Body-hugging sports uniforms could be deterring teen girls from playing sport at a school and club level, according to Australian researchers.
A team from Victoria University have launched a national study into the impact of sports uniforms on female sport participation rates and are urging young women from around the country to take part.
Associate Professor in Health and Physical Education Dr Zali Yager, who is working on the project alongside Professor Clare Hanlon, said it was the first study of its kind and will use a survey to investigate sport uniform preferences of adolescent girls, and examine how this varies according to age, demographics, and body image.
"We are really excited to be conducting this ground-breaking research, and we need over 1000 girls aged 12 to 18 to participate in the survey," Dr Yager said.
"We are particularly keen to hear from girls who don't already play sport – so that we can find out whether making any changes to school and club sport uniforms might make them more likely to be physically active."
Research indicates that the main barriers for girls' participation in sport are time, cost, accessibility, ability, and social reasons. However, another barrier has emerged – body consciousness.
"There are numerous good practices that are being conducted in sport including the provision of accessible and social (non-competitive) options and safe environments for girls to participate," she said.
"However, before girls even reach the sport ground or court, they need to feel comfortable and confident in what they wear to help them perform."
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Body image, the impact of social media and comfort all combine to steer some girls away from playing sport.
"There is no hard data on this, but anecdotally, we have heard of many young girls – particularly those who don't have the socially prescribed and accepted bodies – who have dropped out, or changed sports based on the uniform requirements," she said.
"We now also have a situation where images of girls playing sport are on social media, so they are quite concerned about the image that they present.
"This is heartbreaking, and so unnecessary, when we could just provide more (uniform) options and retain them in the game."
For 13-year-old survey participant, Milena from Victoria, despite describing her school sports uniform as "pretty comfy" she would like more choice when it comes to club sports uniforms.
"I like the sports, I just don't like the uniforms much," Milena said.
Outside of school, often the type of shorts that players have to wear are specified by gender, with boys getting longer shorts and the girls getting the short ones. She reckons "at least you should get a choice" because some uniforms are too revealing.
Researchers hope the study will help discover what uniforms girls would like to wear that would make them feel more comfortable and confident playing sport.
Dr Yager said the findings will be translated into a guide to assist sporting organisations and schools to develop sport uniform policies and practices that are more inclusive to girls.
"We will know more once we have the data from our research, but at this stage, we believe that offering more options and flexibility will make more young girls feel more comfortable and ready to engage in sport," she said.
"We would like to remove the sport uniform barrier associated with sport and physical activity participation for girls."
Fitness Energy's fitness director Jane Kilkenny said some body-hugging sports uniforms do have the potential to deter girls from playing sport.
"Adolescence is a time when many young girls struggle with the appearance of their changing physique and wearing tight fitting outfits make them feel uncomfortable," Ms Kilkenny, who specialises in children's fitness, said.
"Adolescence is a tough transition and it's crucial to give them every opportunity to be physically active.
"Kids that love competitive sport will always thrive in that environment, but for those who don't enjoy competitive sports it is crucial to give them as many alternatives as possible. This is a significant role for the parents as well as the teachers."
As this is a university-based research study, parental permission for girls to participate in the research is required.
Parents and girls can find out more find out more here.