Keeping girls in sport the name of the game

With the recent excitement surrounding women in high level AFL, soccer, cricket and the national netball league, our nation appears to be captivated by women in sport.

So it would appear that more females are playing sport, but sadly, this is not the case.

By the age of 13, 50% of girls have dropped out of sport. The Australian Federal Government has recently launched an initiative focusing on sport as a preventative physical and mental health measure.

The Girls Make Your Move campaign aims to inspire adolescent girls to become more active and stay in sport. Pre-puberty adolescence is a vital time for body changes and consolidating decisions about long-term lifestyle, diet and activity choices.

This is the time to lay down a solid bone foundation for our later years. Small increases in bone mineral density through weight bearing activity may generate a marked increase in bone strength, and bone strength is highly proportional to muscle mass.

Posture, endurance, confidence, weight control and better metabolic regulation are among the benefits of weight bearing exercise.

So why don’t girls stay in sport?

There may be some social factors, such as, time restraints due to school, work commitments or cost. As a physiotherapist, I hear reasons such as painful joints and soft tissue injuries, are keeping girls on the sidelines permanently.

The female athlete is twice as likely to sustain a non-contact knee injury in school sports.

What are the risk factors?

  • Ligament laxity with increased joint hyperextension.
  • Pelvic, hip, knee and foot biomechanical issues that occur when the pelvis widens and angles are altered.
  • Muscle Imbalance – females tend to overuse their quadriceps (front thigh muscles) to absorb impact rather than hamstring and glutes. This is increases the risk of knee injuries.
  •  Neuromuscular control – the brain is changing quickly, therefore, growing bodies have less control in activating muscles promptly, so landing activities become heavier and less coordinated.

Can we change this?

Screening and specific training programs are imperative to improve strength, control and performance, to prevent and reduce injuries.

Physiotherapists focus on optimal movement control, analysing strengths and weaknesses. We prescribe an individual exercise program that is specific to that participant and their goals in sport. Programs are then carried out at home with supervision from coaches, parents and teachers.

What better way to stay in sport than to reduce risk of injury and perform to your ultimate potential.