Literature Review The Social Factors that Contribute to Lack of High School Female Students Participation in Sports
The benefits associated with female participation in sports and physical activities are numerous including lessened risk factors associated with particular health conditions such as obesity; increased confidence and self-esteem; healthier and productive lifestyles; and delayed first sexual experience, thus, reduced likelihood of teenage pregnancy. Despite these documented benefits associated with sports participation, young females in the United States and across the globe are less likely to take part in physical activities and sports when compared to young males. Gender disparity in sports participation has been a consistent trend even after the passing of Title IX legislation, which had the main aim to ensure gender equality in all activities undertaken by schools, including sports and physical activities. Since legislative measures like Title IX have largely been ineffective in addressing the root problem, there is the need to explore and understand the social barriers that hinder female sports participation in order to come up with effective measures that help encourage female sports participation.
Various authors have attempted to understand the issue of lack of female sports participation using different theoretical viewpoints. In addition, empirical studies focusing on the issue of both male and female sports participation have produced diverse findings regarding the general, socio-economic, individual, environmental and socio-demographic factors that influence sports participation. Despite the fact that most studies are devoted to exploring the barriers and facilitators that influence sports participation in general, few studies have focused specifically on exploring social barriers that hinder sports participation, especially among young females, which is a new perspective in understanding lack of female sports participation. In this literature review, various theoretical perspectives are compared, and then empirical studies on the topic of interest are analyzed and compared with the findings regarding the factors that influence sports participation.
Theoretical Perspectives on Gender Inequality in Sports Participation
A number of theoretical perspectives have been used to explain gender disparity in sports participation, which includes male dominance, masculinity, and influence of religion on women. With respect to male dominance, the lack of female participation in sports has been attributed to a patriarchal system characterized by males having power, exercising authority, dominating leadership roles, and exercising authority over women and children (Eitzen, 2012). In the context of sports, male dominance is manifested through the fact that men manage and control almost all sports organizations across the globe including the United States. In addition, male dominance is evidenced by relatively small percentage of women occupying decision-making positions in sports organizations and institutions when compared to men. Essentially, sport is perceived as perpetuation of the already existing dominance in other aspects of society. Masculinity adopts a different view in trying to explain the lack of female participation in sports suggesting that sport is perceived to be a masculine activity; therefore, women are considered intruders. In this regard, women trying to participate in sports are likely to face institutional and ideological barriers that diminish their desire to participate in sports (Eitzen, 2012). OReilly (2012) suggested that the fact that sport is considered an activity that allows men to show their masculine competency implies that women have no place there. The case is the same for activities considered feminine, where males have no place. Therefore, the masculine-feminine dichotomy can be used to explain the lack of female participation in sports (O’Reilly, 2012). The influence of religion on women has also been used to explain the lack of female participation in sports, particularly among Muslim women. In this regard, Islamic concerns associated with modesty and body culture explains the low participation in sports among Muslim women and girls (Benn, Pfister, & Jawad, 2010).
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Sports participation among Muslim women is limited by sportswear, which is considered inappropriate in Muslim world. The influence of religion on female sports participation is evident as Arab countries have the lowest female representation in sports when compared to countries from other countries (Benn, Pfister, & Jawad, 2010). Despite the fact that these three theoretical perspectives make use of different explanations, they all comprise social factors that warrant investigation with respect to how they influence sports participation among young females.
Empirical Research on Factors Influencing Sports Participation
The issue of sports participation has been vastly explored in literature. Various authors have explored the various factors that hinder or encourage sports participation. One of the factors that influences sports participation among girls and boys reported in literature relates to perceived image associated with sport (Casey, Eime, Payne, & Harvey, 2009; Dollman & Lewis, 2010). In this regard, Casey et al. (2009) reported that girls in grade 7 are positively influenced by sports and physical activities they perceived to be fun. Another study by Kurc and Leatherdale (2009) also reported sports activities perceived to be fun as one of the facilitators to sports participation among both male and female students. In another study, Coleman, Cox and Roker (2008) reported significant differences in terms of image and perception towards sports among female students with different levels of sports participation. Specifically, the authors reported that female students having high level of sports participation had positive perceptions regarding sports whereas non-participants had negative perceptions regarding sports. Negative meanings associated with sports and physical activities have been correlated with grater external barriers to sports participation (Coleman, Cox, & Roker, 2008). In addition, Coleman, Cox and Roker also reported that female students with high level of sports participation documented positive experiences about sports. The authors also report young women who always participate in sports indicate more positive images associated with sports and physical activities and have positive perceptions regarding their ability, personal choice and motivation to be involved in sports. The competitive nature of sport has also been identified as a barrier to sports participation among Australian students; specifically, female students reported significant differences regarding their perception of the competitive nature of sports, which hindered their participation (Murphy, Dionigi, & Litchfield, 2014). The authors also reported that the competitive nature of sports reduces the perceived fun associated with physical activities. Regarding the image associated with sports, it can be inferred that sports activities perceived to be fun, and positive images and experiences associated with sports are facilitators of sports participation; however, the competitive nature of sports activities acts as a barriers that hinders young people from participating in sports.
The influence of social support on sports participation has also been affirmed by various studies. In this respect, various aspects of social support have been explored including social relationships with friends, family, peers and role models among others. For instance, Casey et al. (2009)found that support from friends, teachers and family influenced the decision made by rural adolescent girls to participate in sports and physical activities. In another study by Gomez-Lopez, Gallegos, and Extremera (2010)inadequate social support was identified as a barrier to sports participation among university students. The findings of Gomez-Lopez, Gallegos, and Extremerawere also consistent with the findings reported by Hsu et al. (2011)who found that support from friends and family is a significant predictor of participation in sports and physical activities. In addition, lack of family support has been cited by students as one of the primary barriers to sports participation (Kelishadi, Hosseini, Mirmoghtadaee, Mansouri, & Poursafa, 2010). Another study by Kurc and Leatherdale (2009) explored the relationship between social support and the level of participation in sports and physical activities, and showed that male and female students having weak social support were less likely to participate in sports and physical activities when compared to students having stronger social support. Other studies that have identified lack of family support as a barrier to sports participation include Shields, Synnot, and Barr (2012) and Yungblut, Schinke, and McGannon (2012). It is evident that there is a consistent agreement in literature regarding the pivotal role that social support of peers and family plays in decisions about participation in sports. Specifically, there is an agreement that strong social sport contributes to participation in sports and physical activities whereas weak social support is a barrier to sports participation among both boys and girls.
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Besides social support, family also plays crucial role in influencing participation in sports and physical activities. Various studies have investigated the effect of various family aspects in influencing sports participation. For instance, it has been found that active parents and siblings influence positively on sports participation among young people. In addition, family encouragement and family members physical activity have been reported as predictors of participation in sports and physical activity (Hassandra, Goudas, & Chroni, 2003). On the other hand, discouragement from family members acts as a barrier to sports participation among young people (Lovell, El Ansari, & Parker, 2010). The significant role that fathers play in influencing sports participation has been emphasized in literature. In addition, the nature and level of participation in sports is usually influenced by parents beliefs and expectations, particularly fathers. Despite the fact that most studies acknowledge the crucial role fathers,Ullrich-French & Smith (2009)found out that the relationship with the mother, not the father, played a crucial role in continued participation in soccer among boys aged between 10 and 14. The crucial role that the family plays influencing sports participation was discredited by Thompson et al. (2010), who found the family to be an insignificant factor with respect to influencing participation in sports, which is attributed to the barriers to family participation in sports and physical activities such as different interests and ages of children and adults, busy lifestyle, transportation problems, lack of money to support family physical activities, bad weather, and inaccessible facilities. ,Parental influence on Muslim girls has been cited as one of the primary barriers to sports participation (Dagkas, Benn, & Jawad, 2011). Other parent-related barriers to sports participation include unhealthy parental modelling and poor relationship (Casper, Bocarro, Kanters, & Floyd, 2011). It is evident that there are inconsistent findings with respect to the role that the family plays in influencing sports participation.
The socializing nature of sports has also been reported as a crucial facilitator of sports participation in various studies. For instance, Craike, Symons and Zimmermann (2009) found out that making sports appealing to the socializing needs of women plays a pivotal role in increasing sports participation. In addition, Eime, Payne, Casey, and Harvey (2010)revealed that women who participate in sports are mainly motivated by the need for social interaction; therefore, the authors conclude that socialization plays a pivotal role in sports participation. In another study by Jamalis and Fauzee (2007),the findings indicated that majority of students taking part in after-school activities were mainly motivated by the need to socialize with friends. Socialization acts as a facilitator of sports participation because it has been identified as one of the benefits associated with participating in sports and physical activities. From these studies, it is evident that young people prefer participation in sports because of its socialization benefits rather than competition purposes.
Socioeconomic position is another factor that has been found to influence participation in sports among young people. Casper et al. (2011)explored the relationship between socio-economic status and participation in sports among young people in middle school, and found that that more constraints to sports participation were reported among lower socioeconomic status students, girls and Latinos who did not participate in sports. In another study by Dollman and Lewis (2010) thatinvestigates the relationship between socioeconomic position and the level of participation in sports and physical activities among young South Australians aged between10-15 years, it was found that students with high socioeconomic position reported higher participation in organized sports when compared to low socioeconomic position students. In addition, low socioeconomic position girls had lower parental support to participate in sports and physical activities. There is an agreement in literature regarding the role that socioeconomic position plays in influencing participation in sports which implies that higher socioeconomic status is positively associated with participation in sports and vice versa.
Cultural influence as a barrier to sports participation has also been investigated in literature. With respect to this, Araki, Kodani and Gupta (2013)studied the meanings and understandings that various cultures associate with sport. The authors found that culture had a profound impact on the motivation to take part in sports and physical activities as well as the experiences associated with sports and physical activities. Another study by Hassandra, Goudas, & Chroni (2003)reported cultural values as one of the socio-environmental factors that influence participation in sports and physical activities. In the study by Kahan (2009)aimedto determine the correlates, types and level of physical activity and sports participation among university students of Middle Eastern origin, it was found that the level of sports participation was significantly influenced by religion and the level of acculturation to the American culture. Specifically, the study reported that highly acculturated and moderately religious individuals were more likely to participate in sports. It is evident that the influence of culture and religion on sports participation is not yet clear. No study is yet to ascertain how various religions and cultures affect sports participation; nevertheless, there is an agreement that Islamic and Arab cultures act as barriers to sports participation, especially among women.
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A number of socio-environmental factors influencing sports participation such as social preconceptions, cultural values, participation in community sports and physical activities, and availability of sports facilities in schools have also been explored in literature. Apart from the socio-environmental factors that influence sports participation, studies have also reported a number of individual factors that influence its level, which include students perceived competence in sports (Craike, Symons, & Zimmermann, 2009), goal orientation, physical appearance, personal choice, motivation to participate in sports (Eime, Payne, Casey, & Harvey, 2010), and self-esteem (Markowitz, 2012). A positive association exists between self-esteem and the level of sports participation (Markowitz, 2012). As Markowitz explains, despite the fact that sports participation helps in building ones self-esteem, a reciprocal relationship exists between self-esteem and sports participation in the sense that self-esteem is a determinant of sports participation. Specifically, students having lower self-esteem are likely to report lower levels of sports participation when compared to students having higher self-esteem.
Genetics has also been presumed to play a role in influencing sports participation; however, this association is moderated by environmental and personal factors. The personal factors that have been reported to influence the level of sports participation can be grouped into biological and psychological factors. Examples of biological factors that influence the level of sports participation include age, fitness level and obesity (Ullrich-French & Smith, 2009). Age and obesity have been negatively correlated with the level of sports participation (Hsu et al., 2011). On the other hand, fitness level is positively related to the level of sports participation. The psychological factors that influence participation in sports include attitudes towards sport, perceived competence or ability in sport, motivation, and the perceived barriers to participation. Negative attitudes and images towards sports have been identified as barriers to sports participation. Some of the perceived barriers to participation in sports include academic commitments, dissatisfaction with sports and physical activities, untidiness associated with participating in sports (Shields, Synnot, & Barr, 2012), inaccessibility to sports facilities, perceived incompetence in sports activities, laziness, the idea of sports being useless, and dislike for physical activities (Shields, Synnot, & Barr, 2012). Other perceived internal barriers to sports participation include inadequate time, incompetence and developing disinterest in sports. A number of environmental factors that have been found to influence sports participation include mobility, accessibility of sports facilities, the type of sports activity, role models, culture, family and peer influence. With respect to peer influence, studies have reported that having peers who participate in sports increases the likelihood of sports participation, which can be attributed to the fact that it is perceived to be a social event. Inaccessibility to sports facilities is a barrier to participation in sports and physical activities (Coleman, Cox, & Roker, 2008; Yungblut, Schinke, & McGannon, 2012).
It is evident that there is vast literature regarding the factors that influence the level of sports participation among young people including the perceived image associated with sports, social support, the role of the family, the socializing nature of sports, socioeconomic position, and cultural influence. In addition, individual factors such as age, fitness level, obesity, perceived competence in sports, goal orientation, physical appearance, personal choice and motivation to participate in sports, and self-esteem influence participation in sports. Despite the fact that the issue of sports participation is vastly explored in literature, little attention has been directed towards the social barriers that specifically influence sports participation among women.
In addition, most studies have used structured quantitative measures, effective only for describing phenomena rather than exploring them; as a result, there is the need to use unstructured qualitative methods to understand the topic of interest.
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