I remember the day when my best friend quit figure skating. She strolled into the ice rink like any other day, but––on that particular Thursday––something wasn’t right. She didn’t take the time to tie her laces tight and it was eerily quiet inside the lobby.
My friend’s decision to quit is not uncommon. The reality is, adolescent girls drop out of sports at more than twice the rate as boys. But why?
Studies show that ––as a young female athlete transitions into adolescence ––what matters most is not whether she scores goals or hits her beam routine, but whether she feels socially and emotionally connected to her teammates. Adolescent female athletes need to feel internally rewarded from playing their specific sport sport.
So, what can coaches and parents do to better support female athletes?
- Create an environment that helps athletes better relate to one another. Female adolescent athletes are more likely to lean on teammates for support and guidance during the developmental stage of identity exploration (a stage where adolescents are exploring who they are and who they want to become as individuals). For example, encourage girls to spend time with one another outside of their sport. Help them explore one another’s interests, such as rock climbing or painting.
- Cultivate an environment that promotes constructive feedback among teammates and coaches. For example, allow time for the girls to debrief after a game or practice in an organized setting. Sit in a circle and have each girl provide a teammate with one thing that she did well that day and one thing that she could improve upon. Creating a routine for constructive feedback among players on a regular basis can help build connectedness among the girls, and cut down on negative comments being said behind players’ backs.
- Maintain a culture that rewards teamwork and encourages a task-oriented environment. Regardless of performance level, fostering an environment that pushes the girls to work together while having fun is essential. It helps the girls feel proud of who they are, not only as athletes but human beings. Building fun into the structure of a competitive program helps remind the girls why they began participating in sports in the first place, and develops an environment where the girls want to push one another in a positive direction.
Adolescent female athletes are forced to deal with many challenging issues as they go through puberty (body image, peer relationships, and self-talk, just to name a few). Parents and coaches can help make a difference in young athletes’ lives by encouraging time to hangout as a team outside of practice, and by creating a safe environment where the girls can speak openly to one another.
Reflecting on my own athletic career, I wish my coaches would have helped me build the tools to better communicate with my teammates, and to better express my feelings. We were all going through the same struggles (such as missing out on school activities). If we had worked together, I know we could have better supported one another.