ERIC Identifier: ED479832
Publication Date: 2003-09-00
Author: Hart, Lawrence; Gary, Juneau Mahan; Duhamel, Christie
Creney; Homefield, Kimberly
Source: ERIC Counseling and Student Services Clearinghouse
Building Leadership Skills in Middle School Girls through
Interscholastic Athletics. ERIC Digest.
The transition to intermediate or middle school, beginning as early
as grade four, is
often challenging due to an increase in academic load, additional choices
in academic curricula, an expectation of increased autonomy, and instruction
by subject area teachers. Because students change classes and teachers
several times a day, maintaining personal relationships is often difficult
(LeCroy & Daley, 2001). Middle school-aged students must, at the same
time, contend with intense and rapid changes in physical, emotional, and
cognitive development, social approval, a large student body, and a student
government as well as choices in sports programs and extracurricular activities.
Harter (1986) found that change in self-esteem is most likely to occur
during times of transition, such as changing schools. Changes in one's
environment are usually the
catalyst for changes in one's self-assessment, resulting in an increase
or a decrease in
self-esteem. The re-evaluation occurs due to changes in self-perceptions
competence or incompetence based upon the degree of mastery of new
developmental tasks, a comparison of oneself to a different group of students,
and/or the creation of new social networks.
WHY FOCUS ON GIRLS?
Eccles et al (1993) found that girls had lower self-esteem than boys
in middle school
and the gender gap grew when girls transitioned from middle school
to high school.
Harter (1999) posits explanations for the decline in self-esteem: (1)
girls are more
negatively affected by experiences with failure than are boys. The
sensitivity may limit their willingness to take risks for rewards or advanced
opportunities; (2) many girls experience a conflict between feminine goals
and competitive achievements, resulting in increased anxiety in competitive
situations; (3) girls are confronted with societal and school structures
that favor boys and with pressure to conform to gender roles that limit
their exploration; (4) girls are less satisfied with body image compared
to boys, and this is compounded by pubertal changes; and (5) girls are
more likely to worry about their problems than boys and this tendency to
worry puts girls at risk for depression.
TITLE IX EDUCATIONAL AMENDMENTS OF 1972
Many middle schools offer interscholastic sports programs for boys and
girls. Students obtain a position on a team by competing in a "try-out,"
a new experience for most adolescents. Once selected, membership requires
a commitment to compete in several games per week and practice for many
Sports teams for girls flourished as a result on the Title IX Educational
Amendments of 1972. Often referred to as Title IX, this federal law requires
that almost all educational institutions provide educational opportunities
to male and female students equitably, including their athletic programs
and offerings (www.womenssportsfoundation.org). Title IX seeks to level
the playing field for both genders by mandating equal opportunities for
WHAT IS LEADERSHIP?
Dobosz and Beaty (1999) assert that leadership is the capability to
guide others in the achievement of a common goal. Leadership characteristics
consist of many personal qualities, including self-esteem, determination,
organizational aptitude, focus, tolerance, decisiveness, self-discipline,
charisma, time management, self-confidence, social competence, communicating
a "vision," and sensitivity to the needs of others, among other qualities
(Dobosz & Beaty, 1999). This digest will address empowerment, self-esteem,
and time management.
START EARLY: ATHLETICS AND LEADERSHIP ABILITIES IN MIDDLE SCHOOL
Middle school is the typical time for introduction to competitive sports
for most adolescents. Thus, research collected at the "start gate" of middle
school, if you will, will establish a benchmark of the impact of athletics
on the development of leadership skills in girls. Yet, although Title IX
has existed for over 30 years, limited research exists in examining this
impact (Dobosz & Beaty, 1999). Leadership skills that are instilled
during early adolescence in girls evolve throughout adolescence and into
adulthood (Dorrance, 1996; Simon & Martens, 1979; Shields & Bredemeir,
1995). In fact, 80% of the female executives in Fortune 500 companies self-identified
as having been athletes and/or "tomboys" in adolescence (Feminist Research
Membership on an athletic team is one avenue to acquire, assess, refine,
demonstrate leadership skills developmentally appropriate for middle
Participation in sports extends the nurturance of leadership by teaching
cooperate with their teammates and opponents as well as abide by the
1985). Girls learn about taking turns, sharing play time, and valuing
rules. A sense of
fair play is instilled. They learn that without rules and regulations,
the game would
become unfair. If the players believe that everyone contributes to
the team's success
and feel as though they are being treated fairly, then each player's
athletic ability and
psychological stamina are maximized (Gregg, 1999).
Athletic team membership enables girls to control and shape their lives,
empowered, in ways that other middle school girls feel that they cannot
1996). Through participation in sports, girls tend to have higher levels
self-confidence, increased self-esteem, and lower levels of anxiety
non-athletic girls (Simon & Martens, 1979). Furthermore, the athlete's
competitive spirit steers many team members to vie for student leadership
positions such as team captain or to seek election to the student government
(Dobosz & Beaty, 1999). Hart (2002) found that, in a sample of 108
girls in one middle school, girls on the soccer team held more leadership
positions in school organizations and attained more leadership positions
within the student council compared to non-athletic girls. Hart concluded
that for the middle school-aged female athletes, confidence and empowerment
are acquired through competitive sports and school leadership.
Learning effective time management is a major step towards leadership
for the middle school female athlete. She must learn early that time
is finite, that she
must set priorities, and that she must sacrifice experiences enjoyed
by her peers. She must manage an athletic schedule, fulfill academic and
extracurricular demands, participate in family activities and responsibilities,
and attend to personal needs during the after-school hours. The mastery
of time management, setting priorities, and multitasking are early stepping-stones
The effects of self-esteem in student athletes and non-athletes have
in relation to age, gender, and type of sport, among other factors.
Findings are relatively consistent in demonstrating that self-esteem for
athletes is higher than for non-athletes (Simon & Martens, 1979). For
instance, Hoganbruen (1999) developed a 4-week sports camp for young adolescent
girls to determine the effect on self-esteem. Significant and positive
changes in global self-esteem were found. Moreover, improved self-esteem
contributed to the perception of personal competence.
An increase in self-esteem nurtured through athletic competition assists
middle school girls to cope with the negative influences and social turmoil
experienced in their daily
lives. For adolescent girls, in particular, participation in sports
has demonstrated an
increase in self-esteem except for sports with rigid body type requirements
gymnastics). A girl who feels good about herself physically tends to
present herself as a socially strong person. For example, the Women's Sports
(www.womenssportsfoundation.org) has proposed that girls who have high
self-esteem are less likely to become pregnant as teenagers and are more
likely to leave an abusive relationship than girls with low self-esteem.
High self-esteem is no guarantee that middle school girls will make the
right decisions, but it provides a strong foundation, along with peer support
of team members, for resisting many negative pressures.
Impressionable, athletic, middle school girls need positive and empowering
role models to emulate while developing personal and interpersonal skills.
Fortunately, coaches, officials, and parent volunteers are additional role
models of leadership that student athletes are exposed to, compared to
the general student body. In addition to the leaders in their daily lives,
contemporary women athletes are the women that girls consider empowering
leaders too. Athletes such as Mia Hamm, Marion Jones, Rebecca Lobo, and
Venus and Serena Williams surmounted obstacles and emerged as role models
of leadership and athletic success.
IMPLICATIONS FOR SCHOOL PERSONNEL
Dobosz and Beaty (1999) conclude that athletic participation and early
experiences may improve a girl's leadership skills. The initiative
to lead is instilled
through athletic achievement, competition, and self-confidence (Shields
& Bredemeir, 1995). Development of leadership ability through athletic
competition was not the original intention of school districts offering
interscholastic sports. However, the emerging connection between athletic
participation and leadership skills may assist school personnel to intentionally
incorporate leadership training for girls with athletic ability. Coaches
and parent volunteers should work to develop leadership skills in adolescent
girls with the support of school personnel. Research supports that an early
investment in leadership training can yield lifelong benefits for the athlete
and society (Dorrance, 1996; Simon & Martens, 1979; Shields & Bredemeir,
In the spirit of No Child Left Behind, girls, regardless of athletic
ability, may benefit from intentional leadership development. Although
opportunities exist for the athlete to develop leadership skills, school
personnel must not overlook the non-athletic girl. Traditionally, girls
have had few formal opportunities to develop leadership skills. Girls should
be encouraged to attend leadership seminars as well as participate in recreational
sports and extracurricular activities in school and in the community. School
personnel must prepare all girls to lead.
For the middle school-aged female athlete, self-esteem, empowerment,
self-confidence are often bolstered through participation in interscholastic
competitive sports. These traits are also traits of leadership. Many contributing
factors and people mold the student athlete into a leader but the process
must be intentional and must start in middle school to support girls in
achieving their full leadership potential. Thus, school personnel are advised
to maintain athletic programs for girls and coaches are advised to instill
intentional leadership skills in female athletes. Threats of budget cuts
that would endanger interscholastic athletics must be re-examined. The
reduction or elimination of athletic programs may stifle athletic ability
and leadership development for today and tomorrow.
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Gregg, L. (1999). The champion within: Training for excellence. Burlington,
NC: JTC Sports.
Hart, L. (2002). Middle school-aged female interscholastic soccer players
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club/group participation. Unpublished master's thesis, Kean University,
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LeCroy, C. W., & Daley, J. (2001). Empowering adolescent girls:
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