“It is not about being the best, but as I have learned over time, it’s about giving your best. What is more inspiring to your daughter than you going out and trying it yourself?”
Article by: Gráinne McElwain, Sport and Entertainment Broadcaster and Mother of Éabha.
For me, team sport growing up, was very much for the boys. I think where you live plays a huge part in determining the sport you play but also the access to the sports you get. Volunteers are the lifeline to sport happening in all grassroots activities. If you have adults who push for sport and for girls to participate then this will happen - if you don’t, it won’t. I’m not highly competitive in a sporting sense but I love watching sport and I understand now as an adult the value and importance of partaking in sport for my mental health, my physical health and my own wellbeing.
I am a member of a gym and love spin classes, HITT, and weight classes - anything that will get my heart rate up. I’m usually quite individualistic in my sport endeavours but I changed that recently. I have three children, one daughter and two sons and I want them all to have a great relationship with sport, but especially my daughter. She is 11 years old, plays Gaelic football and is on the fence on whether she likes it or not. She is not the first on the team sheet every week. I am torn between this being a good early life lesson for her as most of us will not be the best at everything we do versus it being unfair and hard to watch.
However, the way a lot of underage sport is conducted, it is about winning matches. Speaking to a lot of parents, they feel the same way. What is the point sending children to training and games if they do not get a chance to play. Coaches are blamed but it is not always their fault. There is a culture of picking the strongest children to win. A massive reframe is needed here if we want to keep children who are not the most gifted underage involved in sport. Each child develops differently and the most gifted now may not be in ten years’ time. From the child’s perspective, it’s not fun to constantly warm the bench and we are all aware of teams well ahead in a game and still not allowing subs on!
I strongly believe this is one of the main reasons why we have dropout of young girls from team sports. If they can’t make the team, at least they should have meaningful sub time to encourage them to stay. I’m like a broken record saying this that not every girl will be the intercounty or international star, but we want to keep girls involved as they are the future club players, junior players, referees, chairperson, volunteers - the list goes on. There needs to be a culture of inclusivity for all types of players, and this starts from u10s. To keep girls involved longer in sport, they need to feel they belong. I feel very strongly that grassroot sports are missing a massive trick by doing this and coaches need to be better educated on what the long game should be - that is keeping girls involved.
I started playing social basketball last year with other women and mothers who like me had not played since school and wanted to do exercise and meet other women. I also thought that I can’t talk about my daughter doing team sport if I’m not prepared to do it myself. Thankfully, there are lots of female sporting role models for boys and girls but I believe that you are the first role model your daughter sees. By you showing up to do any type of sport, it instils an understanding that sport is good and something I want to do. It is not about being the best, but as I have learned over time, it’s about giving your best. What is more inspiring to your daughter than you going out and trying it yourself?
I have also found that trying loads of different sports is really important. Girls are different to boys and let’s embrace that. My daughter Éabha loves swimming, gymnastics, dancing and basketball. I am personally thrilled that she has found other sports that she enjoys and has met other girls who have similar interests to her. It’s the social element she really enjoys so there are so many activities and sports out there for your daughter to try. Enlist her in as many as possible and let her choose which activity she enjoys the most.
I haven’t given up on the football yet. From a personal level, I would love her to stay involved as this is such a great way to meet people from across your area and it’s something that I don’t want her to turn round to me at 16 years old and say, “why did you not keep me involved with it?” I’m encouraging and cajoling but it will be her choice. The alternative is for her not to do any sport or physical activity and that would be a huge disappointment on my behalf if that happens. I regret not having that opportunity or being encouraged into doing this when I was her age, so I want to make sure that she has no regrets later in life.
So, mams and dads reading this, but especially mams, find loads of sports and activities for her to try as there will be one that she connects with and has so much fun with. There may also be different sports that encourage you to get involved too! Keep encouraging and don’t give up. Her Moves is brilliant to help inspire young girls to stay in sport and physical activity, but it also is inspiring us too. Be her role model and have fun doing it.