyball aspects of the project suggesting that mixed gender sport isn’t what they want, it is interesting to note that a recent Badminton NZ survey contradicts this.  The survey looked at ‘designing a badminton delivery programme’ and showed that 72% of girls said that having “a girls only programme” was not an important factor for engaging girls in badminton.  Is this another case of girls thinking they want mixed gender sport opportunities, but then realising they don’t? Or does the concept of mixed gender social sport at college come down to the sport itself and maybe how physical the sport is?  These are all questions that need further research to further understand what affects girls’ participation in all sport.

Sport NZ’s report Sport and Recreation in the lives of 15 to 18-year-old girls is a great place to start.  Sport NZ’s Relay monthly newsletter also has fantastic research articles to read.  Badminton NZ and Volleyball NZ’s pilot projects in Wellington where girls will have input into designing the delivery programme will also be interesting to follow during 2015.  Also an excellent study by Lisette Burrows and Jaleh McCormack from the University of Otago looks at young women’s views and experiences of sport, and some of the key findings backs up the findings from research conducted by Sport Wellington.

Many thanks to College Sport Wellington, Bishop Viard College, Porirua College, North Wellington Indoor Bowls Club, Capital Football, and Wellington Volleyball for being involved with the project as it continues into 2015.