A Case Study
Girls Skateboarding - Improving Active Recreation for Girls: The case of Erin & Sasha Joy.
Sasha & Erin Joy
There is a nationwide problem with activity levels, physical fitness and obesity among young people. Although the figures vary, this applies to people from all walks of life, gender, ethnic background and age. But the problem is particularly acute among girls. Just one in ten girls aged 14 currently meet official guidelines for physical activity, half the number of boys at the same age.
This case study offers insights from a parent (Bart Joy) of two girls (Sasha and Erin) - who have been regular participants of OnBoard Skate’s/Sisters of Shred girls only skateboard programmes. In particular it identifies some of the challenges facing the girls in their quest to participate in sport and compares the difference between their involvement in organised sport (hockey) and skateboarding.
Traditional sport tends to be rule bound and competitive. This can have the effect of restricting participants access to physical activity because locations, training, playing times, coach and team mate availability and opposition are all key factors in making sport happen. In contrast skateboarding has few rules and can be done pretty much anywhere, at any time by anybody with a skateboard.
“They play hockey, that is a team sport, which is good. But, this is a chance for them to do something that they can do on their own time, whereas hockey is structured and you are doing it (at set days and times) on Monday night at 4 pm, and then you have to go and practice on Friday at 6 pm. It is definitely more structured than skateboarding”.
Girls consistently cite the competitive nature of traditional sport as one of the main reasons they disengage from organised sport. In contrast skateboarding, because of its lack of competition can be an appealing alternative for girls looking to be independently active.
“The thing that attracted us to skateboarding is something they can do at their own level. They can progress at their own rate. They do other activities, some sort of group activities, but my daughters aren’t really that competitive anyway and they’re not that sporty really, so they prefer to do other activities. But skateboarding is something they could do at their own pace and it was non-competitive”.
The formality of traditional organised sport and its association with competition can often lead to participants exhibiting negative behaviour towards each other and their opponents. For many girls, this can ruin their enjoyment of sport.
Skateboarding in contrast because of its non-judgmental environment often see’s participants supporting each other as they learn new skills.
"The vibe (at the sessions) was just really positive. The girls were encouraging each other in a way that I haven’t seen with any activities that they’ve done. “They (girls) were really encouraging each other and cheering each other on. As I say, they do other activities, but I’ve never seen such a positive vibe. It was good”.
“I can’t emphasise enough the positive atmosphere (at the sessions). For girls who maybe don’t have a lot of confidence in the physical area, this is an ideal activity for them”.
Girls often cite the fact that they feel self-conscious about their athletic ability – particularly when being compared to boys – as one of the primary reasons they either don’t participate in organised sport or disengage early.
Providing a safe and supportive environment where the girls aren’t judged on their ability has had a positive impact on Sasha and Erin’s willingness to take on unfamiliar challenges and has seen them build confidence in them themselves and what they can achieve This is despite their relative lack of skateboard riding experience before they attended the programme.
“They (the girls) were a bit timid before, so the fact that they’re doing something that they find scary and achieving (at) it, and they’re dropping in from a new height that they haven’t done before. You can see they are pretty scared. (But) they eventually build up the courage to overcome that and do it. I think that has got to be a positive thing”.
“When we first started (attending the skateboard sessions) they (the girls) were quite risk adverse and probably weren’t keen to push themselves if they weren’t comfortable. Now I watch them on their boards and they’re willing to do things that don’t feel comfortable. They are not necessarily completely scared of doing it, but it is beyond their comfort zone. I see that in their skateboarding.
I think they’re a lot calmer now as well – at home. That could just be physical exercise, they’re out there doing something and when they come home they’re knackered. It is a physical exercise that they can do (independently) and (it’s something) they’re willing to do for hours. Even if we got them out on a bike they wouldn’t be doing that for hours, but because of the variety of skateboarding they can stay there and keep going and going and going.
Research consistently shows that positive adult role models are a key factor in encouraging girls participation and retention in sports and physical activity.
“Definitely Tania is a key reason (the girls attend the skateboard session). She is such an inspiration to the two girls. The fact that she is consistently at every event that the girls go to (is important). Like when you guys (OnBoard Skate) organise the structured lessons she will be there, so it is (a) constant. At their (Sasha & Erin’s) age I think they kind of want to build that affinity to someone. Also, even things that aren’t related to OnBoard Skate – like there was an indoor skate ramp (girls only event) last weekend and Tania was there. So, the girls have this good role model to follow. I think that is a key thing for them”.
Having access to equipment that is appropriate for the participant’s skill level, can significantly aid their enjoyment and learning.
“The equipment you have got are absolutely a key part (of their enjoyment), (I like the fact that) you can start with the tiny little ramp and gradually progress up (to more difficult ramps and obstacles). Whereas if you went straight to a skate park you will be dropping in off something that is half a metre minimum. So, it may be just insurmountable if you were at a skate park to try and learn that sort of stuff, unless you were really quite OK with falling off and hurting yourself.
Some people are OK with that. I don’t think my girls would have been OK with that (though). So, being able to
gradually progress using the equipment you’ve got has been a big part of it (their enjoyment in skateboarding)”.
In this case study, we have shown how skateboarding can help engage girls in active recreation by;
Providing a non-competitive, non-judgmental environment where the girls can learn at their own pace.
Having positive, supportive female role models lead the delivery of the programmes.
Having equipment available (for all programme participants) that supports a safe and progressive approach to learning new and unfamiliar skills.