I’m a Psychologist and my area of interest is how the brain develops. I see mostly adolescentsin clinic because they are fun to engage with. There is no time in a person’s life that is moredifficult than 12-21 years old. I don’t care what we parents say...we had it WAY easier than they do. At every first session I ask lots of questions. I ask about school, home, friends, the past, family, activities, sleep and health. As a psychologist, I like to try and find patterns in terms of behaviour. I look for patterns that are generally not helpful to them, and try to give them more helpful behaviours to replace the unhelpful ones.
Sometimes I notice patterns that I wasn’t specifically looking for. One of these occurred to mea little while ago, after talking to teenagers about their after-school activities. I noticed that the guys were more likely to say that they did a sport than the girls were. I only realised this pattern in the last few months and put it down to COVID.
Something was still bugging me though, so I went back further to try and see the patterns across time. After I tallied it up, it turned out that teen girls were in factless likelyto be playing sport than teen boys.
I kept thinking about why this could be, and lots of random ideas came to mind; could it be fewer sport options for girls? Ugly or uncomfortable uniforms? Fears about what others mightthink about them? I’m sure for many, these factors may contribute, but I wondered if therecould be even deeper reasons.
Could it be the pressure of competition within sport? Did social gender norms possibly playinto it? What about the influence of how sport is portrayed in the media? Let’s face it, femaleathletes have never received the same attention, rewards and accolades in any sport compared to male athletes. I got talking to my colleagues and asked what they thought, and they had all the same thoughts that I did. This was validating, but not entirely helpful.
Then one day I was sitting with a teenage girl and I asked her directly why she didn’t play sportanymore. She told me that when her body started to change, when she started her period,when her breasts developed and when her hips grew, she couldn’t stay at the same levelevery day. We talked about this more. What did she mean?
She said: “If I train on a Monday I feel strong and fast and ready for a game. Then I’d trainagain on the Thursday and feel pumped and even better than on the Monday. But on theSaturday, I’d started my period or didn’t have the right sports bra or just felt blergh, then Iwouldn’t play as well as I’d trained. I felt like I was letting everyone down and it made me feel crap. So I stopped.”
Oh. My. God.
Although they might get told in school that their bodies will change, they don't seem to get told that their coordination, energy, and need for sleep all change too! I started asking other teenage girls, and they all started saying similar things to me. I was astounded and so saddened.
See, I was no different as a teenager. I stopped doing sport when I was 14. I grew nearly afoot in a year, had that same ‘blergh’ feeling, and was weirdly tired sometimes. What I didn’t know then, but know now, is that I was doing thebest I could.
For all of us, this is something that should become a guide to our life, a mantra of sorts.Doing the best you can is the best you can do for YOU.That means that some days will be easier, and she might feel fast and strong. Other days she might just need rest and comfort. It also means that when she puts things down (like sport) for a while, with space, understanding and acceptance, she could pick them back up again later when she's ready.
I tell myself that I'm doing the best I can every day, because every dayis different. It doesn’t matter if some days I feel tired or weak, because I’m doing the best I can right now, and I won’t let that stop me.
Girls, don’tlet it stop you either; don't give up a sport or activity that once brought you joy. Talk to your parents, your coaches and your friends about ways to modify your training to meet you where you're at right now. Your body is developing and your world is changing but if you're doing your best, you're doing great.