Choosing The Right Sport


In India, the Naz Foundation chose netball specifically because it was considered a girls’ sport and was not a traditional male sport. Rather than trying to force their way into a traditionally male world like cricket or football, the organisation felt the best for their girls in their programme would be to focus on a sport that wasn’t culturally masculine. Eventually, boys started asking the girls if they could teach them to play netball.

The success of your programme will depend, in part, on what sport or physical activity you select. Encourage girls to focus on a single sport. Often girls are given basic introductions to many sports, but never given the opportunity to invest time and energy in developing and improving skills. Consistent participation in a single sport over time is critical to a girl’s sense of accomplishment and growth on and off the playing field.

Accessing Resources:

  • Conduct a thorough assessment of the resources you need to begin a sport programme. Resources include space (indoors/outdoors), equipment, girls’ practice and game attire (uniforms), transportation and coaches.
  • When choosing your sport, be realistic about what tools you have at your disposal or are able to acquire.

Choosing Between an Individual or Team Sport:

  • Team sport participation encourages cooperation and communication and gives girls a social context or group in which to place themselves. According to several programme partners, girls participating in individual sport learn personal responsibility for outcomes, feel unique and able to fully control personal progress. Regardless of whether you choose an individual sport, such as running, or a team sport, such as netball, it is ideal to combine the positive aspects of both experiences.
  • If you are running a team programme, meet with each participant one-on-one, giving each girl time for individual reflection, and hold each girl accountable in front of the team.
  • When teaching individual sport, create group cohesion through gatherings and collective results so girls feel like they are part of something greater than themselves. Some programmes have reported success introducing a mix of team and individual sport. 

Identifying What Girls Are Interested In:

  • Choose a sport programme the girls in your community are excited about. If logistically possible, ask girls what sport they want to play. This is the single most important aspect to sport choice. If you choose a sport that girls are not motivated to play, you will face a daily challenge of participation. Share economically and culturally sustainable options to guide participants, then allow the girls to make the choice.

Challenging Stereotypes:

  • Stereotypes around economics, gender and race exist around every sport, in every culture. Choosing a sport that challenges a stereotype can be a very positive experience for girls and their community. Teaching a girl from the slums to play basketball, a sport reserved for wealthy people in Kenya, shows her that anything is within her reach.
  • When girls play a traditionally male-dominated sport, girls and the boys around them experience a transformation in their personal and societal expectations.
  • When community members see girls competing in a sport typically dominated by males, they begin to expand their understanding of girls’ capabilities, opening up opportunities for girls to engage in traditional male domains, such as school and work.
  • Organizers must be aware of the potential backlash to choosing a sport that challenges stereotypes. Negative responses could include boys challenging girls outside of the programme and caregivers barring girls from participation. Organizers need to be aware of the impact the challenge could have on the girls’ lives, assessing if the sport benefits or harms individuals and the collective group. Once you have identified these factors, assess what is ultimately best for the growth of participants. Leaders must balance the comfort and safety of each girl with potential societal change.  

Can Your Sport Programme Also Teach Self-defence And Build Physical Strength in Girls?

Strength differences between men and women put girls at risk for being physically compromised, beaten or raped. Although most sport builds muscle, sport that build speed, confidence and strength can be effective tools for the empowerment of women.1 Programme leaders of organisations that teach girls boxing and martial arts, such as karate and weightlifting, attest to benefits of teaching girls about personal strength and self-defence. Furthermore, if a girl has experienced abuse or bodily trauma, self-defence training can be a powerful way to regain control over her body.

Go to the Quality of Sport section of this guide for more information on why quality of sport is important for developing the leadership of adolescent girls. 


1. GBV Prevention Network. (2008). Our Strength is the Solution: Communities Can Prevent Sexual Violence. Quick Chats for 16 Days   of Activism. Page 3.