Pandemic decimates grassroots sport, as one in 10 teen girls drop out

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Many teenage girls who played sport before the coronavirus pandemic are not returning this season and experts warn they might drop out permanently.

A survey of 1000 girls aged 11 to 17 found 30 per cent of girls in NSW had lost interest in participating in team sport. The research was commissioned by Suncorp, a sponsor of netball, and did not cover boys.

Northern Suburbs Netball Association manager Glenys Paranihi said about 40 teams had not returned for the shorter winter season in Willoughby.

Glenys Paranihi has led a huge effort managing the merger of teams as 10 per cent of the players dropped out.

Glenys Paranihi has led a huge effort managing the merger of teams as 10 per cent of the players dropped out.Credit:Steven Siewert

Ms Paranihi said that was a 10 per cent drop in participation and it would be 20 per cent by the end of the year because the association had cancelled the summer season.

She said worry about the virus was the main reason why girls were not returning.

"It's fear - fear is why they are withdrawing," she said. "Maybe not so much for the kids but more their parents not wanting them to play. In some cases they have underlying health conditions."

She said the numbers could have been a lot worse except that several private girls' schools in the area fielded netball teams in the competition and had not withdrawn. Other areas have been less fortunate - Campbelltown District Netball Association has cancelled its winter season, except for the junior representative programs.

The survey found that 9 per cent of teen girls in NSW were not looking forward to team sports, higher than the 7 per cent national figure.

Of the girls who had lost interest in sport, three out of five said "nothing could be done" to regain their interest. For the two out of five who said they could be enticed back, having their friends also participating would make them look forward to returning as well as if clubs or federations ran a fitness clinic to help them get back into training.

In NSW, the survey found about three in five teen girls watched more television and spent more time on social media and group chats during lockdown, while two out of five participated in other physical activity such as walking, running, cycling, yoga.

Teenage girls are losing interest in returning to sport after the pandemic, especially in NSW.

Teenage girls are losing interest in returning to sport after the pandemic, especially in NSW.Credit:Steven Siewert

Murray Drummond, a research professor in sport, health and physical activity and the director of the Sport, Health, Activity, Performance and Exercise (Shape) Research Centre, said the pandemic would be a pretext for many girls or exacerbating an underlying trend.

Professor Drummond said girls aged 12 to 14 often dropped out of sport because coaches put too much pressure on them to make the sport their number-one extracurricular activity.

"The coach might say we really need you to focus on four or five sessions a week of netball and the girl can't do that, so ultimately they drop out of the sport or they commit to that sport and drop out of the other sport," he said.

Professor Drummond said girls in the 15 to 18 age group were often encouraged to take time off sport to focus on their studies, while boys were expected to juggle both.

"Sport plays a significant role in the way in which masculinity is socially constructed, so there's a belief that boys have to play sports, as opposed to girls," he said.

"What we're also finding is that when the girls take a year off, there's a good chance that one year will become two or three or four."