The following is a list of basic needs for a successful sport programme. Each need is discussed in terms of “the minimum” and “the ideal”. If a programme cannot ensure that each girl is receiving the minimum recommended accommodations, the programme needs to reconsider its design so it is not a threat to a participant’s well-being.
1. Clean Water and Food
Athletic participation demands that participants are properly nourished and hydrated to reach their full potential. A girl without enough calories in her system is less likely to physically perform and focus than a girl who has her nutritional needs met. In economically disadvantaged communities, girls might not be getting their dietary needs met at home; therefore provision of food and water at an athletic programme is absolutely necessary. Most programmes offer some sort of provision here, whether it is a small snack or a full meal, offered to participants before or after competition. The higher the level of competition and energy output, the more important it is to provide food. It is not advisable to give girls fast food or drinks that are high in sugar and caffeine. In economically disadvantaged situations, consider inviting parents to cook for the athletes and offer a small payment for their effort.
One of the girl participants at Sadili Oval, in Nairobi, Kenya, fainted one Monday morning when she arrived to train. Until that incident, no one knew that she was living on her own. She was not able to eat on weekends, as her only sources of food were school and what she ate at Sadili Oval. This girl literally could not participate safely without being given nutritious food.
Provide clean drinking water and make sure that girls have enough calories in their systems for physical exertion. If girls are malnourished or dehydrated, they should not be playing sport without being given food or water, as it can further jeopardize their health. Educate girls on the importance of drinking water and eating healthy foods when participating in sport.
Provide all girls with nutritious snacks, juices and clean drinking water at training sessions and events.
2. Athletic Clothing
If a girl does not have comfortable and sport-appropriate clothing, she will not be able to fully participate in a sport programme. If she is expected to run, she needs running shoes. If she is playing field hockey, she needs shin guards. Many girls who stand to benefit the most from sport programmes have no athletic clothing at all and will need the programme to provide all parts of the uniform. Beyond function and performance, uniforms often give girls a sense of pride and belonging. Several programme partners have been able to secure donations for athletic wear. When resources are scarce, programme leaders must improvise. For example, girls can share uniforms if they aren’t playing at the same time. If there is not enough money for full uniforms, girls can wear practice jerseys over their blouses.
Once girls reach puberty, undergarments become of utmost importance for sport participation. A supportive sport bra is critical for girls participating in running sport. Without one, girls may experience pain from bouncing breasts and are less likely to want to run. Underwear is equally important, as it enables girls to use sanitary pads or other materials to manage their menstruation. Any sport programme aimed at serving adolescent girls effectively must address the issue of ensuring all girls have both a bra and underwear.
Ensure girls have functional and culturally appropriate clothing and are not in danger of injury or social ostracism for participating in the clothing they have available.
Provide sport-specific uniforms, footwear and underwear for all participants.
3. Safe Space to Change Clothes
Girls typically need to change out of street clothes and into athletic wear prior to playing sport. Providing safe, private spaces in which to change is vital for participation. In the absence of such spaces, girls will either opt not to change their clothes, thus playing in inappropriate attire or, if they wear their athletic clothes outside of the sport programme, can be put at risk of assault or social ostracisation for breaking social codes related to gender-appropriate dress. When considering dressing rooms, programme directors should ensure space that is free from visual or physical intrusion from boys and men. Girls can use a co-ed or boys’ changing room, but coaches must make sure boys are prohibited from entering when girls are occupying the space.
Some girls, despite having a safe space to change and access to proper training kits, might not feel comfortable changing clothing to play sport. If the goal is to get girls to participate, it’s best not to force that girl to change. Let her play. However, it can be helpful to talk with her about the benefits of wearing comfortable shoes and clothing, and explore her reasons for not wanting to change.
Access to a toilet and a place to change that is lockable and off-limits to males during the time the girls are using it. If you work with girls with disabilities in need of wheelchair access, measure the widths of the doors and the widest wheelchair of the girls. Discuss with the girls how to make the toilet accessible to them.
A separate girls-only facility for changing and cleaning up near competition space.
Getting to and from training sessions can be a costly and dangerous predicament for girls. If participants do not have a safe, affordable and reliable method of transportation, the longevity and consistency of a girl’s participation will be affected. Some programmes organize girls in groups so they can walk home together safely through dangerous neighbourhoods. Other organisations give girls fare for minibuses or hire buses outright for the girls’ transportation to and from events. When considering transportation, be sure to create safe, low-cost provisions for regular training sessions as well as games, tournaments and events. Programme directors might want to consider asking caregivers to sign a permission form, indicating that they understand that their girls are riding in a bus or car and releasing the sport program from responsibility in case of an accident.
Ensure that girls can travel, by foot or vehicle, to and from training safely and affordably.
Alleviate cost and safety concerns by running a programme near girls’ homes or at a school that girls already attend and do not need to travel to. When this is not possible, provide necessary transportation.
There exists an incredibly potent social stigma around a woman’s menstrual blood. Girls are unlikely to attend a sport programme if they fear the possibility of bleeding in front of others. This can be a major barrier to initial and ongoing participation for girls without the means or education to manage menstruation. For example, studies show that once girls begin to menstruate, they are more likely to drop out of school.1 The same may occur in sport. Educating girls about her menstrual cycle can be a major incentive for participation. A sport programme can also consider providing menstruation supplies that participants are unable to find elsewhere in their lives. It can be very helpful to have a health provider come and talk to participants about why they menstruate, what it entails and how to continue participation in all aspects of life while menstruating.
At Moving the Goalposts (Kenya), coaches often bring sanitary pads to the fields. Girls can purchase them at cost.
Provide education about hygienic menstrual management and bathroom facilities for girls near athletic spaces.
Provide girls with education, bathroom facilities and sanitary pads.
6. Reputation and Effectiveness of Programme
Strong sport programmes that provide women role models, safe spaces and growth opportunities will continue to grow without endless recruiting efforts. If a girl is meeting her own goals, is having fun and feeling inspired by her time within the programme, she will do everything in her power to continue participating. She is also more likely to recruit other friends to join a programme that is meeting her needs.
The duration of participation is a key factor in determining how beneficial a sport programme will be for a girl. Every girl is different, but, generally speaking, the longer a girl participates, the more opportunity she has for growth. Several programme partners agree that girls need to be involved for no less than one year to enjoy the benefits of participation.
Try to keep girls in the sport programme for at least an entire year.
Run programmes so that girls are exposed to sport and life skills for more than four years, allowing them to grow and learn in a safe environment at a critical time in their adolescence.
7. Home Duties
One of the most common reasons girls leave sport programmes is because it conflicts with family responsibilities or values. Families are the fabric of many societies and their influence is powerful. Girls are often expected to care for siblings and elders, cook, clean and contribute to the family’s income. When conflicts between sport programmes and those duties arise, it’s very difficult for a girl to choose herself over her commitment to her family. Additionally, family disagreement over priorities can curtail a girl’s participation in the program.
It is critical that leaders operate programmes to fit within the context of a girl’s family life. This can mean scheduling practices and events around chores and farming schedules, allowing girls to bring siblings to practice, or making sure girls have the energy to help around the house once they leave a practice. It’s equally important to communicate regularly and transparently with caregivers about a girl’s activities and progress, to avoid misjudgements and help caregivers see the positive benefits of sport participation. Programmes will need to make allowances for girls who may have to stop training temporarily so they can re-join the group at a later date.
Be conscious of a girl’s responsibilities at home and to her family, letting her leave training early or skip certain days when they conflict with her family work.
Schedule trainings and games around a girl’s family responsibilities and chores she does at home, allowing girls to be able to attend all activities related to the programme. Also, talk to parents to perhaps give their daughters lighter loads at home when they are training or participating in tournaments or other events.
1. Kirk, J., Sommer, M. (2005), Menstruation and body awareness: linking girls’ health with girls’ education. EQUALS, Beyond Access: Gender, Education and Development, 15, page 6.