How girls tend to be discouraged in sport

There is a common misconception that young girls cannot physically compete with their male counterparts in sports, it has been suggested. Joel Stager, Professor in the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation at Indiana University Bloomington, has carried out research looking at the performance difference between genders at various ages.

Mr Stager explained there is a general assumption that young ladies are unable to go up against young men in activities on the sports field - but his findings suggest this may not necessarily be the case.

According to the study, there was no difference found for swim performance for children of both sexes under the age of eight, while only minor changes were recorded for those aged 11 and 12.

Mr Stager stated: "It's the whole perception that girls can't compete fairly with boys ... well, at certain ages, they can."

It was only when children reached puberty that marked differences could be seen, the research showed.

Professor Craig Mahoney, chief executive of the Higher Education Authority and a Chartered Psychologist, comments:

"Those of us working in the research fields of sport and exercise, have long recognised that changes through puberty do produce strength differences between sexes arising from elevated testosterone and resultant muscle bulking in males. However, prior to that the sexes are very similar and can perform quite equally, each being able to 'run far and fast'. This research adds further support to the body of knowledge on child development and motor skill acquisition and confirms the appropriateness that young children in their early years should be encouraged to perform with and against one another."

"The absence of equality in female sports, especially in the UK, where young girls are neither encouraged nor adequately supported compared to their male counterparts, is perhaps in part due to a belief that early role modelling and differentiation of effort necessitates girls and boys not competing or performing together. It will be through research findings of this type that we might challenge perceptions and hopefully lead to a greater volume of excellent women performers and the creation of outstanding role models for young girls in the future."