Research shows many Irish girls quit sport aged between 13 and 15

Research Shows Many Irish Girls Quit Sport Aged Between 13 And 15
Sport Ireland today released the Adolescent Girls Get Active Research Report.
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James Cox

By the age of 13-15 many girls have labelled themselves “not sporty” and are living by this label, with few attempts to counter it, according to new research from Sport Ireland.

Sport Ireland today released the Adolescent Girls Get Active Research Report, which was undertaken to discover how to encourage teenage girls, particularly those currently disengaged with sport and exercise, to take part in regular physical activity.


The research, commissioned by Sport Ireland, and funded through the Dormant Accounts Fund, was undertaken by Women in Sport UK.

The project focused on teenage girls in Ireland with the aim of identifying their attitudes, needs and desires in relation to sport and physical activity; identify their experienced challenges and barriers to accessing sport and physical activity and ultimately develop informed communication strategies to encourage increased participation.

The qualitative research, conducted online between August and October 2020, involved a deep exploration the lives, behaviours and attitudes to sport, of teenage girls’ aged 13-18 in both rural and urban areas.

Despite the physical contrasts in rural and urban living, the research found that the underlying wants and needs of teenage girls are often similar. They feel there is a lack of social space for teens where they feel welcomed, wanted and included. They feel there are limited opportunities to try new things, learn new skills and ultimately feel good about themselves.


By exploring their lives and really trying to understand the desires and attitudes of teenage girls, the researchers have been able to establish five key anchors that really matter to teenage girls.

Sport Ireland today released the Adolescent Girls Get Active Research Report.

Unsurprisingly, friends and friendships are central to a girl’s support network and they strongly prioritise time with friends above all else.

Independence and opportunity, social connection, moments of pride and keeping on top of it all and managing the many teenage pressures are all other aspects that matter to teenage girls.


The Adolescent Girls Get Active Research identifies the opportunity for sport and exercise to fill a void in girls’ lives but highlights that an understanding of the anchors, as well as the barriers to participation is essential to make sport and physical activity relevant and meaningful to young girls.

Capability and the feeling of not being “good enough” is the most powerful barrier that prevents inactive girls from taking part in sport.

The research shows that teenage girls in Ireland have a narrow, and often negative experience of a small number of traditional (and dominant) team sports in Ireland, and think this is all that sport is and can be.

Girls associate ‘sportiness’ with team and contact sports, so girls who are interested in exercise do not feel targeted with sporting initiatives.


Building on the insights and anchors and the knowledge of the barriers, the research established 8 Principles for Success to engage and connect with teenage girls and to support them to embrace sport and physical activity into their lives:

  1. No judgement.
  2. Invoke Excitement.
  3. Clear emotional reward.
  4. Open eyes to what is there.
  5. Build on existing habits.
  6. Give girls a voice and choice.
  7. Champion what’s in it for them.
  8. Expand image of what ‘sporty’ looks like.

Sports organisations can use these eight principles for success to check and challenge existing programmes to enhance appeal and relevance for the target audience.

They can also be used to innovate and develop completely new initiatives through a teenage girl lens.

Sport Ireland today released the Adolescent Girls Get Active Research Report,.

Minister for Sport Catherine Martin said: “To see the motivations and attitudes of this group of young girls so clearly outlined is insightful. For the first time we have a true understanding of what is causing teenage girls in Ireland to drop out of sport, or what is preventing them from getting involved in the first place.

“Sport and physical activity can be a powerful force in a person’s life and we are now armed with the knowledge to reframe sport for teenage girls and to make it a positive and powerful force in their lives. My vision for women in sport is that of one where women have an equal opportunity to achieve their full potential, while enjoying a lifelong involvement in sport.”

Sport Ireland Women in Sport lead Nora Stapleton said: “There are many organisations, researchers and others who are working in this space to try and develop interventions to encourage teenage girls to be more active, or to simply stem the dropout rate from sport. I hope that this document can support the work that they are doing."

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