A recent survey of 4,000 adolescent girls and boys suggests girls are more likely to disengage from sport and exercise in their teens compared to boys. The survey of 11-18 year olds conducted by Women in Sport identified a number of barriers contributing to the drop off, including a lack of confidence, fewer perceived opportunities, periods, body image and feeling unsafe outdoors.

The study alludes to a huge missed opportunity to encourage more girls to stay active after Primary School, especially with girls that say they used to be sporty but have become gradually disengaged.

Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic we have seen an increase in the number of people taking up outdoor activities and spending more time outdoors, yet more needs to be done to empower girls to overcome avoidable barriers that prevent them continuing with sports and exercise.

As Sport England’s National Outdoor Centre, we are aware of the role we have to play in making the outdoors more inclusive, accessible and diverse.

To this end, we recently joined forces with seven other leading outdoor institutions to commission comprehensive research to understand current levels of participation in outdoor activities. The insights informed a plan of action – starting with the group agreeing to a number of commitments designed to improve diversity within the sector, including:

  • Educating ourselves and our workforce – to gain greater insight from the lived experiences of those who are underrepresented
  • Improving the diversity of people – within all levels of our organisations and in the imagery used to promote walking, climbing and camping
  • Developing collaborative relationships – with community groups and individuals who can help us effect change and improve pathways for people to access walking, climbing and camping
  • Holding ourselves accountable – for our actions and setting targets to improve equity, diversity and inclusion

There is a long way to go – as identified in the Women in Sport report – but for our part, we have already started investing more time and resources welcoming diverse groups. We are running a pilot training scheme with the Muslim Scout Fellowship (MSF), which, if successful, will be rolled out on a wider scale. In partnership with Experience Community, we will be delivering residential weekends that will support people with disabilities to get outdoors and participate in activities which allow them to get to places they may have never been able to access before, following a successful first weekend last year. This coming weekend. we’re also hosting #ShePaddles – a specialist canoeing and kayaking event to encourage more women to try paddlesports in partnership with Canoe Wales. While we’re making progress, it’s clear there is a lot more to do – both collectively and as individual organisations. From hiring staff from different backgrounds to creating initiatives and offerings that will help make outdoor learning more welcoming and accessible, so that more people can experience the often life-changing benefits associated with outdoor learning.

* This post first appeared in Horizons Magazine.