Athletic girls: External support, internal motivation, and advanced participation in sport

Alyssa Hellrung. “Athletic girls: External support, internal motivation, and advanced participation in sport.” Diss. U of Washington, 2009.

Girls are less likely than boys to be involved in sports and they are more likely to drop out of athletic activities. Prior research assesses both the benefits and drawbacks of sports participation for children but does not address the reasons some girls initiate involvement in sports or why some stay long enough to become advanced or elite athletes. This research seeks to understand the role of sport in young girls' lives by engaging the athletes themselves. Interviews were conducted with girls who were labeled by their coaches as 'advanced' or 'elite' runners, swimmers, or tennis players. The athletes were asked why they became involved in their sport, why they continue with their sport, what role parents, coaches, and co-athletes play in their sports participation, and how being athletic affects their lives both positively and negatively. The athletes who participated in this study indicated that positive support from parents, coaches, and friends (particularly teammates and training partners) is crucial to their enjoyment of, and continued involvement in, their sports. Parents were often instrumental in the girls' entry into sports and parental involvement was cited as critical to the girls' continued participation. The importance of such internal factors as motivation and competitiveness were also noted as vital to the girls' daily commitment of time and energy to their sports. The only major negative aspect of sport participation athletes noted was their lack of time for 'normal' social activities associated with adolescence. But the girls expressed more pride in their accomplishments than regret for what they missed. Parents need to be aware of the benefits of sports participation for their daughters and the crucial role they can play in motivating girls to try sports. Positive coaching, which encourages girls to go just a bit beyond the level they themselves think they can achieve, may also result in more persistent and successful athletes. Community organizations may be devised or modified to play more of the 'parent' roles that these athletes found so critical by providing transportation, personal support, and cheering from the stands. Active sports participation demands personal and social resources, but the benefits of athletic activity are many and worthwhile.

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