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Why girls play sports: Are girls motivated differently in various parts of the world?

Lisa Travella Murawsky, GNW, Sport, Development, Girls, Naandi, Nanhi Kali, Safe Place, Gender, India
Author: Lisa Travella Murawsky
Copyrights: The Naandi Foundation

Why girls play sports: Are girls motivated differently in various parts of the world?

Working in the Sport for Development field (S4D), I can’t help but question whether the motivations of women and girls in Europe differ from those of girls in other nations?

The Erasmus + programme in Europe just published a wonderful toolkit entitled “How to Make an Impact on Gender Equality in Sport.” This toolkit includes very detailed and valuable statistics on what motivates females to play sport in Europe, shedding much needed light on the issue.

The report found that females tend to be statistically more motivated by:

  • Keeping fit
  • Improving physical appearance
  • Controlling weight
  • Maintaining health
  • Relaxing

Additionally females tend to engage in:

  • More recreational or health-oriented activities
  • More in fitness centres/commercially run facilities
  • More in sports that emphasise physical expression (dance, gymnastics, ice skating, etc.)

Working in the Sport for Development field (S4D), I can’t help but question whether the motivations of women and girls in Europe differ from those of girls in other nations? I am currently working on a project in India, The Nanhi Kali Sports Programme, to introduce sports to 150,000 underprivileged girls. Over the last year, over 37,000 girls have participated in the programme and the majority have done so for the first time in their lives. We have had the chance to ask the girls, along with the community activists, to reflect on their feelings about sports and girls. Below are a few quotes and a common thread of feelings expressed from the girls and ladies involved in the sport programme: 

“Girls now have a glimpse of what they can be...They want to participate. It’s things like this that show them that they can be something.” – Community educator

“Yes, sports is good for these girls. It can help make them stronger. These girls are going out more and they need to be strong. They are not staying at home all the time anymore.” - Community educator

“I want to play sports, but my parents do not allow it in the home. So today I feel very happy when playing.” – Sports Day participant

These repeated messages suggest that the motivations for these girls may revolve more around ideas of:

  • Strength
  • Confidence
  • Safety
  • Fun

In addition, the girls in The Nanhi Kali Sports Programme, have worked on their own “Sports Diary” to help them lead their own learning and monitor their sport development. The diary includes quotes from their Indian female sport idols which include athletes from badminton, shooting, boxing, and tennis; quite different from the sports that “emphasise physical expression such as dance, gymnastics, ice skating,” listed by European girls and women in the Erasmus+ report.