Professionals Help Girls Kick against Sport Stereotypes

Article excerpt

A pioneering scheme is proving that, given the right chances and role models, they can hold their own with the boys. By Katie Grant

The accusation "You throw like a girl" remains among the most stinging of insults male competitors sling at each other. Why remains a mystery as all the evidence at the Hertfordshire Sports Village is that girls can indeed throw - and catch, kick and score goals.

Under the expert eye of top coaches and players from Arsenal Ladies Football Club, Saracens Women's Rugby Club and Hertfordshire Mavericks Netball Club, girls as young as a seven experienced first hand what it is like to play elite sport.

The pioneering "Girls Get Sporty" scheme aims to celebrate women's sporting achievements and increase female participation, in line with The Independent on Sunday's campaign to increase awareness of women's sport. Girls aged up to 15 are given the chance to try out new sports and receive training and advice from professional sportswomen.

One of them is event organiser Karen Atkinson, the former England netball captain and head coach of Hertfordshire Mavericks, who is convinced that positive role models will inspire others to participate and succeed. Ms Atkinson, who took up netball as a child, progressed through the ranks to represent her county and region, which brought her into contact with other successful women in sport.

"Having positive role models and getting to meet them made me want to achieve what they had," says Ms Atkinson, who went on to play for England, winning bronze medals in three Commonwealth Games. "Once you get into being active, it's addictive," she adds.

Although women in sport are receiving more recognition, Ms Atkinson believes it is still considered by too many to be a man's world. "Events like the Olympics might celebrate female achievements and bring women to the forefront, but only momentarily," she says. She adds that only by encouraging girls to participate in a variety of sports from a young age can gender equality be achieved.

Hannah Gallagher, a flanker for England and Saracens Women's Rugby Club, says that events like Girls Get Sporty will help make sports more accessible.

"My dad used to coach at the local rugby club and my brother trained there, so I was playing from a very young age," says Ms Gallagher. …