Landing a blow to show This Girl Can at The Perse School
Week-long event offers different sporting challenges
Be it learning a combination of punches or gliding through a dance routine, the value of sport should never be underestimated.
Accessibility and inclusivity are key however, and that is particularly so when encouraging girls to try their hand when the more traditional sports may not be to their liking.
It is easy to look at what is not being provided and dwell on the negatives, but there is the argument that accentuating the positives should be the primary focus.
Confidence and fear of judgement are some of the major factors that can withhold girls from trying out different activities, but the This Girl Can national campaign has had a big impact on getting women and girls moving.
And at The Perse School last week that was the objective as a range of different disciplines were put on as opt-in choices during their regular PE sessions.
Walk through the school and you could see the positive role models adorning the walls, with posters of teachers and staff taking part in sport.
The same could be said as you wandered from location to location, with ultimate frisbee out on the hockey courts, boxing in the school gym and dance lessons in the Loft. And there were also opportunities for girls to try rugby, korfball, pop lacrosse (an adapted version of the game), yoga and handball.
It was a break from the norm and a chance to participate in something other than cricket, tennis, hockey and netball, which may not be to everybody’s skill set or taste.
“It was capturing those girls who aren’t major sports players, aren’t big team players, they’re not in our A teams, they’re not in our B team,” said Emma Jones, the Perse’s head of girls’ games.
“They give sport a go, but they haven’t really found their sport or their niche and are girls who maybe lack confidence. That is why we have put this on.
“We’ve tried completely different activities. Things like boxing, like korfball, rugby, they’ve never done those before, so even if you’ve got the most sporty child choosing that option, they are on a level playing field with somebody who isn’t that sporty.
“Certainly in korfball, it was a really magical moment to see one of the girls who hates sport and walks around school lacking confidence, take part in the game and then just blossom.
“It was amazing to see, and my director of sport and I both said, ‘that’s why we’re doing it’ because she was loving it and she was good at it.
“I don’t think she quite believed in herself until she came out of that session, and she was smiling.”
The traditional stereotype has always been that as girls get into their teenage years they become more academically focused than boys, who still centre their attentions on sport.
But this is becoming less so and more girls are combining their academia with their sporting intentions.
Any doubts whether that is the case can probably look at the example shown by The Perse, whose under-18 hockey squad – many of whom were doing their A-levels – qualified for the 2017 Investec National Schools Championships for Girls finals this March.
“The girls are very sporty here, we’re very lucky,” said Jones. “Although it’s a very academic school, we’re really lucky with how sporty the girls are.
“And actually, the girls have gone from strength to strength, certainly within our cricketing programme – they’re contesting now and doing really, really well.
“I would say here that perception [of girls focusing mainly on academia at the cost of sport] has been managed quite carefully and we’re making sure that isn’t the case.
“But overall, it’s really outdated stereotypes and we’ve tried to smash that a little bit this week.
“We are very lucky as the majority of the girls love their sport, but it was those ones that haven’t quite found their niche that I wanted to cater for this week, and I feel like we’ve got there with them.”
The This Girl Can campaign was launched in January 2015, and it has had a significant impact on women and girls taking part in sport.
And at The Perse, with the infectious nature of teachers such as Matthew Hawkesworth, who led the dancing, and Helen Large, who was instructing the boxing, it is easy to see why girls can be given the confidence to try something new and enjoy it.
“It’s massive,” said Jones of the This Girl Can campaign. “We showed the video to the girls last week and you could really see them thinking ‘this is brilliant’.
“What’s really worrying for me as a teacher and for teachers in the school is that there’s such negative pressure on social media on girls at the moment, and there’s a pressure to be a certain way.
“And actually showing an empowering video like that, where you’ve got women who are not stick thin models but they love their sport and they will jump in the swimming pool, they will run hard and they will just go for it.
“They are not athletes but they will just give it a go and they are proud of that and that’s what we wanted to instil as well.”
But the priority has to be on focusing on the positives being achieved by women and girls in sport and not dwelling on the negatives.
The school promotes the achievements of the likes of student Tess Howard, who scored her first goal for England under-21s hockey last week, as a positive role model for younger pupils.
Jones pointed to the successes of the national cricket and hockey teams as other good examples.
“Let’s not focus on the gap, let’s focus on what we are doing and what we are good at,” said Jones.
“The women’s cricket is incredible, the hockey as well, and I hope the legacy that those teams have set isn’t lost in the negative stuff that is being highlighted.”
She added: “I hope we don’t lose sight of all the brilliant things that women have achieved and we need to celebrate that more.
“We try to get role models into school. We had Kate Richardson-Walsh [Team GB’s Olympic gold medal-winning hockey captain] in a couple of months ago and the girls loved that.
“Even if they’re not hockey players, to have somebody with a gold medal, they loved it, and we just need to keep pushing the positive stuff.”