Physical Activity Amongst Girls Research Paper

participation and improve interest in physical activity for girls. The paper uses six articles from current sources that show how to make physical education more fun, what kind of activities may be added to a physical education class, and why girls do not participate as often as they should. It focuses on how to improve the overall experience for girls in physical education. The papers also analyses why girls have such a difficult time participating in physical education in the first place. Differing solutions from increasing motor skill level to increased instruction and practice offer possibilities of improvement in overall participation for girls and girls with special needs.

Girls have similarities to boys, this is true in many aspects, but they are also different. While boys are touted for their physical prowess and their fitness level, girls are praised for their beauty and “girlish” behavior. Complex social behavior along with perceived roles and issues with body image all contribute to the way girls view physical activity as it pertains to physical education. After all, girls want to fit in and want to be seen as attractive or popular, or in the very least not stand out in a negative way. The literature review is meant to examine these intricacies and learn ways to get past perceived roles and body image in order to promote participation and fitness.

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Special education is also important to take into account as some girls may have or exhibit certain disabilities. These disabilities may make it difficult for them to participate either physically or socially. That is why it is important to include research that helps all kinds of girls participate fully in physical education. Practice makes perfect, physical activity competence only gets better by being active and increasing participation in physical activities.

Research Question: How can physical education teachers improve interest in physical activity for girls?


Physical education may be for some difficult, boring, repetitive, and something not worth investing time and effort into. It especially rings true for girls who would rather focus on studies or boys or something else or even girls who may have a physical or mental. Teens in the modern era have the convenience of video games, social networking sites, etc. that help them avoid exercise altogether thus making participation in physical education that much more harder disability (Hastie, 2003, p. 72). However there are ways to improve physical education to not only increase participation, but also make it enjoyable so girls who are otherwise inactive or bored can have something positive to do in their lives.

Many things may help make physical education more entertaining and worthwhile. Certain things like team activities, inclusion of sports, even a simple game of tag will get girls moving and work together, promoting bonding, health, and most importantly physical activity. It’s difficult to become adept in sports and exercise. It takes concentration, will power, motivation, and positive self-image. So many girls today face a negative self-image. Negative self-image or negative body image demotivates girls from participating in anything too difficult or time consuming as they often do not have confidence in their abilities. In this literature review, six articles will be used to see why girls do not participate as much as their male counterparts, how to increase participation, and how to make physical education more fun and enjoyable.

Literature Review

In an article by Butt et al. (2011), the authors discuss physical activity (PA) and its progressive decline in teenagers as they age. They also examine the motivational determinants of PA and the need for further research for better understanding. The authors conducted a study in order to “investigate the amount of physical and sedentary activity that adolescents participated in across age, gender, and race, and to investigate adolescents’ attraction to PA and their perceived barriers and benefits across age, gender, and race” (Butt, 2011, pp. 1083). They examined teenagers aged 13-16 and asked the participants to fill out a questionnaire.

Their results revealed what has been identified earlier, teenage females, as they age, participate less and less in physical activity. Their discovery as to why this decrease happened was primarily due to the perception girls have of physical exertion not being fun. In fact boys participated due to enjoying physical exertion. This was not the case for the girls.

Another important reason was body image. Girls didn’t feel comfortable moving in their bodies and having others watch them physically exert themselves. The study further enforced the need for physical education to be fun and also added that physical activities should be tailored to genders in order to have both genders have fun. “Findings underscore the importance of structuring activities differently to sustain interest in male and female adolescents, and highlights motives of having a healthy body image, and making PA fun to enhance participation” (Butt, 2011, pp. 1083).

In a study by Ericsson (2011), the author focuses on examining why children and teens do not actively engage in sport or exercise. Ericsson focused on the inability of these children and teens to establish early coordination and rudimentary motor skills while attending school. Basic motor skills are often an important part of physical activity competence and therefore enjoyment. If one cannot play a sport or perform an exercise properly, that person will be discouraged from participating again. This pertains more for special needs children and teens who might have, for example ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), and cannot focus long enough to learn the sport or exercise.

Humans often participate in something if they feel there is a reward afterward for their activity. The reward fuels motivation. Sometimes the reward is satisfaction for accomplishing their goal. Other times it is the recognition of others for succeeding. All of this adds to the drive for someone to participate or not. If a person has negative experiences with something, like sports or exercises, they will not continue to participate, for fear of injury, or failure.

Ericsson studied effects of an addition of physical activity and motor training, throughout the course of nine years, on marks and motor skills in the school subject PEH. During the course of the study the children aged from 7 to 15 years of age. Additional motor skill training, “according to the MUGI model, was given to students in the intervention group who had motor skills deficits” (Ericsson, 2011, pp. 313). Motor training not only enabled better performance in physical activities, but also decreased the gap between girls and boys in regards to motor skills. Motor training along with increased physical activity provided the children who were deficit with better motor skills and a higher satisfaction rating when performing physical activities.

“After only one year the students in the intervention group had significantly better motor skills (balance and coordination) than students in the control group These differences remained and were also found at follow-up school years 3 and 9” (Ericsson, 2011, pp. 313). The study helps confirm that the connection between motor skill level and participation exists. It acts as sort of chain reaction. If a child has poor motor skills, they will not achieve a high level of satisfaction and competence in physical activity and will therefore decrease participation. If a child has good motor skills, they are more willing to participate in physical activities because they feel more confident and derive more satisfaction from said activities.

The article does a good job of highlighting what might cause decrease in physical education participation. It also shows how to improve said problem by increasing physical activity and improving motor skills. Earlier it was mentioned that girls do not participate in sports and physical activities as much as boys. The previous study said boys derive more enjoyment from physical exertion than do girls. Perhaps this is because boys have better motor skills due to their already higher activity levels.

If girls participate more in physical activities, their motor skills will increase and they will enjoy physical exertion as much as boys do. “Differences in motor skills between boys and girls may decrease with extended physical activity and extra motor training in school. The MUGI program can be useful as a pedagogic model for observing and improving motor skills in school” (Ericsson, 2011, pp. 313). The same can be applied to girls with special needs and children with special needs in general. Although they may require more practice and added attention or instruction, they may perform better and thus participate more if they see improvement in their motor skills and their overall competence in any given physical activity. The adage, “practice makes perfect” applies here.

In an article by Dudley (2011), the author presents a systematic review of published literature on the efficiency of physical education in encouraging involvement in physical activity, satisfaction of physical activity and movement skill adeptness in teenagers. The review used a literature search that yielded twenty-three viable articles highlighting the desired topic of discussion. The results included and demonstrated the environment, range and concentration of intervention approaches reported, and reported conclusions of interventions. As the author states: “The most effective strategies to increase children’s levels of physical activity and improve movement skills in physical education were direct instruction teaching methods and providing teachers with sufficient and ongoing professional development in using these physical education (PE) instruction methods” (Dudley, 2011, pp. 353).

The articles reviewed thus far seem to have things in common. The first one focused on why girls may not want to participate in physical activities. The second sought to determine what may improve participation. The third remarks on direct instruction. All three although different share the common thread of practice. Physical activity needs to be practiced repetitively in order to yield positive results.

Many girls who do not like physical education and do not participate in physical activities do so because they feel like they don’t understand how to properly do it, feel incompetent when doing it, and see it as a boring or arduous activity. The article by Dudley adds another layer to how one can improve the overall experience for someone to engage in physical activity. Instruction, participation, practice, and competence are all needed to provide the person engaging in physical activity, to desire to participate more. The article further states that interventions focused on movement skills, much like the second article with motor skills, is needed in order to see any increase in participation. “It is argued that adequately powered interventions that target movement skills in secondary schools and evaluate school sport curriculum are urgently needed” (Dudley, 2011, pp. 353).

The same rule applies to special needs girls who are the specific target for improvement. Special needs kids and teens in general are not as active as their average counterparts. They need extra instruction and extra practice in order to gain the same competence and satisfaction from a physical activity. Add this to girls who are already showing decreased participation as they age, the solution thus far appears to be that girls, especially girls with special needs, need to practice physical activity a lot more to develop enjoyment in it and thus increase participation.

An example would be of a game of tag where the objective is to yell out the person’s name and then have others catch the other person who is guarded by their teammates (Hastie, 2003, p. 72). This helps promote teamwork as well as helps anyone who may have a disability participate more. The added instruction may come from the students wishing to aid in assisting their teammates. The practice may be applied at minimum four times per week with break in between games in order to supply enough rest.

Communication is important when engaging in physical activity, not just in the sense of instruction, but also in the sense of participation. From the articles reviewed in the article, some discussed the lack of communication girls have during physical education classes. Girls sometimes feel obligated to keep their opinions or questions to themselves for fear of being deemed incompetent. Letting girls become aware that asking questions is a good thing might help girls become more involved and thus increase their interest.

The fourth article by Cairney (2012), discusses the possible reasons why girls decrease their participation in physical education. The author states in the introduction the benefits of physical activity thus providing a point to share with girls who desire not to participate or be physically active. “Regular engagement in physical activity is associated with a variety of psychological, social, and physical benefits for children and youth” (Cairney, 2012, pp. 1). The point adds significance to participation in physical education because it may help reverse the often negative body image and self-image girls experience throughout their adolescence. Being physically active, accomplishing certain fitness goals, proving to others and one’s self one’s strength determination, and focus, greatly boosts self-esteem and self-confidence. Not only that, it also afford girls who are physically active a chance at a scholarship or even certain events that they otherwise wouldn’t not qualify for.

Caireny discusses the importance of school-based PE programs and regards school-based PE programs as a commonly perceived effective means of positively affecting health and physical activity behaviors during childhood and later years. “PE classes can provide children with activity that directly fosters motor skill development and fitness, and can also stimulate positive perceptions of physical activity, thereby influencing motivation to engage in physical activity” (Cairney, 2012, pp. 1). Although PE is regarded as a very important aspect of school and education, it is often disregarded by students. This perhaps may be due to competency in physical education.

“Numerous theories of motivated behavior that have been applied to understanding and predicting physical activity participation highlight positive affect as a proximal motivator of physical activity” (Cairney, 2012, pp. 2). The correlation between competencies, satisfaction, and motivation becomes clear here in the article because it shows motivation is linked through positive experience. If girls perceive an activity to be unenjoyable, they will not pursue it. However if they attribute positive emotions and experiences to an activity, they will continue to perform it and eventually develop a high enough competency.

The article states the decline in participation by girls in physical education is directly linked to a perceived lack of enjoyment in comparison to boys and competence. If girls are more competent in physical activities they will desire to participate more. “These findings offer evidence that gender differences in PE enjoyment are effectively non-existent among children with high levels of perceived competence, and suggest greater efforts should be made to understand why some children have lower perceptions of athletic competence” (Cairney, 2012, pp. 5-6). So the problem is not just in actual athletic competence, but also perceived athletic competence. Girls seem to think they are not competent at physical activity even if they haven’t tried to do those activities long enough to determine competence. The perception in itself becomes a deterring factor.

A solution therefore should include improving the perception of girls in regards to their athletic competence. If girls see they are more competent by performing physical activities, perhaps they will have more confidence in their overall abilities. Most research in this subject pertains to quantifying a declined participation. This article however explains something that cannot be quantified, but rather inferred. It also lends to analysis of gender roles assigned to boys and girls from childhood into adulthood.

Most girls are not encouraged to be physically active or fit. They’re encouraged to maintain a healthy weight, look pretty and presentable, and behave accordingly. Boys however have their parents, society, and their peers emphasize the need to be strong and fit in order to be successful and accepted in society. These perceived roles may have an impact in athletic competence perception.

“Improving children’s views of their physical abilities may be an important goal, particularly among girls with low perceived competence” (Cairney, 2012, pp. 6). If girls become emboldened to participate in physical activities, if people generate an image of strength and prowess for girls, not just boys, perhaps the athletic competence perception will improve. It has worked with boys for generations. Why can it not work for girls? Girls must improve their overall self-image to that of a strong, motivated, and fit person in order to develop the enjoyment needed to continue physical activities and therefore improve their competence and confidence.

The fifth article by Beltran-Carrillo et al. (2012), examines negative experiences in physical education and sport described during qualitative discussions of a group of sedentary teenage Spanish boys and girls. The purpose of this analysis is dual as the authors’ state:

First and most important, it seeks to give voice to these young people reporting negative experiences and connect them to contexts of physical activity and sport in which they occurred in order to show how, ironically, inactivity is an unintended consequence. Second, the authors attempt to connect inactivity through negative experiences by drawing on conceptual notions of a gendered performativity culture, and symbolic violence (Beltran-Carrillo, 2012, pp. 3-27).

Conceptual notions of a how girls and boys perform are prevalent throughout the world. Males are seen as the stronger sex. Males are also seen as the smarter sex. These conceptual notions are false but have the ability to permeate society. Women who would otherwise feel confident in their abilities, compared to men, may feel inadequate. It is seen quite often in male dominated areas such as football, even in workplaces like construction. Men are perceived as more competent whereas women are perceived as the “helpers” or the ones that cheer for the “boys.”

All of the previous articles dealt with how, if, and why girls do not participate in physical education as much as they should. This article focuses on what may fuel the perceived incompetence or negative self-image. Women sadly, are objectified and seen as sexual objects by men and even amongst other women. Fitting into a size zero, having large breasts, a tiny waist, all of that makes a woman, through modern society, attractive. These same things that make women appear attractive also affect athletic performance.

Men on the other require large muscles and a physical prowess to appear attractive. Muscles enhance athletic performance. Males are raised to be good ay physical activity. Females are not. Here in lies the problem. Because of the conditioning of perceived gender roles, girls think they are not capable of doing anything close to what males can. This is not true and should not be reinforced.

Girls, women can achieve great physical competency. So many female athletes across continents have shown the strength, intelligence, and determination a woman can possess. That’s why another part of the solution should be presenting girls with positive, athletic role models. Female athletes are a great way to show girls it is okay to be active. If they see girls succeeding in sports, especially those dominated by males, they’ll believe more in themselves. They’ll aspire to something. The same may be said of special needs children. The Special Olympics hosts man athletes who have disabilities who triumph over adversity and show the world how strong they are.


Although the issue of participation in relation to physical education is still prevalent amongst girls, it can be fixed. Research shows the problem is real and is not merely an assumption. It also shows the complexities of the problem. Girls do not just have negative body image, but also do not believe they are competent enough to perform physical activities. These negative perceptions may be attributed to gender roles. Increased activity, fun, team-building games may help girls learn and therefore grow as athletes. Athletics should be an important part of a person’s life, regardless of gender. It helps a person in all areas of being. Once girls see the benefits, and most importantly see their power, the issue can and will be resolved.


Beltran-Carrillo, V.J., Devis-Devis, J., Peiro-Velert, C., & Brown, DH (2012). When Physical Activity Participation Promotes Inactivity: Negative Experiences of Spanish Adolescents in Physical Education and Sport. Youth & Society, 44(1), 3-27.

Butt, J., Weinberg, R., Breckon, J., & Claytor, R. (2011). Adolescent Physical Activity Participation and Motivational Determinants Across Gender, Age, and Race. Journal of Physical Activity & Health, 8(8), 1074-1083. Retrieved March 24, 2014, from

Cairney, J., Kwan, M.Y., Velduizen, S., Hay, J., Bray, S.R., & Faught, B.E. (2012). Gender, perceived competence and the enjoyment of physical education in children: a longitudinal examination. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 9(1), 1-7.

Dudley, D., Okely, A., Pearson, P., & Cotton, W. (2011). A systematic review of the effectiveness of physical education and school sport interventions targeting physical activity, movement skills and enjoyment of physical activity. European Physical Education Review, 17(3), 353-378.

Ericsson, I. (2011). Effects of increased physical activity on motor skills and marks in physical education: an intervention study in school years 1 through 9 in Sweden. Physical Education & Sport Pedagogy, 16(3), 313-329.

Hastie, P.A. (2003). Teaching for lifetime physical activity through quality high school physical education. San Francisco: B. Cummings.

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