Sport builds girls' confidence, says schools leader

Girls rowing Competitive sports can help build confidence and resilience, argues the leader of a group of girls schools

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Girls should take part in competitive sport to build confidence and resilience, the leader of a group of girls' schools will argue this week.

Helen Fraser, chief executive of the Girls Day School Trust (GDST), will tell the group's conference that sport can help girls cope with failure.

All girls "and not just the sporty ones" should take physical exercise, Ms Fraser will say.

Research that girls are far less active than boys is worrying, she argues.

"Girls who are in schools which focus solely on academic achievement can experience success after success, and may never learn that you can have a real setback and come back and recover", Ms Fraser told BBC News.

"The experience of losing a hockey game three-nil and carrying on to another match builds resilience".

'Tabloid obsessions'

Ms Fraser will tell the conference that she backs "sport for all".

"That's why I love it when our schools have A, B ,C and D teams and beyond", she will say.

Girls playing netball Not all girls like ball games so it's important to find alternatives, says the GDST

The GDST draws on research from the Women's Sport and Fitness Foundation which suggests only a quarter of girls in England meet current recommended levels of physical activity each week, with the proportion taking part in regular sport falling steeply after the age of 10.

One in five girls do no physical activity at all, twice the proportion of boys, the research suggests.

Ms Fraser says other research suggests that more than 80% of senior women business leaders played organised sports while growing up.

She says similar high proportions of female executives believe sport made them more disciplined, resilient and competitive in their careers.

She cites the example of former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, once a competitive figure skater and tennis player, while the head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, was in the French national synchronized swimming team.

Ms Fraser says Olympic medallists like Jessica Ennis, Katherine Grainger and Nicola Adams are excellent role models for young women but says women's sport needs better funding and more media coverage.

"I think sport and exercise are ways in which women can reclaim their bodies from the kind of obsessions of the tabloid press and celebrity magazines", says Ms Fraser.

Trampolining

Valerie Dunsford, head of Sheffield High School, part of GDST, said it was important to offer a large range of sports to attract different types of girls.

"Not everyone wants to be out on the hockey pitch", said Ms Dunsford.

"You don't have to be a fantastic sportswoman to bounce on a trampoline and it gives you a great workout."

She said the great sporting advantage of girls schools was a lack of self-consciousness.

"Girls school pupils are less bothered about what they look like. Even our sixth formers are still happy to put on a leotard and jump on a trampoline."

The GDST is composed of 24 fee-paying schools and two academies.

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