When you picture what the average Guide meeting looks like, you probably don’t picture rugby. But hundreds of girls all over Scotland are getting the chance to play the game, many for the first time, thanks to a partnership between Scottish Rugby and Girlguiding Scotland.
I was one of around 70 Girlguiding Scotland volunteers who jumped at the chance to take part in Tartan Touch. A fun, non-contact version of rugby, Tartan Touch helps newcomers of all abilities get into rugby. Having grown up in a sporting family, I’ve always had a passion for leading an active lifestyle. From a young age, I took part in team sports, taking a keen personal interest in basketball and hockey. I continued playing basketball during my four years at university and this was such a big part of my educational experience. It was through sport that I met some of my best friends, attended social events and even honed my accounting skills thanks to my role as club treasurer.
The benefits of taking part in sport and exercise are clear – from boosting physical health to relieving stress. I enjoy the challenge of a gym session after a stressful day at work or catching up with friends during a long walk. The feel-good factor of exercising is something everyone should experience.
But our research suggests too many girls are still missing out on the benefits of sport.
So why isn’t sport an equal playing field? Girguiding’s most recent Girls’ Attitudes Survey explores some of the barriers girls face. Our research found gender stereotypes start affecting girls’ everyday lives from as young as 7. More than half of girls age 7-21 said stereotypes affected what sport and exercise they do. Over a quarter of girls surveyed said PE is more for boys and 42 per cent of girls age 7-10 said boys are “better at being strong”.
As girls get older, the barriers to sport and exercise appear to increase. Among girls aged 11-21, 43 per cent said fear of being judged on their appearance put them off taking part in sport and exercise. A further 30 per cent worried they weren’t good enough at it. And 24 per cent said harassment by boys and men put them off.
These figures shocked me. They also motivated me to explore how I can bring sport and confidence-building activities into our weekly Guide meetings.
Attending my first Tartan Touch training was exciting, as rugby isn’t something I’d ever played. The training included a discussion on our perceptions and knowledge of rugby, a brief introduction to the rules, and then some passing drills.
The girls in my unit were curious when I told them I was going to learn rugby, and the following week we had the chance to try out Tartan Touch for the first time. We kick off with some passing drills and warm-up games to help the girls get to grips with the game.
We’ve now run our second Tartan Touch session and it was inspiring to see how the girls’ confidence had grown. Even in such a short time I could see their teamwork skills strengthen as they discussed tactics and discovered their abilities. The girls all agreed they enjoyed being outdoors and learning a new sport.
Tartan Touch is a great initiative in that it’s easy to learn and inclusive of all abilities. I’ve loved seeing how playing brings out the girls’ competitiveness and builds their confidence and skills. I hope Tartan Touch will inspire girls to keep playing, for their school, local team, maybe even for Scotland!
One thing is for sure – when we make sport a safe and welcoming environment for girls, amazing things can happen.
Our research showed not just the barriers, but also the benefits of sport. Around two in three girls said sport helped them be healthy. And 40 per cent said it made them feel confident while a third said it made them feel strong.
So let’s ensure every girl has the chance to join in the fun. Let’s tackle gender stereotypes, promote body confidence, and call out harassment. Most of all, let’s send a message to girls and young women, loud and clear, that sport is a space for them.
Kimberley Chatt, Girlguiding Scotland volunteer and Guide leader