It’s been an incredible year for women in sport. From their dominating presence in Tokyo at the Olympics, to outstanding performances at the IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship, women are showing up to take their space in the sporting world. At the same time, we watched as these strong role models made vulnerable and powerful statements about prioritizing their health and wellness. Particularly when it comes to mental health- an ever-stigmatized topic, even while still going through extraordinarily challenging times. In our communities, however, girls are struggling to find positive experiences in sport and physical activity.  

COVID has significantly (and negatively) impacted girls participation in sport, or really any kind of activity for that matter. In a study of over 13,000 athletes in the United States, researchers found that female athletes who experienced school closures and sport cancellations reported a higher prevalence of moderate to severe anxiety symptoms: females= 43.7% versus males=28.2% (Journal of Athletic Training, 2021). Not only could this have long-lasting effects on the future of women’s athletics, but it could also be affecting the mental health of girls and young women more than we’re aware. This infographic from Canadian Women and Sport shows some shocking data and projections from the impact of the pandemic:  

Research suggests there is a strong positive correlation between girls’ participation in sport/play and mental health. The World Health Organization states there are two major ways in which physical activity can contribute to the mental health of girls:

  1. “…there is fairly consistent evidence that regular activity can have a positive effect upon girls’ psychological well-being; indeed, some studies indicate that girls may respond more strongly than boys in terms of short-term benefits.” And,
  2. “…research has indicated that physical activity can contribute to the reduction of problematic levels of anxiety and depression.”

(WHO Report- Girls’ Participation in Physical Activities and Sports: Benefits, Patterns, Influences, and Ways Forward.)

Offering opportunities for girls and young women to connect to activity through the creation of their own spaces, can be extremely effective. Alisha Smith-Tran suggests that organizations like Black Girls Run! (a predominantly Black organization for women who engage in recreational distance running) set a positive example of creating these female-centered programs, with a specific racialized lens. This program benefits the mental health of its participants as offers a space to get active with others who look like them, cultivates social connection and community, and facilitates challenging health statistics and shifting dominant narratives about Black women (Smith-Tran, 2020).

Looking at statistics, knowing the need for female-focused programming, and implementation of that programming can feel very overwhelming. Experts recommend that educators promote self-determined types of motivation and physical activity habits in their students, particularly adolescent girls, if they want to help prevent depressive symptoms (Cecchini and Fernandez-Rio, 2020). At BOKS, we want to ensure that everyone has an equitable opportunity to get active, have fun, and feel safe. It’s also our job to make sure communities can PROVIDE those equitable opportunities too. Here are our top 3 BOKS resource recommendations to engage and empower adolescent girls (12-16):

  1. BOKS Junior Leadership Program- perhaps hold a Junior Leadership training for young women that you work with! This will not only create an opportunity to build skills around functional fitness but will also introduce leadership through physical activity. Participants will learn to instruct BOKS Bursts (1–10 minute movement break activities) and create sustainable movement initiatives in their larger communities.
  2. BOKS Bootcamp- recruit girls to join a BOKS Bootcamp group. Because this program is intended to be done independently, girls can build confidence and competence on their own, while still feeling like part of a community. It’s also pretty sweet that a lot of the Professional Trainers who instruct and demonstrate through this resource are women
  3. Get Your Run On- this resource creates such a strong foundation for empowered physical activity for girls. They can work through the program at-home and feel secure in building up their endurance at their own pace. Get Your Run On gives girls the guidance and structure to find success in running, no matter what level they start at!

All these resources, and so many more, can be found on the BOKS Trainer Hub and are free to access. There are a wide variety of tools to keep girls moving and support their mental wellness! Empowered young women are the foundation of strong and connected communities and deserve access to the benefits movement can have on their mental health.

Lauren Hutchison
BOKS Canada

Cecchini, Jose & Fernandez-Rio, Javier & Méndez-Giménez, Antonio & Martínez, Beatriz. (2020). Connections among physical activity, motivation, and depressive symptoms in adolescent girls. European Physical Education Review. 26. 682-694.
Smith-Tran, A. (2021). “Finally Something for Us”: Black Girls Run! and Racialized Space-Making in Recreational Running. Journal of Sport and Social Issues, 45(3), 235–250.
Timothy A. McGuine, PhD, ATC et al. (2021). Journal of Athletic Training. “Mental Health, Physical Activity, and Quality of Life of US Adolescent Athletes During COVID-19–Related School Closures and Sport Cancellations: A Study of 13 000 Athletes”. 56(1)
Weiss, M. R., Kipp, L. E., Phillips Reichter, A., & Bolter, N. D. (2020). Evaluating Girls on the Run in Promoting Positive Youth Development: Group Comparisons on Life Skills Transfer and Social Processes. Pediatric exercise science, 32(3), 172–182.
WHO Report- Girls’ Participation in Physical Activities and Sports: Benefits, Patterns, Influences, and Ways Forward: