Flexible Sport Uniform Policies Keep Girls in the Game

One major strategy to keep girls and women involved in community sport is to let them choose their uniforms.

That was the major finding from the Effects of Sport Uniform Policy Changes to Girls and Women study, conducted by a team of researchers and led by Professor Clare Hanlon at the Institute for Health and Sport at Victoria University. The study expands from an initial project conducted in 2020 that identified which uniforms make girls feel comfortable and confident when playing sport.

This phase two study focused instead on case studies across netball, swimming and cricket. It found flexible uniform policies and regulations improved girls’ and women’s comfort, readiness and desire to play, with 48% agreeing these policies encourage ongoing participation in the sport.

The study also found that the change in uniform enabled women and girls to feel more confident (41% increase), happier (34% increase) and less self-conscious (30% reduction). 28% of women and girls agreed that the uniform changes provided more freedom, and a further 20% said the changes meant they could perform at their best.

Sarah Styles, the Director at the Office for Women in Sport and Recreation, said, “Dismantling the barriers to participation in sport for women and girls is crucial to ensuring every Victorian can enjoy the many physical, mental and social benefits of an active lifestyle. These findings are clear – providing the freedom of choice for girls in their sports uniforms will help their enjoyment of sport and keep them playing sport.”

Professor Hanlon said a key driver behind the research project was to delve deeper into the evidence that body image plays a key role in whether girls are physically active, and that physical activity declines significantly for girls once they hit adolescence.

Phase one of the Victoria University study What Girls Want in Sport Uniforms surveyed more than 300 Victorian girls aged between 12 and 18 on what made them feel comfortable and confident to participate in sport.

It found adolescent girls prefer a choice of uniforms that make them feel ready for sport and not overexposed; clothing that fits well and is not unisex; dark coloured bottoms; and uniforms made from appropriate materials.

And now the phase two case studies confirm a flexible uniform policy - for example by allowing a choice of shorts, skirts or leggings in the team colour - can encourage girls and women ongoing participation in sport and physical activity.

The findings of this study will help guide decision-makers at sports associations, clubs and schools on what uniform options and choices will encourage the participation and retention of girls in sport and physical activity.

Professor Clare Hanlon from Victoria University said, “Findings from these case studies provide evidence on the positive effects flexible sport uniform policies/regulations have to girls and women. It encourages girls and women to stay in sport and in these cases, increased their enjoyment in swimming or playing cricket or netball. Clearly not one ‘style’ fits all team members or individuals so there is a need for consistent flexible uniform policies/regulations across sport in all Associations - one that is actively promoted and educates and encourages member clubs to embrace.”

Tuesday 22nd March, 2022

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