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Victoria University study shows inappropriate uniforms impact desire of girls and young women to participate in sport

Victoria University study shows inappropriate uniforms impact desire of girls and young women to participate in sport
February 26, 2021

New research from Victoria University shows that inappropriate and uncomfortable uniforms are discouraging turning teenage girls and young women from participating in girls off sport and physical activity.

Highlighted the importance of offering sports uniforms that make young females feel comfortable and confident, the study finds that participants want sport apparel that is functional rather than fashionable.

The study was conducted by a research team focused on ‘no barriers for girls and women in sport', led by the University’s Susan Alberti Women in Sport Chair Professor Clare Hanlon (Institute for Health and Sport), expanding on the Victorian study that was a collaboration with School Sport Victoria and funded by the Change Our Game, Office for Women in Sport and Recreation.

With study finding that many girls drop out of sport or choose not to engage in physical activity because they feel embarrassed about putting their bodies on display or not adhering to societal standards of beauty, Professor Hanlon explained “these findings are for the benefit of girls in Australia to enable them to feel comfortable, confident and ready to play sport.

“Uniforms need to be designed for girls that are the right colour and fit, and are functional.”

The research focussed on 12- to 18-year-old girls located in metropolitan, regional, rural areas, the findings identified Australian girls everywhere shared similar views on uniforms: they want function over fashion; breathable stretchy material; and dark colours for any shorts, skirts or pants.

They also prefer t-shirts and shorts over skirts while having a choice is vital, especially for girls aged 12 to 14.

Professor Hanlon noted "regardless of location, girls had the same thoughts and beliefs.

"Schools and sport clubs could have fantastic facilities and programs, but if girls don't feel comfortable in what they wear as a sport uniform you're going to be flat out getting them to the venue."

On choice, Professor Hanlon explained “giving non-active girls the option for what they want to wear in order to feel comfortable and confident could be a game-changer to make them begin to play sport.”

The study also highlighted varying preferences state-to-state. Girls and young women from the Northern Territory are 16% less likely to prefer wearing tracksuit pants or leggings, while in Western Australia 53% are less likely to prefer wearing singlets for sport outside school, compared with girls from Victoria (63%) and NSW (72%).

AFLW star Katie Brennan said having a range of options was vital for athletes, young and old, advising “being able to have darker shorts is one thing.

"I know in the AFL women's, we still run around in white shorts for our away uniform, and I think that's something that we could start to have a really powerful conversation about, particularly for girls entering their time of the month and their menstrual cycle while playing elite sport.

"After this study, we've found some really powerful evidence that we do need to change and to be able to keep girls in sport and keep them feeling really comfortable in physical activity and incidental activity is going to be massive for health reasons … but collectively as a community for health and wellbeing.”

The Victorian Government, which provided a $20,000 grant to help fund the research, said it hoped the findings would assist decision-makers at community clubs across the state.

The findings have been translated into practical action and an infographic to assist school and sport sectors develop policies and practices focused on making girls feel comfortable and confident in their uniforms to play sport and be physically active.

Click here for more information.

Images: Professor Clare Hanlon, with students from Ringwood Secondary and AFLW star Katie Brennan (top) and the Victoria University research shows girls prefer to wear shorts, tee-shirts and the majority don't want to wear skirts(below). Credit: Victoria University.

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