‘Girls sports teams at Independent schools on the rise,’ says headmistress

The Telegraph, 24/03/15, the number of girls sports teams in private schools has doubled thanks to top female sporting models and the staging of high-profile events, like the Olympics.

The number of girls sports teams in private schools has doubled after a drive to encourage them to emulate female sports stars to combat body image issues.

Girls at independent schools are now doing more sport than ever before after a high-profile campaign to persuade them that it is not just the preserve of the boys.

They are also embracing more sporty, muscular physiques and shunning unhealthy waif-like bodies, which are now falling out of fashion.

It comes after independent schools invited a string of women's sports stars to coach children and the success of women at the Olympics, Women's World Cup and cricket.

They have also introduced programmes to persuade girls that they can be both athletic and feminine and offered them new conditioning and body training classes.

One school, Cheadle Hulme School, a co-educational private school, has now doubled the number of sports teams for its girls due to increasing demand.

Lucy Pearson, headmistress of Cheadle Hulme School, said girls' hockey and netball have expanded from just A and B teams to C and D.

Ms Pearson said: "There has been a significant increase in the number of girls sports teams with the direction continuing to travel upwards.

"The desire for girls to play sports in last three to five years has grown immeasurably."

Ms Pearson said top female role models have played a key role in encouraging girls to take up a sport but also helped counteract issues around body image.

Ms Pearson said: "Having healthy female role models - who are not skinny but are sweating and working hard - helps challenge the notion of what are icons of beauty. At the same time they can be feminine and be seen as very positive female figures."

Apart from inviting leading female athletes to coach, independent schools have also opened up new programmes aimed at challenging perceptions about the female body.

Her school started a conditioning and body training programme for girls a year ago. "This was traditionally seen as a male area," she said.

Ms Pearson said: "Using weights and dumbbells is seen as a sort of machismo-type activity ... the world has shifted and girls now feel much more comfortable that weight training will not build bulk [but] it will simply strengthen them as athletes.

"Boys will see weightlifting to get big ... and that's the one thing girls don't want. Modern female athletes have shown that actually strength and conditioning training is part of being a strong athlete and you can still be feminine."

Her remarks emerged as the first data on sports in British leading independent schools was published. It showed that independent schools are "leading the way" in keeping today's children fit and healthy with 5.4 hours a week on average played in over 40 sports.

Of the 169 schools, represented by the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference (HMC), 1,400 pupils had played for their country.

The HMC data also showed very high levels of participation of girls in sports like netball and hockey, but boys still dominated in the traditional sports of cricket, football and rugby.

Ms Pearson said there are lessons for state schools to be learned from the independent schools experience on pushing sports.

Like independent schools, "state schools need to continue to build on the pride in the girls when representing their school." Ms Pearson also said state schools should hire more professional coaches for one on one sessions to improve the quality of sports training.

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