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Women in Sports. (2021) Adolescent girls get active. Dublin: Sports Ireland.

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Participating in sport and physical activity provides multiple benefits for physical and mental health, and for potential quality of life. Adolescence is a critical life-stage and these formative years are when attitudes and behaviours are established that shape the women they will become. This research aims to establish how to encourage teenage girls to take part in regular physical activity and focuses particularly on the lived experiences of disengaged and gradually disengaged girls, i.e. inactive. 

What really matters to teenage girls – 5 anchors

Support network

  • Friends are central to a girls’ support network – they strongly prioritise time with friends above everything else.
  • Building strong friendships is essential for girls’ development as they gradually separate from family and learn the skills they need for their futures. More time with friends means a stronger sense of self and place in the world.
  • Maintaining close friendships can be hard when living distant from each other. Girls feel they don’t have enough time with friends and school plays an important connecting role.
  • Family provide emotional and practical support for girls but they often feel misunderstood by adults, in part due to some parents’ more traditional values. 

Independence and opportunity

  • Teenage girls strongly desire more independence, to make their own choices and discover who they are – this is a natural need at this life stage.
  • Girls lack space and opportunities to feel free, try new things, have fun with friends and make formative memories. This impacts negatively on their relationships and thus, their confidence. • Girls from rural areas and some older girls appear most affected – rural girls must rely heavily on parents and older girls may have more responsibilities/restrictions placed on them. 

Socially connected

  • Teenage girls are digital and social natives – online activities are central to their lives and time spent online is exacerbated by a lack of social spaces and activities in the ‘real world’.
  • Being online provides much needed social connection, validation, virtual freedom and relief from boredom.
  • The obsession with selfies and appearance has had a big impact on girls. Online bullying means some limit their social media use, running the risk of losing touch with others their age.
  • Girls follow influencers they can relate to and aspire to be like and engage with meaningful trends such as body positivity, mental health, authenticity and being ‘different’. But this is sometimes at odds with the perfection social media demands. 

Moments of pride

  • Progression, achievement and a sense of direction in life are important for teen girls to build self-esteem and self-worth.
  • Girls lack opportunities to try new things, learn new skills and feel good about themselves, other than online or school activities which can become boring and repetitive.
  • Girls do see the value of sport and physical activity and its potential to build confidence and wellbeing but for most, fitness simply isn’t on their radar. 

Keeping on top of it all

  • Adolescence is a time of great change and upheaval, and girls often feel misunderstood by parents/adults, who struggle to fully appreciate the pressures they face.
  • Juggling the demands of teenage life can be stressful and exhausting; increased academic pressure at school and home, managing friendships and conflicts, online interactions and expectations, and the physical and emotional challenges of puberty can all take a toll.
  • In the teenage years, girls start to learn what they want to do, versus what they must do. Girls struggle to reconcile this with the many rules and restrictions of everyday life imposed on them, particularly in rural areas.
  • Mental health is an important subject for girls in Ireland today. They are acutely aware of the need to take care of their mental health but often have limited means to do so.
Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Report
Intervention Type
January 2021
21 p.
Sports Ireland
Corporate Creators
Women in Sports
Place of Publication
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