Championing Change: 5 Ways to Keep Her in the Game During Puberty

Championing Change: 5 Ways to Keep Her in the Game During Puberty

Sarah Greenaway
Let's face it - puberty can be tough. But it doesn't have to lead to girls dropping out of sport at the high rates they do now. 

As girls move through puberty, they can come up against physical and emotional challenges that kill the love they had for sport. Understanding the issues and helping girls manage them is the best chance you have to keep her active and on the receiving end of the loooong list of benefits that come with staying active.

Developing breasts and curves, getting her period and adjusting to her cycle, dealing with performance anxiety and feeling like she’s living under a spotlight are just a few of the stressors that chip away at her confidence and motivation.

If you think this should change and we should set the dropout rate straight, read on!

Back to The Tee

1. Tell her how it is

The start of menstruation can bring up lots of questions - and more often than not, worries - for girls. But they may not always feel comfortable asking for answers directly. From concerns about odours to feeling embarrassed if something unexpected happens, it's easy for these worries to snowball if they're not addressed head-on.

There is no shortage of research showing that receiving education from trusted adults can make a significant difference in how girls navigate puberty. And that trusted adult can be you. Don't conflate ignorance with innocence. You are not "making her grow up too fast"; she will go through puberty whether you equip her for it or not.

Be the person she can rely on. The proactive one who educates her about her period and helps her understand what's happening and why there's no need to worry or be ashamed.

Arm her with knowledge (even if she protests and squirms!) so she can handle developing breasts and getting her first period like a boss when the time comes.

2. Prepare your pom poms

Ladies and gentlemen, dust off your poms poms. Okay, don't panic, I'm not talking about brain bending choreography and back handsprings. I'm talking about vocally and actively celebrating the achievements of the girls in our lives who participate and compete in sport.

What does that look like? Well, it depends on the girls really. It's never a bad idea to dance around like a lunatic after a win, even if you're doing it in the privacy of your own home or maybe it's just a post game pat on the back and taking a minute to point out something she did well or improved upon. It's hard to resist the urge to chime in on what could've been done better sometimes but just remember, no one likes a know it all - least of all a teen.

Celebrating successes, no matter how small, builds the kind of confidence that's kept afloat by tiny triumphs, not just big wins.

3. Embrace the awkwardness

Celebrate the incredible things her body can do and how awesome/limber/tenacious/skillful/focused she is while she continues to train and compete. She'll probably squirm and tell you it's embarrassing, but that doesn't mean she's not taking it in.

If you have them, share your own experiences from adolescence to foster understanding, empathy, and compassion. Sure, she might roll her eyes and act like what you're saying is irrelevant, as with the compliments, chances are she's listening so feel the awkward and do it anyway.

With support from parents, coaches, and teachers, girls can put their physical changes into perspective and feel less alone at a time when most of them feel like they have a giant spotlight shining on them.

4. Set the standard

“During puberty, your child’s body is going through many changes”, says Stewart Stubbs, psychologist, Psychology 4 You via parenting website, Raising Children. “But at the same time, fitting in and looking the same as other people becomes more important. If you show that you feel positive about your own body, it’ll be easier for your child to be positive about their body”.

Now, we all know tackling body image issues in girls is a big deal, but here's the thing. Talk is cheap, my friend! If you're busy counting calories, skipping fun stuff because of body shame, or yapping about diets and disliking yourself, well, sorry to break it to you, but your words won’t make a dent.

Body image issues impact people of all ages, but if you expect your girl to do the work to overcome her confidence issues, you have to put in the work to overcome your own.

5. Clear the path

We've got to make sure girls feel absolutely at ease when they participate in sport during their adolescent years. I’m talking about providing girls with decent changing rooms or private spaces, so they don't have to worry about feeling exposed when they're getting dressed before or after training; ensuring uniforms are fit for purpose (let’s offer options besides skimpy dresses, high cut leotards and white pants, shall we? 🤦), providing unfirm styles that are actually designed for females rather than expecting them to accept the male cut as 'unisex' (no one's falling for it, people!) and bucking the status quo when your girl’s club is prioritising youth and men’s teams over women’s teams and regulating them to secondary fields or inconvenient training and game times.

The increased popularity of women’s sport is led to funding for change room upgrades, improvements in the design of sporting spaces generally and more focus on the needs or women and girls, but there’s still a lot of work to be done to ensure improvements are accessible to active girls across the board.

If conditions are substandard, uniforms are causing discomfort or your girl’s team or club is having to play second fiddle, raise our voice and demand that the powers that be do better.

It doesn't take much for a girl who's juggling adolescence with maintaining an active lifestyle to become disillusioned and change doesn't just happen out of the blue; it takes effort and persistence.

Who better to champion these causes than someone who wants to see girls thrive... like you?