ERIC Identifier: ED416268
Publication Date: 1998-01-00
Author: Weiler, Jeanne
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban
Education New York NY.
The Athletic Experiences of Ethnically Diverse Girls. ERIC/CUE
Digest, Number 131.
Girls'involvement in school- and community-based athletic programs has grown
since the passage of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. The
Amendments require institutions receiving Federal funding to provide equal
athletic opportunity for both sexes. Today, girls make up about 37 percent of
all high school athletes, and one girl in three participates in sports. Despite
these gains, girls' sports programs still receive a disproportionally smaller
share of resources than boys', and girls have fewer opportunities to participate
in school- and community-based organizations.
This digest discusses how race and ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and area
of residence (urban, suburban, rural) impact on girls' sports experiences.
THE EFFECTS OF SOCIOECONOMIC STATUS ON GIRLS'
The social context of girls' lives profoundly shapes their sports choices and
opportunities, with financial constraints often restricting African American
girls' opportunities. For example, depressed socioeconomic conditions, which
impact girls of color disproportionally, prevent families from funding their
children's athletic activities. The Wilson Report (Wilson Sporting Goods Co.
& the Women's Sport Foundation, 1988), based on a nationwide sample of 500
families, found that although African American and white girls were equally
likely to participate in sports, 33 percent of African American girls, compared
with 18 percent of white girls, said their families could not afford to pay for
equipment and lessons. White girls are also three times as likely as African
American girls to be involved in sports through a private organization (21
percent compared with 7 percent), while African American girls more often
participate through their school (65 percent compared to 50 percent). Almost
one-half of the African American girls, compared with one-quarter of the white
girls, said their families could not even cover their transportation costs.
Further, low-income girls may lack information about the importance of
exercise, diet, and sports. They are also less likely to receive quality
physical education and athletic training at a young age, which erodes the
foundation of subsequent motor development (President's Council, 1997). Many
live in environments that are unhealthy or unsafe, making walking or jogging in
their neighborhood--exercise that involves little expense--hazardous. Finally,
poor families rely on their daughters to provide childcare for younger siblings
after school and to prepare family meals, thus limiting their time for sports.
All girls appear to derive positive benefits from exercise and athletic
involvement, although they perceive the benefits differently based on their
experiences and social circumstances. A survey of racial and ethnic diversity in
girl scouting (Erkut, Fields, Sing, & Marx, 1996) found that almost one-half
of the Native Americans, African Americans, European Americans, Asian Pacific
Americans, and Latina female respondents reported that an athletic activity,
such as playing basketball or baseball, swimming, or doing gymnastics, made them
feel good about themselves. However, there were significant differences among
the girls based on race and ethnicity, socioeconomic status (SES), and area of
residence (urban/rural). For example, high-SES Asian Pacific girls in urban
areas most frequently reported positive feelings, followed by middle-SES and
then low-SES Asian Pacific girls. Also reporting such positive feelings was a
group with very different demographics: low-SES Native American girls living in
rural areas or on reservations. The reasons why athletic activities made girls
feel good about themselves differed according to their demographics: the high
SES Asian Pacific girls were more likely to report that sports gave them a sense
of mastery and enjoyment, whereas the low SES Native American girls indicated
that sports provided opportunities to be with friends.
LIMITATIONS ON WOMEN IN SPORTS
Generally, because low-income girls of color have sports opportunities
through schools, recreation departments, and other non-profit agencies, their
participation is limited to stereotypical "popular" sports: basketball and track
and field. In fact, approximately 90 percent of African American female college
athletes who receive scholarships in Division I NCAA schools participate in
these two sports (Smith, 1993). These sports are not always of primary interest
to African American females; those surveyed in one study actually held negative
attitudes toward track and field, instead preferring swimming, volleyball,
tennis, gymnastics, badminton, and dance. Nevertheless, limited resources,
combined with lack of diverse sports opportunities, have contributed to the
overrepresentation of African American girls in track and field and basketball,
thus perpetuating racial stereotyping that they naturally excel at only certain
sports (Smith, 1993).
Economic class and racial and gender stratification also significantly impact
the participation of women of color in sports leadership positions. Women of
color represent less than 5 percent of all coaching, teaching, and sports
administration positions (Smith, 1993).
A study of gender and ethnicity in coaching in Michigan (Ewing, Seefeldt,
& Chapin, 1991) found that only 35 percent of the girls' interscholastic
sport teams, and two percent of the boys' teams, were coached by women. Of the
women coaches, over 90 percent were white, 5 percent were African American, and
less than one percent were either Asian American, Latina, or Native American.
Interestingly, prior to the passage of Title IX, most girls' interscholastic
teams were coached by women. So while girls have increased sports opportunities
since Title IX, the opportunities for women in administrative and leadership
positions have decreased.
The lack of minority women coaches and sports administrators can be
especially detrimental to young minority women athletes. Female coaches serve a
function for female athletes that goes beyond the technical aspects of coaching;
they strongly influence the values, achievement level, productivity, and career
orientation of their athletes (Seefeldt, Ewing, & Walk, 1993).
THE EFFECTS OF SPORTS PARTICIPATION ON GIRLS
In general, all girls who participate in sports experience higher than
average levels of self-esteem. Sports can build confidence and a positive body
image, which are linked to lower levels of depression. Indeed, a Women's Sports
Foundation survey (1989) demonstrates the differential but mostly positive
effect for African American, Latina, and white high school athletes, compared to
non-athletic girls. All girls surveyed derived social benefits from athletic
participation, particularly increased popularity and extracurricular and
Possibly of even greater importance, the President's Council on Physical
Fitness and Sports report (1997) cites two research studies that suggest higher
female rates of athletic participation or exercise were significantly related to
postponing first experiences with intercourse and lower rates of both sexual
activity and pregnancy.
Overall, there is a positive relationship between sports involvement and
academic achievement as measured by grade point average, standardized test
scores, lowered risk for dropping out, and greater likelihood of attending and
staying in college, although there are great differences among groups of girls.
For example, the Women's Sports Foundation (1989) found that sports
participation was significantly associated with higher grades for rural Latina
athletes, while for all African American and white female athletes in all
geographic locations, athletic participation was unrelated to higher grades.
With regard to dropping out, sports participation significantly reduced the
dropout rate for rural Latina athletes and suburban and rural white female
athletes. It did not, however, lower the rate for any girls in urban areas, nor
for African American girls in any geographic area. The researchers speculated
that the social and personal benefits of sport participation simply could not
counteract the problems in urban schools and communities (Women's Sports
The Women's Sports Foundation (1989) also found, surprisingly, that high
school participation had no positive influence on the occupational success or
aspirations of girls of any ethnicity who entered the labor market four years
after high school. In fact, the labor market status of urban African American
females who had participated in athletics in high school compared to African
American non-athletes actually eroded: only five percent of the African American
female athletes held high status jobs (i.e., management trainee, clerk,
secretary, mail carrier) compared to 59 percent of their non-athletic
counterparts. Foundation researchers speculated that this troublesome finding
may result from high school athletes' spending out-of-school time practicing and
attending games, while non-athletes were working at part-time jobs and gaining
valuable work experience.
Schools, community organizations, and
sports organizations need to take steps to increase and improve the sport
experiences of young women. Efforts can include the following:
*Actively recruit low-income girls of color for existing sports programs.
Coaches need to consider differences in girls' reasons for participation and how
economic hardship and family responsibilities impact on their ability to
participate. For example, families can be put in touch with resources (e.g.,
baby sitting, subsidized transportation, etc.) to enable daughters to
participate more fully in athletics.
*Set up scholarship and aid programs to provide low-income girls with lessons
and training in individualized sports such as swimming, tennis, ice skating, and
*Develop programs to help young women integrate schoolwork, sports, and
*Intensify efforts to hire women of color as coaches and sports
*Expand sports research to account for the diversity in girls' experiences in
athletics to better understand the experiences of all girls.
*Be more sensitive to racial stereotyping in women's sports, and expand
opportunities for girls of color to participate in a wider array of athletic
Erkut, S., Fields, J., Sing, R., & Marx, F.
(1996). Diversity in girls' experiences: Feeling good about who you are. In B.
Leadbeater & N. Way (Eds.), Urban girls: Resisting stereotypes, creating
identities (pp.53-64). New York: New York University Press.
Ewing, M., Seefeldt, V., & Chapin, K. (1991 October). American youth and
sports participation. Paper presented at the meeting of the American College of
Sports Medicine, Toledo, OH.
Hall, A. (1996). Feminism and sporting bodies: Essays on theory and practice.
Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
The President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. (May 1997). Physical
activity & sport in the lives of girls. Minneapolis: University of
Minnesota, Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport.
Seefeldt, V., Ewing, M., & Walk, S. (1993). Overview of youth sports
programs in the United States. Washington, DC: Carnegie Council on Adolescent
Development. (ED 360 267)
Smith, Y. (1992). Women of color in society and sport. Quest, 44, 228-250.
(EJ 456 587)
Wilson Sporting Goods Co., & The Women's Sports Foundation. (1988). The
Wilson Report: Moms, dads, daughters and sports. East Meadow, NY: Women's Sports
Foundation. (ED 314 418)
Women's Sports Foundation. (1989). Minorities in sports. East Meadow, NY:
Author. (ED 312 356)