Director of Women’s Rugby Sally Horrox, left, Whangārei MP Emily Henderson and Whangārei District Councillor Carol Peters.
Photo / Supplied
I can’t catch. There. Now you know. For years, I’ve been avoiding situations where I might reveal this fatal flaw: by 14, I’d even persuaded my PE teachers to leave me on the sidelines.
So I was slightly nervous about supporting the prime minister last week when she arrived to welcome the awesome Women’s World Rugby championship teams. The threat that someone might chuck a ball around was ever-present.
I’m not alone in my fear of sports. Even now, from the age of 15 onwards, nearly 30 per cent of girls start avoiding sports, compared to nearly 20 per cent of boys. Inspiring girls to stay active is key to the Government’s Women in Sport strategy, launched in 2018: Physical activity is not just key to physical health, but mental health, too.
When I dug into the Government’s research on why girls drop out, what girls say is that they don’t feel good enough to play sports. ‘Too shy to try’ rings real bells for me.
As the prime minister said at the rugby welcome, one reason we’ve put so much effort into attracting and hosting the Women’s Rugby World Cup (and also the Fifa Women’s Football Cup in 2023) is not just the boost to tourism, but the inspiration seeing great players gives our young people.
‘You’ve got to see it to be it’, the saying goes. Clearly, this isn’t literal (or there’d never be firsts) but we all need heroines to inspire us to try. We also need clues on what and how we could try.
It’s not just physical action where girls hang back. Lately, in my regular school visits, girls especially are more anxious about the future, citing gender violence, homophobia, and even the reversal of Roe v Wade. One recent overseas study said girls are now less likely to aspire to leadership, linking that to increasing violence towards women on social media.
In my visits, I encourage all students to get active about issues that worry them, to write petitions, submit legislation, or just plain hassle the local MP. It was a joy to be emailed recently by two intermediate-aged girls from Parua Bay about why they don’t have netball courts and criticising the disparity in resources for women’s versus men’s sports. When school is back, I’ll be getting them some answers – but how fantastic to see young girls taking action.
Back with the PM at the Women’s Rugby, I was relieved that the only balls present were poi we made for fans in the stands. Teaching the Italian team poi reminded me how fun – and how physical – kapa haka is.
Finding physical activity you enjoy is the key message in the Government’s ‘It’s My Move’ programme for young women. We don’t all have to be rugby stars. This school holidays, I’m taking my teen daughter out to find more physical activities we can both enjoy. Just don’t expect me to include catching.