The Social Factors Which Contribute to the Lack of High School Female Students in Sports

In the United States, organized sports activities constitute a crucial part of high school life, particularly for male students. However, the situation is not the same for female high school students who have been historically sidelined in sporting activities at the high school levels (Arzu, Tuzun, & Eker). In an attempt to ensure equality with respect to the access to all institutional activities, including sports, the Title IX of the 1972 Educational Amendments was passed. It has played a crucial role in ensuring that female students would also be involved into sports activities (United States Department of Justice). Before the passage of Title IX legislation, female students were mainly involved in the cheering of their male counterparts. However, the passage of the law helped in ensuring actual female participation in the field. Despite the significant efforts adopted at the policy level aimed at improving female students’ participation in sports activities at various institutional levels, equality in sports participation between male and female students is an issue that still has to be realized. It is evident by the under-representation of female students in all sports activities at all institutional levels (Cozby). Title IX greatly emphasizes the structural mechanisms that institutions can implement in order to ensure equal participation in sports between female and male students. Nevertheless, such structural measures tend to be ineffective when not used in combination with other measures that deal with the social barriers to participation in sports (Gratton & Jones). Underrepresentation of female students in sports stems from the fact that the ratio of male students taking part in sports to the overall male student population has been consistently higher than the ratio of female students participating in sports to the overall female student population. To this end, there is the need to have an understanding of the factors that hinder and promote female students’ participation in sports activities at various institutional levels. The proposed study seeks to explore the social factors contributing to lack of participation in sports by high school female students.

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Statement of the Problem

The specific research problem to investigation relates to the social factors that contribute to lack of female participation. Various studies have tried to outline the issue of sports participation. However, few of them have focused specifically on social factors, especially for young females (Coleman, Cox, & Roker; Craike, Symons, & Zimmermann). Moreover, a majority of studies on sports participation and the factors that influence the process have utilized structured quantitative approaches, which are deemed effective only when describing phenomenon rather than exploring it. Therefore, there is a need to make use of unstructured qualitative approach in order to develop a comprehensive list of social factors influencing female participation in sports (Dagkas, Benn, & Jawad). Knowledge gained from current research will supplement the existing information regarding social factors that influence female participation in sports. Moreover, the findings from the proposed research will be helpful in formulating measures that can be used to improve female participation in sports activities.

Purpose of the Study

The proposed qualitative grounded theory seeks to explore the social factors contributing to lack of female high school students’ participation in sports activities. In this respect, the proposed study will gather the views of female students having varying levels of sports participation in order to ascertain the social factors that either encourage or discourage them from participating in sports activities. The proposed study also seeks to explore the reasons for participating or lack thereof, as well as the ways that can be used in encouraging female students to participate in sports. In addition, despite the fact that participation in sports by female students has received considerable attention in literature, relatively few studies have tried to address the social factors at the individual level that encourage or discourage female students from participating in sports. Therefore, the proposed study seeks to address such gap in literature.

Research Questions

1.What are the experiences and motivations that female high schools associated with participation in sports?

The focus of current research question is on the manner in which female students describe and perceive sports, including their experiences associated with it. In addition, emphasis is placed on the factors that encourage or discourage participation in sports. The differences in the perceptions, experiences and motivations among female students with varying levels of sports participation will be reported. It will be helpful in ascertaining which perceptions and experiences associated with high levels of sports participation and vice versa.

2. How to transitions in high school affect participation in sports among female students?

Current research question emphasizes on the key transitions that take place in the lives of female high school students, and how they affect the level of participation in sports events. Some of the transitions that may influence the female high school students include the progression to higher grades and transition to young adulthood among others (Hassandra, Goudas, & Chroni,). In order to answer the question whether such transitions encourage or discourage participation in sports, it is necessary other potential transitions. They include the developmental challenges associated with adolescence, including how they affect participation in sports (Hsu).

3. What are the environment factors affecting participation in sports among female high school students?

Current research question emphasizes on the environmental factors that may influence participation in sports among young female students in high school. Environmental factors relate to the descriptions that participants will provide regarding the school and their area of residence. Some of the environmental factors that will be investigated in the proposed research include the availability and accessibility of sports facilities in school and within the community, opportunities to participate in sports and perceptions regarding the nature of sports facilities among others (Eime, Payne, Casey, & Harvey).

4. What are the social factors that influence participation in sports among female high school students?

Current research question places emphasis on the social factors that influence participation in sports among young female students. The scope of social factors is diverse and will comprise of such factors as gender influences, influence of peer grouping, socioeconomic status (Dollman & Lewis), influence of culture, influence of religion and family background among others. Specifically, the study will try to delineate the social factors that are associated with low levels of participation in sports.

5. What are the psychological factors that influence participation in sports among female high school students?

Above-given research question will emphasize on the psychological factors influencing participation in sports among young female students. Some of the psychological factors that will be explored in the proposed study will include the perceived competence and ability in sports, self-motivation to participate in sports and personal effort and commitment to participate in sports (Kurc & Leatherdale).

Theoretical Perspectives on Gender Inequality in Sports Participation

A number of theoretical perspectives have been used in explaining gender disparity in sports participation, which include male dominance, masculinity and influence of religion on women. With respect to male dominance, lack of female participation in sports has been attributed to a patriarchal system characterized by males having power, exercising authority, dominating leadership roles and exercising authority over women and children (Eitzen). In the context of sports, male dominance is manifested through men managing and controlling almost all sports organizations across the globe, including the United States. In addition, male dominance is evidenced by the relatively small percentage of women in decision-making positions in sports organizations and institutions when compared to men. Essentially, sports is perceived to perpetuate the already existing dominance in other aspects of society. Masculinity adopts a different view in trying to explain lack of female participation in sports by suggesting that sports is perceived to be a masculine activity. Therefore, women are considered intruders. In this regard, women trying to participate in sports may face institutional and ideological barriers that diminish their desire to participate in sports events (Eitzen). O’Reilly suggested that the fact that sports is considered to be an activity that allows men to show their masculine competency implies that women have no place in sports. It is similar with activities considered feminine, where males have no place. Therefore, the masculine-feminine dichotomy can be used in explaining lack of female participation in sports (O’Reilly). The influence of religion on women has also been used in explaining low level of female participation in sports, particular for Muslim women. In this regard, Islamic concerns associated with modesty and body culture explains such tendency among Muslim women and girls (Benn, Pfister, & Jawad). Sports participation among Muslim women is limited by sportswear, which is considered revealing in Muslim world. The influence of religion on female sports participation is evident by the fact that Arab countries have the lowest female representation in sports when compared to countries from other countries (Benn, Pfister, & Jawad). Despite the fact that such three theoretical perspectives can be based on different explanations, they all comprise of social factors that warrant investigation with respect to how they influence sports participation among young females.

Empirical Research on Factors Influencing Sports Participation

The issue of sports participation has been vastly explored in literature by various authors. One of the factors reported in literature that influences sports participation among both girls and boys relates to perceived image associated with sports (Casey, Eime, Payne, & Harvey; Dollman & Lewis; Grubbs & Carter; Murphy, Dionigi, & Litchfield). In this regard, Casey reported that girls in grade 7 are positively influenced by sports and physical activities. Another study by Kurc & Leatherdale also reported that sports activities are perceived by students as fun, resulting in high rates of sports participation among both male and female students. In another study, Coleman, Cox and Roker reported significant differences in terms of images and perceptions towards sports among female students with different levels of sports participation. Specifically, the authors reported that female students having high levels of sports participation had positive perceptions regarding sports in general, whereas non-participants had negative perceptions of it. The competitive nature of sports has also been identified as a barrier to sports participation among Australian students. Specifically, female students reported significant differences regarding their perceptions about the competitive nature of sports, which hindered their participation (Murphy, Dionigi, & Litchfield). The authors also reported that the competitive nature of sports reduces the perceived level of fun associated with it. Regarding the image of sports, it can be inferred that sports activities perceived to be fun and positive images and experiences associated with sports are facilitators of sports participation. However, the competitive nature of sports activities acts as a barrier that prevents young people from participating in it.

The role of social support in influencing sports participation has also been affirmed by various studies. In this respect, various aspects of social support have been explored, including social relationships with friend, family, peers and role models among others. For instance, Casey found that support from friends, teachers and family influenced the decision made by rural adolescent girls to participate in sports and physical activities. In another study by Gómez-López, Gallegos, & Extremera inadequate social support was identified as a barrier to sports participation among university students. The findings of Gómez-López, Gallegos and Extremera were also consistent with the findings reported by Hsu, who found that support from friends and family is a significant predictor of participation in sports and physical activity. In addition, lack of family support has been cited by students as one of the primary barriers to sports participation (Kelishadi, Hosseini, Mirmoghtadaee, Mansouri, & Poursafa). Another study by Kurc and Leatherdale explored the relationship between social support and levels of participation in sports and physical activities and showed that male and female students having low social support were less likely to participate in sports and physical activities when compared to students having higher social support. Other studies that have identified lack of family support as a barrier to sports participation include the works of Shields, Synnot, & Barr and Yungblut, Schinke, & McGannon.

The role of the family, besides social support, is also crucial in influencing participation in sports and physical activities. Various studies have investigated the effect of different family aspects in influencing sports participation. For instance, it has been found that having active parents and siblings is positively associated with sports participation among young people. In addition, family encouragement and family members’ physical activities behavior have been reported to be predictors of participation in sports (Hassandra, Goudas, & Chroni). On the other hand, discouragement from family members negatively influences sports participation among young people (Lovell, El Ansari, & Parker). The significant role that fathers play in influencing sports participation has been emphasized in literature. In addition, the nature and level of participation in sports is usually influenced by the beliefs and expectations of parents, particularly fathers. Despite the fact that most studies acknowledge the crucial role that fathers play, Ullrich-French & Smith found out that the relationship with mother played much greater role in continued participation in soccer among boys aged between 10 and 14 years. The crucial role that the family plays in influencing sports participation was discredited by Thompson. They found that the family is an insignificant factor with respect to influencing participation in sports. It is mostly attributed to such factors as different interests and ages of children and adults, busy lifestyle, transportation problems, inadequate money to support family physical activity, bad weather and facilities being inaccessible. Among Muslim girls, parental influence has been cited as one of the primary obstacles to sports participation, especially among girls (Dagkas, Benn, & Jawad). Other parent-related barriers to sports participation include unhealthy parental modelling and poor parent relationship (Casper, Bocarro, Kanters, & Floyd).

The socializing nature of sports has also been reported as a crucial factor for sports participation in various studies. For instance, Craike, Symons and Zimmermann found out that making sports appealing to the socializing needs of women plays an important role in increasing sports participation. In addition, Eime, Payne, Casey, & Harvey revealed that women who participate in sports are mainly motivated by the need for social interaction. Therefore, the authors conclude that socialization plays a crucial role in influencing sports participation. In another study by Jamalis and Fauzee, the findings indicated that majority of students who take part in after-school activities were mainly motivated by the need to socialize with friends.

Socioeconomic position is another factor that has been found to influence participation in sports among young people. Casper explored the relationship between socioeconomic status and participation in sports among young people in middle school, and found that more constraints to sports participation were reported among lower socioeconomic status students, girls and Latinos who did not participate in sports. In another study by Dollman & Lewis to investigate the relationship between socioeconomic position and the level of participation in sports and physical activities among young South Australians aged 10-15 years, it was found that students from high socioeconomic positions reported higher participation in organized sports compared to low socioeconomic position students. In addition, low socioeconomic position girls had lower parental support to participate in sports and physical activities.

Cultural influence as a barrier to sports participation has also been investigated in literature. With respect to this, Araki, Kodani and Gupta studied the meanings and understandings that various cultures associate with sports. The authors found that culture had a profound impact on the motivation to take part in sports and physical activities, as well as the experiences associated with them. Another study by Hassandra, Goudas, & Chroni reported cultural values as one of the socio-environmental factors that influence participation in sports and physical activities. In a study by Kahan to determine the correlates, types and level of physical activity and sports participation among university students of Middle Eastern origin, it was found the level of sports participation was influenced significantly by religion and the level of acculturation to the American culture. Specifically, the study reported that highly acculturated and moderately religious individuals were more likely to participate in sports.

A number of socio-environmental factors influencing sports participation have also been explored in literature. They include social preconceptions, cultural values, participation in community sports and physical activities and availability of sports facilities in schools. Apart from the socio-environmental factors that influence sports participation, studies have also reported a number of individual factors that influence the level of sports participation, which include students’ perceived competence in sports (Craike, Symons, & Zimmermann), goal orientation and physical appearance, personal choice and motivation to participate in sports (Eime, Payne, Casey, & Harvey), and self-esteem (Markowitz). A positive association exists between self-esteem and the levels of sports participation (Markowitz). As Markowitz explains, despite the fact that sports participation helps in building one’s self-esteem, a reciprocal relationship exists between them in the sense that self-esteem is a determinant of sports participation. Specifically, students having lower self-esteem are likely to report lower levels of sports participation when compared to students having high self-esteem.

Despite the fact that the issue of sports participation is vastly explored in literature, little attention has been directed towards the social barriers that influence sports participation among women.

In addition, most studies have used structured quantitative measures, which are only effective in describing phenomena rather than exploring it. As a result, there is a need to use unstructured qualitative methods in understanding the topic of interest.

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Research Method

The proposed study is primarily explorative, which justifies the use of a qualitative approach in addressing the research problem. The study places an emphasis on gathering detailed information to help understand human behavior, including factors that determine human behaviors. In this case, such method relates to the female students’ decision on whether to participate in sports or not. The explorative nature of proposed research is the main reason for preferring a qualitative approach to a quantitative one that is mainly used in confirmatory research (Creswell). According to Daymon and Holloway, confirmatory research focuses on determining the relationships between variables using statistical techniques. Anyway, it cannot be applied to the proposed study, which focuses on exploring the social factors contributing to lack of participation in sports among female high school students instead of determining the relationships that may exist between the identified social factors. In addition, the qualitative approach was deemed suitable for the proposed study because it will not utilize a tentative hypothesis to be evaluated. On contrary, the study will utilize open research questions, which means that the researcher anticipates the discovery of new insights in the course of the research. The proposed study is flexible, which makes it inappropriate for quantitative research (Daymon & Holloway).

The specific qualitative design that will be employed in the proposed study is grounded theory. Silverman points out that the grounded theory is a research tool that seeks to help the researcher in exploring and conceptualizing social patterns about a topic that is under investigation. Moreover, grounded theory seeks to help the researcher in developing theory about the topic being studied (Nardi), which in the context of the proposed study is the factor that hinders female high school students from participating in sports. By employing grounded theory, the proposed research study seeks to develop a conceptual model that can be utilized in having a detailed understanding of the factors that affect the decision made by female high school students on whether to participate in sports or not.

Data Collection and Analysis

Data for the proposed research will be collected using semi-structured interviews (Silverman). In this respect, the researcher will conduct interviews to a point at which no new information can be received. The semi-structured interviews will be guided by an interview protocol, which focuses mainly on the social factors that influence the behaviors and attitudes of female high school students towards level, reasons and ways that can be used in encouraging sports participation among female high school students. All the interview sessions will be recorded upon the consent of participants. In addition, the recorded interviews will be transcribed verbatim. After that, thematic content analysis will be used to process the transcribed qualitative data.

The proposed qualitative grounded theory research seeks to explore the factors that discourage female students from participating in sports. Data will be gathered using semi-structured interviews, which will be transcribed and analyzed using thematic content analysis. The findings presented by the proposed research will be helpful in understanding why female high school students refrain from participating in sports events.

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