15 July, 2021 | Posted by Michelle Hogan

Can Early Years Education Influence 'Why Girls Quit Sport'?

Early Childhood Education Why Girls Quit Sport

Promoting sports involvement in the early years provides children with life-long benefits from helping them to become active and promoting wellbeing to teaching them about teamwork and dedication. 

A new two-part documentary on ‘Why Girls Quit Sport’ aired on RTÉ 2 on Thursday, July 15. Four-time All-Ireland winning Cork Camogie captain, Anna Geary, embarked on a journey to find out why so many young girls give up sports. 

Former Kildare Senior Ladies Gaelic Football player and current club captain at Ballymore Eustace, Natasha Murphy, is an Early Years tutor at Portobello Institute.

She is currently involved in training the U16’s in her local club and sees first-hand the hurdles teenage girls face in sports.

“It’s simple, if young children can’t see it, they can’t be - they have no role model to look up to and want to aspire to. Therefore, we need to show children other women playing sports and their achievements. 

“I played in an All-Ireland Intermediate Final in Croke Park in 2016 and we had an attendance of 34,445 which grew to an attendance of 56,114 by the 2019 All Ireland Final but for men in 2019 it was 82,300 which still a massive difference! 

“From a personal view, I was asked to name my favourite sports person when I was a teenager and I did not know one woman in sports to name, it was all men.

“I’m currently helping out with training the U16’s and you can see that if sports aren’t encouraged from an early age, they have no interest by the age of 16!  

“I love training them because they can see a girl who is still playing herself training them, I can relate to them which helps them to want to come training," she said.  

Natasha also manages Portobello Montessori School and believes that promoting sports involvement in early years education has a lot more benefit than people think.  

“It helps children to become active and fit, it helps with their holistic development especially physical and social development, depending on the sport it can also give them lifelong skills such as working as a team, being motivated, having dedication and gives children a great sense of achievement when playing a sport.  

“In early years, we lay the foundations to a child’s lifelong learning journey so if we take time to lay the foundation for sports this should lead to a lifelong love of being active. 

“In my own classroom, I would always talk about football and tell the children that I have a match or training and if there were photographs, I would show the children the following day!  

“They also know a lot about my injuries, I’ve gone to work with crutches, casts, you name it I've probably gone to work with it, which opens up more learning like role plays of hospital or better yet why not set up a role play in classrooms where you have players, referees etc. 

“If you are an early years practitioner and are not into sports yourself there are ways we can all encourage sports in a fun and meaningful way. 

"You can have a sports day, which does not have to be just one day in the entire year, it can be done once a week, having books related to sports in the library, having circle times where sports are discussed, having footballs, basketballs, tennis balls and rackets etc. in the outdoor area,” she said. 

Marguerita Magennis PhD is the Course Coordinator for the Masters in Early Childhood Studies and Lead Lecturer BA Hons degree Early Childhood Studies at Portobello Institute. 

She said generally the interests that teenagers have are influenced by a few things including interests and interactions they have learned to enjoy and engage with from an early age, gender involvement in terms of some girls seeing sports as more masculine and peer influencing. 

“Introducing children to sports at a young age, or outdoor activities will definitely help develop a healthy interest in sports. 

"For some girls they see sports as more masculine that is something which is dying away now but is still a factor, so these young girls are trying to very much portray their more feminine side and as a result sports interests tend to decline during this period. 

“There is also the peer influencing aspect, which is important, if younger children are given opportunities to build up friendships in sporting environments, they are more likely to retain this interest into teenage years as their friends will do so, and if they don't then they likely will step away from it, due to peer pressures.  

“Home and lifestyle can also be a factor, coming from a healthy sporty family where these activities have always been deemed the norm, will influence the child's choices and result in a sportier teenager,” she said. 

Ahead of tonight’s documentary at 9.30pm on RTÉ 2, Geary told RTÉ news the reasons behind the dwindling numbers of girls in sport. 

"The vast majority of girls that do drop out of sport felt that it was too serious, there was too much discipline, they were afraid to make mistakes, they were afraid to be humiliated in front of the group. 

"Then there was social media, body image and self-consciousness... it all added an extra pressure. 

"Am I creating an environment for them to feel safe, feel like they can have fun, feel included, feel that they won’t be judged? I found when that environment was created, the girls grew, they really thrived,” she said.  

The first episode of Anna Geary: Why Girls Quit Sport aired on Thursday, July 15 at 9.30pm on RTÉ2 and RTÉ Player. The second part follows on July 22.


Portobello Institute offers a range of courses in Early Childhood Studies. Visit our course pages here. Follow @portobelloearlyyears on Instagram.

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