Fit & Fab: Girls & Sports

Fit & Fab: Girls & Sports

Watching professional athletes in motion is nothing short of inspiring. The recent U.S. Women’s National Team victory in the 2015 Women’s World Cup is just one example of how girls with guts get the glory. Think of all the Olympians, female golfers in the LPGA, and women in countless other sports and athletic endeavors, even nonprofessional sports. The common denominators seem to involve female athletes working hard, staying in shape, and having fun, no matter what their skill level.

Benefits of Sports for Girls

Many reasons exist why girls might like to play sports. From pure enjoyment to added health and social benefits, female athletics program serve as an essential tool for female students’ growth, development and success in so many ways.

“Everyone benefits from regular physical activity, and sports are a great way to start that habit early and make it more fun,” says Laura Dunne, MD, FAAFP, caqSM, an orthopaedic specialist trained and board certified in family medicine and sports medicine. “All kids need at least an hour a day of physical activity and being in sports gives girls a place to do that.”

Dunne explains that participation in sports carries many advantages, including cardiovascular benefits, psychological benefits, and social benefits. From a social standpoint, sports teams provide a group of readymade friends and a natural feeling of belonging. Exercise contributes to a better memory and improvement in the ability to study, among other things.

“Studies show that girls in sports are less likely to become pregnant in high school or college,” she says. “Those that continue with sports in high school and college tend to be better organized with their studies because of the need to plan. When you know you have practice at a certain time of day, you know you need to study at a different time. For high school and college, you can’t participate in sports (at least not varsity or other official school team sports) without a certain GPA. Motivation to keep grades good is higher if your place on the team is in jeopardy if you fail.”

Health Advantages for Athletes

Numerous health benefits help to ensure a healthier lifestyle as well. Involvement in sports generally means athletes will have a better BMI (body mass index), a better heart rate, and lower rates of hypertension, obesity and diabetes.

Dunne says even athletes with certain health issues like asthma may find improvement in their conditions when they are in physically fit shape – such as fewer asthma flair ups, improved tolerance to stress and activity, and reduced required amounts of medication to manage their condition. Athletes with diabetes also may find a better time keeping their sugar in check and may also need less medication or lower doses.

Getting Involved from an Early Age

The right time to get your children involved in sports may vary from one family to the next. Gymnastics programs offer an early option for even toddlers to enjoy as they become familiar with their own
athletic movements.

“A base like this can help with coordination and strength as well as self confidence and builds a great base for any sport moving forward,” Dunne says. “The particular time for starting has more to do with development and interest of the child. If they love to kick the soccer ball because mom plays, let them start as soon as they can with playing with mom – and move on to organized activity as they need more challenge or guidance.”

Dunne says the main thing to avoid is placing too much pressure on kids.

“We start a lot of kids too early so they lose interest because the fun is lost early,” she says. “Make sure that if starting before age 10-12 that it is the child showing interest and that the goal is fun and exposure and nothing to do with score, winning or becoming elite. That kind of pressure early is trouble.”

Team Play and Individual Athletic Efforts

Some girls may enjoy team sports most while others may prefer those focusing on individual achievements. Many of the benefits are still in place no matter which sport or athletic endeavor a student may choose.

“The act of being on a team helps later in life in work and school environment,” says Dunne. “Planning for a game or tournament – or determining what skills a player needs to work on – all of this helps use the same skills needed to plan for getting to college or beyond. Setting goals in sports helps girls set goals in life. Being on a team in high school can make a girl a better college candidate even if she does not choose to continue organized sport in college.”

Even if team sports aren’t of interest, individual athletic activities like biking, running and swimming can still be beneficial. These activities improve physical condition in many ways and make it easier for a girl to step into different sports later if she wants.

“Now there are many more recreational leagues which are not about winning but about learning a sport,” Dunne adds. “Seeking out these type of leagues would be great. Also, just helping make it possible to safely bike, rollerblade, run, or just jump on the trampoline in the backyard helps kids learn early to be active and helps them see how good it makes them feel. Sports like biking and running are able to be done without others and without competition with the same physical benefits.”

Supporting from the Sidelines

As a parent, it’s important to provide support and encouragement for your daughters as they start to get involved in activities. Sometimes that level of support means cheering from the sidelines and sometimes it simply means providing funding and transportation to and from practices and meets. Sometimes you may also fill a more protective role, helping to ensure your kids are safe in the sports they play or nursing them back to health following an injury.

“Most female athletes continue to play and thrive and go on to some form of physical activity later in life,” Dunne shares. “Most high school and college athletes miss the camaraderie and physical challenge and so they move on to women’s leagues, roller derby, running, spin class or becoming fitness instructors themselves.”

Setting a good example of a healthy lifestyle with exercise and fun family time playing outside or at the gym can also help. If your kids see you being active, it makes them realize it’s just a natural and expected part of life. As a parent, you may also help to set expectations for your children’s participation, and you should also be a good listener as your kids take the time to talk about their experience in sports and
playing on a team.


About the Expert:

Laura Dunne, MD, FAAFP, caqSM, is a trained and board certified orthopedic specialist. She is certified in family medicine and sports medicine and has been in practice in the Lehigh Valley with Orthopedic Associates of Allentown (OAA) for nearly 12 years. She was an avid high school athlete, college diver all-American, and now continues with recreational soccer and running.

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