Puberty is a bit of a rough patch for most people (hi, awkward stage). But a new survey by Always found that it has a scary effect on after-school activities. By the time girls finish puberty and hit age 17, half of them have swapped basketballs for bras, and stopped playing sports altogether.
Um...why? It's not like periods and playing sports are mutually exclusive. Growing boobs doesn't magically make you terrible at throwing a softball, and bleeding once a month doesn't make you any less adept at lifting weights. The real reason teenage girls are quitting sports doesn't have anything to do with physical ability, but everything to do with perception. Seven in 10 girls feel that they don't belong in sports, and 67 percent feel that society doesn't encourage them to play sports, according to the most recent Always Confidence & Puberty Survey.
Just think of all the male professional (and non-professional!) teams that get attention, and all the female sports teams whose praise and pay pale in comparison to those of their male counterparts. (That's why the U.S. women's soccer team spoke out about unequal pay after winning the world cup in 2015.) Think of all the things society says girls shouldn't do or be—muscular, bulky, rough, aggressive, etc.—that are often associated with being an athlete. (BTW, we think all those things are awesome—just check out our #LoveMyShape campaign.)
The importance of keeping young girls in sports—and showing them that women have a place among male athletes—goes beyond retention rates in high school sports teams. If you were involved in sports growing up, you know how central it can be to your growth as a person; a 2015 US consumer data study found that women ages 18 to 24 are twice as likely to be confident if they play sports regularly than those who do not play at all, according to Always.
That's why Always started their #LikeAGirl campaign—to encourage girls to keep playing sports, despite what anyone says about what girls should or shouldn't do.
"It's an opportunity to give girls a new vision, change the dialogue and show them that yes, girls absolutely belong in sports," says Dr. Jen Welter, the first female coach in the NFL and an ambassador of Always' #LikeAGirl campaign.
"Playing sports taught me so many life lessons both on the field and in life. Just by playing sports, you learn so much about what hard work can do for you as a person. You learn to take ownership of "what you put in, is what you get out," she says. "To see your accomplishments in a physical way is a great way to build confidence. And it's not about the competitive nature, it's about how girls can see themselves as being great through participation."
And this goes far beyond 15-year-olds who feel like they need to quit lacrosse to be "girly enough." Adult women, too, can take inspiration from this campaign to conquer male-dominated professional industries, sports, and fitness feats, #LikeAGirl. Because in our world, "like a girl" basically translates to "like a freaking boss." (Read how one woman embraced her strong, curvy body when she became a female police officer.)
But ideally, individuals' worth both on and off the field won't be defined by gender, but by ability.
From someone who went through it first-hand: "The number one message I got when I was going into the NFL was be 100% authentic," says Welter. "It's not about who else is in the industry, it's what you bring into it. If it's us vs. them, everyone loses. The goal is to be good in-and-of yourself, and bring a slightly different voice to the conversation."