Quality of Sport

There are multiple ways that organisations can design sport programmes for girls, each with different outcomes or experiences for participants. Some organisations choose to offer unstructured or non-competitive programmes to girls in the community, whereas others choose to formalise their sport programmes and offer girls an opportunity to gain skills and play in a competitive environment. Both types of programmes have benefits, and it is up to organisations to understand the needs of the girls in their community as well as the resources currently available to them. Some organisations choose to include both types of approaches in their programme design, offering all participants a non-competitive environment that introduces them to sport as well as a competitive environment that allows those girls who are interested the opportunity to excel.

It is important to keep in mind that although non-competitive or unstructured sport programmes do have benefits and attractive characteristics, the quality of sport offered to girls (for example, the quality of training they receive as well the opportunity to build skills, set goals, and excel in something) is important for the development of leadership as well as life skills specific to adolescent girls. Formalising your sport programme can provide a host of additional benefits that a non-competitive or unstructured programme can’t. Competition and access to high-quality sport exposes girls to opportunities that they often lack in other parts of their lives, such as learning to handle pressure, set goals, and engage in healthy competition.

Ethically and practically, programmes that serve girls most effectively are those that emphasise girls’ wellness over winning. Sport is inherently a competitive space. Girls can benefit greatly from learning how to compete, how to win, and how to lose with poise. However, if a programme’s aim is to help strengthen girls off the field, growth and development of the adolescent girl must always be considered to be more important than winning or losing.


Typical Unstructured or Non-Competitive Programme


  • Sports “Buffet”
  • Flexible scheduling, irregular or infrequent training
  • Events-based activities
  • Play-based programme
  • Low-level instruction of games
  • Unsupervised or led by untrained coaches


  • Familiarise girls with physical activity and play
  • Non-threatening environment
  • Generate interest
  • Few resources needed (equipment, coaches, fields)
  • Low/no pushback from parents or community, does not challenge gender stereotypes


Formalized Sport Programme


  • Skill-based development emphasized
  • Consistent and frequent sport training
  • Trained, qualified coaches
  • Single sport focus in single site
  • Structured teams
  • Competition encouraged
  • Participation in leagues, tournaments, and outside events


  • Progressive skill development and mastery are critical for girls’ confidence
  • Enhanced pride and commitment
  • Deeper health benefits (physical and mental)
  • Optimal for teaching the transferrable life lessons of sport: discipline, teamwork, successful failures, time management
  • More as well as deeper leadership practice; gives different girls a chance to shine/excel
  • Pathways to sport employment
  • Goal setting and achievement is FUN!


Tips: Formalising a Sport Programme

  • Design program with sport specialist.
  • Hire a few qualified, trained coaches 
  • Create training pathways for girls with interest/talent in sport (coaching, refereeing) and provide regular opportunities for development
  • Provide national / international certification opportunities
  • Choose a single sport at a single site
  • Consider proper nutrition for girls
  • Partner with existing sport structures: federations, physical education colleges, other sport for development NGOs
  • Invest in equipment, facilities, and apparel
  • Build a gender-friendly sport culture (at all levels): communications, human resources
  • Invite elite/successful female athletes and coaches to visit as guests
  • Encourage coaches/trainers to challenge girls and celebrate accomplishments
  • Use sport quality as (one of many) indicators of success of programme
  • Support girls’ opportunities for sport employment outside of programme

Competitions, Tournaments And Events

In regular training sessions, girls hone technical skills, confidence, and the ability to work within a team. It can be empowering for girls to test those skills through...