The Psychology Behind Women In Sport

by | May 6, 2020

“Sport is a reflection of the society that created it, illustrating deeply rooted cultural norms and expectations. Sport is also a place to break down barriers and build new bridges. It’s one of the things that as humans we can be proud of.”

change is always possible

The Women In Sport movement is working towards a different future, where women can be sweaty, strong and supported. When it comes to female athletes, we need to think beyond hydration and sore muscles. We need to consider broader issues such as menstrual health, motherhood and the transition in and out of sport. We need to create more entry points, so women of all abilities are welcomed and supported to play sport and exercise no matter what the intensity. The movement is as invested in getting professional status for our national womens’ teams, as it is to support new mothers enjoying a park run, and everything else in between.

The Women In Sport movement goes beyond the track, pitch or pool. The concept goes deeper than TV rights and match day hype. The Women In Sport movement is a stance taken by men and women against the status quo. It is an understanding that life isn’t always fair but change is always possible. We need to work to remove obstacles and barriers for the next generation, so they do not face the same discrimination and assumptions as previous generations did.

Cultural norms & expectations

It all starts with gender roles, which are as ancient as humanity itself. Men went hunting and women, well women often made the rest happen.

It was survival. Yet, over time it has manifested into so much more, regardless of the fact that today most women go ‘hunting’ to provide for the family. Today a lot of gender roles are outdated, damaging and even dangerous, negatively impacting the physical and psychological health of both men and women. Gender roles can manifest as “man up” culture, toxic masculinity and a lack of opportunity for men to discuss mental health issues. It can reveal itself in less sporting opportunities, poor understanding of women’s health and a glass ceiling in the workplace for women. It is an imbalance that is hurting us all. In essence we need to allow movement within our gender roles and avoid stereotyping.

Sport is a reflection of the society that created it, illustrating deeply rooted cultural norms and expectations. Sport is also unique in its ability to create a place to break down barriers and build new relationships. It’s one of the things that as humans we can be proud of. It’s one of the best ways to form connections and develop a sense of belonging. It can be an avenue to develop and bring out the best versions of ourselves. Sport by nature encourages self-development, a reaching for the impossible and a dream to make it all possible. When one person broke the 4-minute mile, hundreds more followed suit. When one woman ran a marathon, millions more took up the challenge.

social ideals of femininity

But change is difficult. It can be uncomfortable and unpleasant. We may see things in ourselves and in our culture which we would rather avoid. Without change, however, we would not be where we are today. Our change needs to continue to address the social pressure placed on women to conform to social ideals of femininity. We need to support the next generation of young women to be themselves and to allow them the opportunity to express who they are. How many more women would be involved with sport if they never had to worry about what they look like? How many more if they were used to seeing strong women sweating and training hard? What if they felt like they could go out and play without being judged, rated or criticised based on how they look? How many more would feel at home in sport? These are hard questions to ask yourself, but necessary to understand the discrepancy we see between genders in sport.

Sports, whether intentional or not, were designed by men, mainly for men. Practical issues such as managing the menstrual cycle and having proper sport bras are often overlooked by those in positions of influence and power. It is these issues, combined with a lack of support, that discourages many women from sport. Social interactions shape our experiences and impact our subsequent behaviour, influencing things like how we cope with adversity or how we meet the demands of a challenging situation. So, if young girls are encouraged and supported to engage with sport, chances are they will continue to grow and develop within the world of sport and physical activity. These skills can then be used in all other aspects of life and are known to improve confidence and levels of contentment.

However, the opposite is also true. If we continue to do nothing, we will lose another generation of women who feel like sport and physical activity is not for them. Today, sport is still largely dominated by men, in terms of leadership roles, coaches, decision-making bodies and professional contracts. This is an observation that is not intended to undermine the countless hours of voluntary work contributed by these individuals. This sporting community has set up some wonderful sporting institutions which have a great impact, but there is still a sizable imbalance. The problem begins in that these leaders often cannot see or understand the challenges and barriers which exist among those who feel like outsiders.

Sport is for everyone

Sport is for everyone. Sport is not some private club set up for the elite and the privileged. It is there to be enjoyed by all members in society, men, women, trans, non-binary, children, those with physical or mental difficulties, immigrants, emigrants, white, black, brown, mixed, young, old, you name it there is a place in sport for you. This is the essence of what the Women In Sport movement is really about. We still have a way to go, but there is fantastic work being done already up and down the country; the national women in sport policy, the 20×20 media campaign, and the FitrWoman project. Not to mention the great work being done by our own international athletes speaking out about this, before Katie Taylor there was little to no professional boxing for women, before our national women’s hockey team, we had no silver world champion medal, male or female. Real change is already happening.

The Women in Sport movement is gaining momentum and is only getting stronger. The wonderful thing about this movement is that it benefits everyone. The more it grows, the more people that will benefit. This social movement will have lasting positive impact and I encourage everyone to support when you can and continue encouraging the next generation to go higher, faster, stronger.

Are you a fan of Your Health Psychology articles? We want to support as many people as we can – by liking and sharing you are helping us reach more people. Míle buíochas!


Gender roles

The woman who disguised as a man

The national women in sport policy

The 20×20 media campaign

The FitrWoman project 

let’s talk


 @ Your Health Psychology, 2020 

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This