The Rise of Girl's Sports: Leveling the Playing Field Leads To Long-Term Success

Nov 5, 2019 4:08:52 PM / by Marianne Engle, Ph.D.

InCourage Rise of Girls Sports

At just 15 years old, Coco Gauff became the youngest woman to win a Women’s Tennis Association title since 2004 (and the youngest American to do so in 28 years) when she won Austria’s Linz Open on October 13, 2019. While your average 10th grader might not have Coco’s talent, she may have the same drive and passion. And she’s not alone: high school girls across the country are increasingly participating in sports.

You may have seen a report from the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) stating that the number of students participating in high school sports has dropped for the first time since the 1988-89 school year. This minor nationwide decrease in high school athletics participation hides a much more positive number: girls’ high school sports participation has remained strong — and is growing.

According to the NFHS High School Athletics Participation Survey:

  • In the past 10 years, participation by girls in 11-player football has doubled – from 1,249 in the 2009-10 school year to 2,404 last year.
  • Among girls top 10 sports, volleyball was the front-runner with an additional 6,225 participants, followed by soccer (3,623) and lacrosse (3,164).
Girls wrestling jumped 27 percent and now has 21,735 participants.

girls ice hockeyIt’s not just some sports that are taking the lead, some states are, too: Minnesota is getting close to achieving actual equality in boys' and girls' high school sports participation. According to the survey, 49 percent of high school sports participants are girls, the highest percentage any state has yet achieved. (The national number is 42.7 percent.) Girls’ participation in the state is up 17 percent in the past decade, and more than 117,000 girls compete in athletics statewide.It should be noted that Minnesota has a unique advantage because it offers some sports–including hockey, skiing and trap shooting–that aren't offered in other states.What is driving these changes in the level of participation for girls in sports? Title IX. The impact of Title IX on girls and women's sports cannot be overstated: the number of girls playing high school sports has grown from fewer than 300,000 in 1974 to more than 3.4 million today. 

These numbers show how, in the nearly 50 years since Title IX was passed, millions of girls have grown up playing sports. 

In spite of the fact that female college athletes still have fewer team options, fewer scholarships offered and their teams have lower budgets than their male counterparts, female participation at the high school level has grown by a staggering 1,057 percent since Title IX was passed.


Info:  At the high school level, program expenditures are much more in line with both boys and girls sports. Primarily because coaching salaries are the same for coaching a male or female sport. I have also found it more telling to view per athlete expenditure as a better measurement of equity  as opposed to gross expenditure.


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The law's impact stretches well beyond the high school gym. Some of those girls are now athletes blazing trails and inspiring the next generation of young women as more opportunities have emerged for women to turn their passion for sport into a career. International icons like Coco Gauff, Serena Williams, Simone Biles, Megan Rapinoe and Ronda Rousey are setting records, achieving incredible victories on a worldwide stage, and using their powerful platform to inspire greatness. While your average athlete won’t achieve that level of success, she can still be inspired by her heroes’ determination, perseverance and good sportsmanship.

We all know that by playing sports, kids learn important life skills like teamwork, leadership and confidence. A study by the Women’s Sports Foundation found that high levels of involvement in school-based athletics correlates with higher levels of self-esteem, higher grades, and greater aspirations to attend college or graduate school. Those traits have lasting impact: 94 percent of women who hold C-suite level positions are former athletes, and 61 percent of former female athletes believe their involvement in athletics contributed to their career success.

This is why it’s so important that we keep championing these girls—from the ones on TV to the ones playing on your local courts. By continuing to encourage girls and women to achieve excellence and realize their boundless potential, we help bring about a truly level playing field that benefits all.

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Topics: Insider, coaches, athletic directors, athletes, parents, personal coach, youth sports, teen athletes

Marianne Engle, Ph.D.

Written by Marianne Engle, Ph.D.

Marianne Engle, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist and a sports psychologist. Her clients have included professional athletes and teams from the NBA, PGA, and the America’s Cup sailing race in addition to elite athletes in ice skating, baseball, tennis, soccer, water polo, squash, dressage, volleyball, etc. Marianne has written a sports psychology program for youth athletes and coaches to enhance commitment, physical and mental skill building, and group dynamics. She is currently on the faculty of the NYU Langone Medical School. She has held faculty appointments at Harvard, MIT, and UCSD in addition to being a member of the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Sport and Society. She is a board member of the NYU Sports and Society program.