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UK Schools Reevaluate Sports Programs for Young Girls

Helen Fraser, chief executive of the Girls’ Day School Trust says that the UK’s current fitness programs at school need to be reevaluated. She says that the main hook or pitch currently being used to encourage fitness is that it sports will help make them more attractive. She says that this is counter-intuitive, especially in the all-girl school community. Ms. Fraser says that because of this popular notion, girls at school are almost scared to perform when it comes to sports: she says that they need to be taught that it’s a good thing to get sweaty and pink-faced in the interest of excelling at sports.

In a speech at a faculty meeting of the GDST to take place next Wednesday, Ms. Fraser is going to present her proposal to the school board for a sports program that encourages camaraderie, excellence and sports-mindedness through a curriculum which utilizes material that centers around strong female role models. Her new sports education program also aims to show girls the health benefits of sports and exercise. Ms. Fraser says that she wants sports to mean more to young girls than a way to be perceived as attractive by the boys—she wants them to really enjoy the process of playing sports or of getting fit. One of the studies that Helen Fraser cites in her proposal is one conducted last year which shows that by the age of 14 only 12 percent of female students do the recommended weekly amount of sports and physical education. She also plans to share her vision with the rest of the faculty, saying she looks forward to talking into the locker room after Physical Education and hear girls talking about how the game went as opposed to how they looked while playing the game or how they look in the uniforms or fussing over how they look after playing the game.

Ms. Fraser goes onto say that sports and exercise are the only way through which women—beginning with the young girls who are still going through the process of learning about womanhood—can re-claim their bodies form the figure-obsessed media. The speech that she will be delivering Monday criticizes the interchangeability of the word fit with attractive or being fanciable. Ms. Fraser says she wants girls everywhere to realize that it isn’t about being fat or thin: it’s about being able to do more and to get stronger.

The GDST, which runs 24 private schools and 2 state schools is a great place for this kind of program to begin, Helen Fraser says. Because of its large but specific demographic, getting the GDST’s 26 schools behind this kind of initiative could mean great things for the program and for women everywhere. In addition to competitive team and contect sports, Helen Fraser also wants to introduce more alternative fitness practices such as Zumba, Yoga, Pilates, rock climbing, Tai Chi, rowing, golf, Taekwondo and trampolining—this way, girls who don’t necessarily like competitive sports can also be encouraged to take steps toward getting fit.

Among the women role models that are going to be cited in Helen Fraser’s GDST speech are Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund who was once a member of the French National Synchronized Swimming team and Condoleezza Rice, the former United States Secretary of State—an accomplished golfer. She also wants to take a look at the kinds of criticisms that are usually used in women’s sports: while men are usually judged on their game play, women are often judged by how they look—for example, athlete Jessica Ennis was called “fat” by the media right before she won her gold medal.

The other members of the GDST say that they’re excited to see what Ms. Fraser’s speech is going to contain. Her innovative ideas and well-thought out frameworks could really help the future of sportsmanship and fitness in women’s education throughout the United Kingdom.


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