Although there are many positive ways to provide economic incentives for girls to participate in sport programmes, there are also negative and harmful practices that could create a culture or atmosphere where girls only come if they are given money to come. Try not to hand out money just for simple participation. Girls should be there because they love sport and want to exercise. Making it easier for them and their family financially so they can participate is important, but simply providing money for showing up sends the wrong messages to the girls. Also, staff must be careful when finding employment for the girls in the sport programme, considering carefully how and what girls do so as not to reinforce or promote child labour or exploitation of participants.

There are countless strategies for motivating a girl to participate in a sport programme. The effectiveness of incentives varies based upon age, sport, geographic region and the individual. Programme directors and coaches often want to give girls every possible incentive to play. However, with limited resources, most programme directors have to make difficult choices about which incentives will yield the greatest results relative to cost, or how deeply invested to get in any one form of motivation. For example, a programme director might have enough money in the project’s budget to provide uniforms for 25 girls, but not have enough money to provide transportation to competitions.

Tips for Motivating Participation:

  • Recognise and reward. Publicly honour girls based on leadership, performance and initiative. Recognition can be a physical award, such as a certificate or trophy; a privilege; or simply verbal recognition in front of the group by a coach or leader. Recognition can happen randomly or in the form of a regularly scheduled event, such as an annual awards banquet. Women Win programme partners suggest inviting local businesses to donate awards or prizes, such as t-shirts or bags. It is important to be open and explicit about how other girls can attain such an honour, so they have clear and tangible goals.
  • Keep it fresh. A primary motivator for playing sport is simply having fun. Many of the girls targeted by sport programmes live serious lives, having experienced serious trauma. Girls around the world are weighed down with daily responsibilities that require them to behave beyond their years. The practice of simply learning to play with peers can be incredibly healing and liberating. When coaches and programme designers put the emphasis on fun, girls respond. Fun can be maintained by introducing new training exercises, games and music into training sessions, and by keeping the pace of sessions fast, light and exciting.
  • Give girls leadership roles. Giving girls leadership roles in daily sessions, at events or within the organisation, encourages girls to set goals and work hard to reach them. There is no better way to teach girls how to lead than to actually let them do it and learn by experience. Several programmes reported providing rewards based on leadership schemes. When a girl meets certain leadership criteria, such as excellent attendance, she is given a reward. Be sure to make leadership opportunities available to ALL girls, including those with disabilities.
  • Provide economic incentives. Giving girls a chance to earn and manage money are skills that will serve them beyond the playing field. A girl that is financially independent is an asset to her family and becomes less reliant upon others to meet her needs. Furthermore, when a girl earns money, perceptions of her ability and self-worth shift. Some programmes have had success in retaining girls by offering them a chance to earn money within the programme. For example, girls can get paid small sums for cleaning, officiating or coaching. Others have used small sums of money as part of the leadership scheme mentioned above. If the intention is for girls to use money for school fees, programme directors can give the girls’ earnings directly to the school. It also can be tremendously valuable to teach girls about saving, protecting and managing money once they are earning it. Conversely, if a girl is not earning money at a sport programme, it is possible that her caregivers will see the participation as a waste of time, when compared to home duties or paid work elsewhere. If your sport programme cannot provide income to girls, provide encouragement and support for them to earn income in another job. Introduce them to vocational training and non-formal education opportunities, and schedule practices during times when girls do not have to work. Also, be flexible if a girl has to miss a training session or a game for work.
  • Offer non-economic incentives for participation. Non-economic incentives could include small prizes, clothing or equipment. Some programmes provide a “membership card” that is stamped each time a participant attends a practice or a programme activity. A chart posted on the wall tracks attendance, and then the programme can award prizes for different levels of participation. Prizes such as hair elastics or pencils would require fewer participation stamps, and cleats or tennis racquets could be earned for more. In this way, girls have clear incentives for participation, and equipment is earned rather then given.
  • Make it meaningful. Girls need to consciously see the value of a sport programme prior to making a commitment. For some, this can be simply about having fun and feeling carefree while at practice. For others, it is in making new friends, learning new skills, building physical strength or feeling a heightened sense of possibility. As programme leaders, it is important to evaluate what is individually meaningful for each participant and try to support her development through your programme.
  • As a coach, be responsive to the girls in your programme. Ask their opinion on what will help them to the most to meet their needs inside and outside the sport programme.