One of the most important psychological factors needed to excel in sport is confidence and self-belief. Self-confidence helps us to overcome obstacles and achieve our goals. Populus found that young girls and women lacked confidence in sport compared to men. This lack of confidence among women is a notable barrier to participating in sport which also leads to a disengagement with watching sport.
When gender stereotypes emerge in relation to sport in young children, perceptions can be formed that boys are faster or stronger and that the sports they play, like football or rugby, are not appropriate for girls. This can have disastrous outcomes, contributing to young girls having a lack of confidence when participating in sport or even choosing to opt out, sitting on the side-lines, refusing to take part at all. When young girls believe that they are not ‘good at sport’, it tends to add to their overall lack of confidence about sport and encourage disengagement from sport in the future. This is a crucial time, because when there is a negative experience playing sport, Populus found that girls and women became ambivalent about watching sport– why would anyone want to catch the latest football match, if it reminds them of unhappy childhood memories?
I think when I was younger, because I was never coordinated enough to do sports and stuff, I was more geeky, so I never did sports. I just wasn’t that confident, so I sat reading my book instead. And to watch sports now, I’m just not interested at all. Woman, disengaged in sport – London
For those young girls that do dare to venture out and play, criticisms can be rife and they end up feeling judged by other people or their peers, especially boys, which only perpetrates the cycle that girls aren’t good enough.
Regrettably, these attitudes can continue into adult years, creating a vacuum of self-doubt and negativity in relation to sports, including watching sports. Populus found that 41% of adult women don’t have the confidence to play sports, leading many to prefer individual non-competitive activities like yoga, going to the gym or running alone, which are rarely classified as ‘real’ sports.
Populus also found that 41% of adult women worry about embarrassing themselves in sport, for example by not knowing the rules, not being able to ‘win’ or not contributing to the team. It’s even worse for young women, with 58% of 18-24 year olds worrying about embarrassing themselves in sport. Why does this matter so much? Ultimately, it makes women feel rejected from the group, unconfident and disinterested in both participating in and watching sport. Populus found that, similar to early childhood years, when women had a negative experience playing sport they simply didn’t want to turn on a sporting event and watch it, much less support a team or chat about scores. Sadly for them, watching women’s sport in adult life becomes a negative reminder of their lack of confidence, feelings of embarrassment and being judged.
I was tempted to join my Universities gymnastics team, but it was just the confidence thing that really held me back from taking part. Woman, disengaged in sport – London
A number of schemes, such as the This Girl Can campaign, are already successfully building the confidence of women and girls in sport and are increasing participation, but more needs to be done. If the lack of self-belief among women persists, there will never be a level playing field for men’s and women’s sport in the media.