Leadership and Sport

EY – Women Athletes Global Leadership Network

EY, is a global leader in assurance, tax, transaction and advisory services, recognised the impact that sport has on women in their professional careers. EY conducted research, as part of their Women Athletes Business Network, that showed the role sport can play at every stage of professional women’s lives, from girls to rising leaders to C-suite executives. A survey found that 94% of women in the C-suite played sport, 52% at a university level. For the full report on their findings, see the link below.


Building Young Women’s Leadership Through Sport Programme

Building Young Women’s Leadership through Sport (BYWLTS) was a three-year programme with the objective of increasing the leadership of adolescent girls and young women (AGYW) in formal and informal decision making processes. Women Win worked closely with eight partner organisations in seven countries to deliver quality sport and life skills programmes to over 65,000 AGYW. In addition, AGYW were provided with opportunities to practise leadership through a mentorship programme and by learning how to create their stories through Digital Storytelling. Overall, AGYW had significantly improved knowledge, attitudes and behaviours related to key rights issues including their sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), gender based violence (GBV) and economic empowerment (EE). Indicators around leadership and how the community perceived the adolescent girls increased significantly after the programme ended. For the full report, see the link below.

http://womenwin.org/files/BYWLTS Programme Evaluation.compressed %282%29.pdf

Women Win believes that sport has unique elements that are instrumental in developing the leadership of adolescent girls and young women (AGYW). Sport cultivates the leadership skills inherent in AGYW, creates an enabling environment in which they can practice leadership skills, and allows them to actively use their knowledge and skills to drive change in their own lives and in their community. 

Women Win defines a girl’s leadership as her ability to exercise her rights and drive change. Our programmes promote leadership development by building five key competencies (Self Confidence, Vision, Voice, Action and Global Thinking) through an asset-building approach.

An emerging body of research suggests that asset-building programmes can result in long-term gains for girls and women.[1] [2] [3] Our theory of change is built on the belief that adolescent girls, as well as their families and societies, benefit from and are empowered by sport and sport programmes that build ASSETS, provide ACCESS to resources and develop AGENCY.

Women Win believes that leadership is developed at each of the three levels of asset-building programmes – Assets, Access and Agency. A well-designed sport programme creates the enabling environment and safe space for that leadership to be developed and put into practice. For more information about our theory of change and AGYW’s leadership, go to the International Guideline for Designing Sport Programmes for Girls.

A sport programme can progressively build awareness of a girl’s skills and qualities, and teach her how to act with integrity.  These basic personal skills are the basis for the personal and professional competencies required for economic empowerment. More specifically:

  • A girl who values her body is more likely to walk proudly, exercise bodily self-determination and feel truly empowered in daily life.  Playing sport requires that girls be attached to their physical selves. Through sport, a girl learns how to manage stress and how to win and celebrate, but also how to lose and try again, emphasising resilience in the face of obstacles and failure.
  • Sport, with its natural ability to convene audiences, provides a peer leader with the opportunity to interact with all manner of community members and external stakeholders, expanding both her network and her horizons.
  • A sport team is a system, and competition highlights how well each team is working.  Systems thinking can help a leader see the relationship between structure and behaviour, to understand how a system works and where it is necessary to intervene to shift the behaviour towards better patterns.
  • Sport makes a girl realise the value of teamwork and the ability to achieve outcomes that are impossible individually.  A sports programme provides a pathway for a girl to learn and practise her people skills in a structured environment, with role models and mentors including her peers and her coach.

Sport highlights the strength of women, physically and mentally. Furthermore, through sport, girls can gain access to positive male role models who display healthy uses of power that do not degrade, criticise, abuse or violate the rights of others. 


[1] Brady, Martha (2007). Levelling the playing field: Building girls’ sports programs in the developing world. Promoting Healthy, Safe, and Productive Transitions to Adulthood Brief no. 1. New York: Population Council. http://www.popcouncil.org/uploads/pdfs/TABriefs/01_GirlsSports.pdf

[2] Lehman, S. J, & Koerner, S. S. (2004). Adolescent women’s sports involvement and sexual behavior/health: A process-level investigation. Journal of Youth and Adolescence 33 (5), 443-455.

[3] Women’s Sport Foundation Report (2009): Her Life Depends on It: Sport, Physical Activity, and the Health and Well-being of America Girls and Women.