VU research shows school sport uniforms can be a barrier for girls to be physically active

As girls grow older, they often report several barriers in their physical activity journey. Some of these barriers have been identified as body image, low confidence levels, gender constraints and feeling uncomfortable in their uniforms.

Young women aged 12 to 18 years in rural, regional and metropolitan regions throughout Australia recently participated in a national study to help researchers understand the role school sports uniforms play in increasing girls’ confidence and participation in sport and physical activity.

The study, conducted by a research team focused on ‘no barriers for girls and women in sport' led by Victoria University (VU)’s Susan Alberti Women in Sport Chair,  Professor Clare Hanlon (Institute for Health and Sport), expands on a Victorian study collaboration with School Sport Victoria and funded by the Change Our Game, Office for Women in Sport and Recreation. It has shed further light on the issue of school sport uniforms, and uncovered practical ways to help improve experiences and health outcomes for girls.

Professor Hanlon has said of the research, “Anecdotally some of these findings are not new, however now there is evidence on why policy and practices need to be enhanced to make girls feel comfortable and confident to play sport at school and at sport clubs."

“Girls 12 – 14 years, non-active girls, those from social identity groups and from co-ed schools prefer longer styled uniforms – this reinforces the need to provide options where girls feel empowered to have a choice. It also shows the provision of sport uniform options could be critical for non-active girls to feel comfortable and begin to engage in sport.”

In summary, young women prefer function over fashion, breathable stretchy material, and uniforms in dark colours. Instead of skirts, they also would rather wear t-shirts and shorts and would like to have a choice over what uniform to wear, especially girls aged 12 to 14.

Although the study highlighted varying preferences from state-to-state with girls and young women from the Northern Territory being 16% less likely to prefer wearing tracksuit pants or leggings, Western Australian girls being 53% less likely to prefer wearing singlets for sport outside school, compared with girls from Victoria (63%) and NSW (72%), overall, the research has found that girls across the country feel the same way about uniforms.

As you may know, we’ve been working on ways to bring the issue of young women’s’ involvement in sport and physical activity to the fore. Take a look at our infographic developed in collaboration with Victoria University and the Office for Women in Sport and Recreation (Change Our Game), to better understand what the barriers to participation are, why they exist, and how we can work together as communities to help change young women’s attitudes for the better.

Getting involved in school sport or activity should not be hindered by feelings of physical insecurity. Schools have a big part to play in supporting young women to feel confident to get involved and stay involved. A whole-school approach is needed. This research into school uniforms is a big step in the right direction towards empowering girls to feel confident in themselves and their abilities and breaking down one of the identified barriers to participation.

Want to learn more about how we can support you to support young women and girls to get physically active? Get in touch!