One of the largest factors affecting today's young girls is in relation to their self-esteem. So often the discussion of self-esteem places heavy emphasis on beauty and physical appearance, but it is so much more. It is a topic that is so widely talked about; even its very definition has been debated. Therefore, for our purposes, we look to the definition offered by Nathaniel Branden; Self esteem is a confidence in our ability to think, to cope with the basic challenges of life and confidence in our right to be successful and happy. In short, self-esteem contributes to an individual's self-worth, confidence and competence. According to the article, The Age of Self-Doubt (Kopecky, 1992), self-esteem is affected and cultivated from a number of circumstances in life, some of which are:

  • Degree of peer expectations, encouragement and influence
  • Degree of parental expectations, encouragement and influence
  • Influence and importance of role models
  • Involvement in making decisions
  • Participation in physical activity and/or sports
  • Extent of emphasis on body image

Girls place so much importance on physical attractiveness as it relates to their happiness. Every day, they are inundated with messages from the media telling them what to eat, how to dress and how to act. A young girl in today's society feels immense pressure to measure up to women featured in magazines with digitally altered photos. Studies show that as girls' progress from adolescents to the teen years, their self-esteem drops significantly. The onset of puberty and the realization that they are growing up affects girls psychologically. The low self-esteem found in these girls doesn't go away with maturity; they often grow to be women with low self-esteem. Low self-esteem is associated with increased rates of depression, substance abuse, suicide, early pregnancy and eating disorders.

What can be done to maintain a young girl's self-esteem as she matures? The positive aspects of sports can help girls maintain their self-esteem as they progress through this transition.

Why Sports?
Recognizing that young girls often compare themselves to unrealistic standards of beauty can help us understand, guide and influence them. In an attempt to de-emphasize the importance girls place on beauty and emphasize the importance of physical competence, PLM utilizes the benefits of sports participation. Participating in sports is one way that girls can develop physical competence. Girls learn to appreciate their bodies for what they can do, which aides them in developing a positive body image.

In a sport environment, emphasis is taken away from physical appearance, so girls learn to use and control their bodies in an effort to execute newly acquired physical skills. Involvement in sport also helps girls trust and rely on themselves and teammates while working toward common goals. In a sport setting, girls learn to develop their own voice (the first step in becoming their own person) and find new friends. The lessons in teamwork and leadership, and the social network the team environment provides all positively impact self-esteem.

A study conducted by the Women's Sports Foundation in 1998, compared athletes to non-athletes through surveying over 30,000 girls. The study stated that athletes were more likely than non-athletes to:

  • Score well on achievement test
  • Feel 'popular' among one's peers
  • Graduate from high school (three times more likely)
  • Attend college and obtain a bachelor's degree
  • Stay involved in sport as an adult
  • Not become involved with drugs (92% less likely)
  • Not become pregnant (80% less likely)

It is true that we cannot give a girl a strong sense of self-esteem, but we can assist her in a way that encourages her journey toward healthy self-esteem.


  • For teen girls, being both physically active and a team sports participant is associated with a lower prevalence of sexual risk-taking behaviors. (Kulig, K., Brener, N. & McManus, T. Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 2003)
  • In 2001, 1 in 2.5 girls participated in high school sports—up from 1 in 27 in 1971. That figure represented an 800% increase from 1971. For boys, the figure has remained constant at 1 in 2. (Women's Sports Foundation, Women's Sports and Physical Activity Facts and Statistics, 2007)
  • For girls ages 11-17 it is the perception of being overweight, not just weight alone, that inhibits participation in sports and physical activities. (The Girl Scout Research Institute, The New Normal? What Girls Say About Healthy Living (2006))
  • Of 401 executive businesswomen surveyed in 2002, 82% reported playing organized sports during youth, including school teams, intramurals, and recreational leagues. (Girls, Inc., Girls and Sports Facts, 2007)
  • Many girls ages 11–17 say they do not play sports because they do not feel skilled or competent (40%) or because they do not think their bodies look good (23%). (The Girl Scout Research Institute, The New Normal? What Girls Say About Healthy Living (2006))
  • Results of a nationally representative survey showed that girls who participated in high school athletics were less likely to consider or plan suicide than nonathletes—25% and 29% respectively. (Girls, Inc., Girls and Sports Facts, 2007)
  • The more physically active girls are, the greater their self-esteem and the more satisfied they are with their weight, regardless of how much they weigh. Eighty-three percent of very active girls say that physical activity makes them feel good about themselves. (The Girl Scout Research Institute, The New Normal? What Girls Say About Healthy Living (2006))