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Silver Sam and GB’s Golden Girls will encourage women in sport
WITH many of Team GB’s greatest successes and landmark moments at London 2012 coming from its female competitors, ANNA MANSELL spoke to local sports coaches about the problem of keeping girls interested in sport.
PRE-Games poster girl Jessica Ennis lived up to expectations by winning heptathlon gold, while queen of the velodrome Victoria Pendleton handed over the mantle to double gold winner Laura Trott.
Then there are the rowing champions, including the sport’s first golden girls Helen Glover and Heather Stanning who opened the medal rush for Team GB, as well as Nicola Adams’ historic victory in claiming the flyweight title in the first women’s boxing contest at the Games.
Not forgetting East Lancashire Olympians silver medalist Samantha Murray, Holly Bleasdale and Sophie Hitchon, who are now securely tipped for future successes after gaining big stage experience at their home Games.
But the problem of teenage girls and young women falling out of sport is one that has been well documented, at a time of record highs in youth obesity.
The Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation (WSFF) claims more than 80 per cent of women are not active enough to be healthy, and that young women leave school ‘half as active as young men’.
Among those behind the successes of modern pentathlete Samantha, 22, pole vaulter Holly, 20, and hammer thrower Sophie, 21, are Blackburn Harriers’ athletics coaches, including sprint specialist and welfare officer Angela Bamber, who also coaches at West Pennine and Lancashire county netball.
“For a lot of girls it’s about having the confidence to come to a club,” she said.
“Girls like familiarity, to go somewhere they know people.”
Of the club’s Olympians, she said: “We have to keep sight of what they are doing and keep their achiements in the media. I’m sure the male dominace of sports coverage will return, but we have to break those barriers. Perhaps we have to look into the girls visiting schools to shaire their stories with younger girls in their own words.”
Angela said she understood how pressures on teenage girls between club activities, school sports, academic efforts and home life could lead to some giving up their athletic endeavors, but that coaches ‘have to help them find the balance between these’.
Women’s football gained profile through the Olympics, with Team GB beating Brazil in front of a 70,000-strong crowd at Wembley in their final group match.
And Lynne Tomlinson, Burnley FC Girls and Ladies club secretary, hopes this may give the sport a boost – as the average drop out age was falling.
“They used to fall by the wayside at about 13 or 14, they just drift and disappear,” she said. “We have been talking about ways to advertise, and get the odd phone call, but the sport for girls has plateaued.
“They have other things they want to be doing, and are hitting teenage years at 10 or 11 now. It will be interesting to see if we get extra phone calls after the Olympics.”
Her own daughter Sarah has spent five years under a college football scolarship in Massachusetts, America, where she’s graduated as a physiotherapist and is about to complete a doctorate – proving study and sport can be combined.
Plans are already being made to capitalise on the Olympic legacy by Blackburn with Darwen Council’s sports development workers, with specific projects for mothers and daughters in the pipeline for The Lancashire School Sailing Association at Fishmoor Reservoir and in badminton and rounders.
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