Sports for Girls

Raising a daughter? She'll benefit from being involved in sports.

Kids playing rugby, photo by Peter Cade
Peter Cade / Getty Images

We know that sports can bring big benefits to kids. But did you know these can be even more meaningful for our daughters? Sports for girls may offer improved self-esteem, social interactions, and mental health (in girls who play team or individual sports compared to those don’t, or those who play but drop out early).

Researchers tracked 4,000 Australian children (boys and girls) for two years, and found a link between sports participation and health-related quality of life, especially in kids who played sports for most of the two-year period, in kids who played team sports, and in girls.

Their conclusion: "Children’s participation in developmentally appropriate team sports helps to protect health-related quality of life and should be encouraged at an early age and maintained for as long as possible."

Best Sports for Girls

Every sport can be good for girls! Almost any youth sport you can name can be, and is, played by both boys and girls—from girl-dominated choices like cheerleading, gymnastics, and figure skating to events once reserved for boys, such as wrestling, powerlifting, and even tackle football. In many cases (think soccer, ice hockey, and flag football), teams are co-ed up until the teen years.

The best way to match your child to the right sport for her is to let her try as many as she can. Kick around a soccer ball in the yard or at the park. Teach her how to ride a bicycle. Take her to public skate at the ice rink or to try bowling or rock climbing or martial arts.

Many studios and gyms will allow your child to try one class for free. You can also see if your gym, community center, or city parks and recreation department has sports sampler classes for kids. These allow your daughter to check out several different sports at once. You never know which one will grab her attention.

Once your daughter has tried many different sports, you can begin to zero in on the sport or sports that are a good match for her personality, skills, and interests. Team sports convey extra benefits (at least according to the Australian study), but don’t forget that many individual sports can have a team component as well: swimming, skiing, jump roping, and many more. And if she’s determined to fly solo, she’ll still reap benefits—and likely train with peers and coaches who will become surrogate teammates.

Keeping Girls Safe

Girls are no more delicate than boys when it comes to the risk of sports injury; it’s important for all kids to play safely. However, you should be aware that girls may be more susceptible to certain kinds of injuries, such as ligament tears in the knees. A pre-participation sports physical can help identify any particular risks to your child and ways to reduce them. To protect your child from emotional, physical and sexual abuse in sport, find out if his team or league has participated in SafeSport training.

Whether your girl goes for a sport that emphasizes flexibility and grace, strength or speed, teamwork or individual achievement, it can help her take strong strides toward lifelong health, fitness, and joy.


Vella SA, Cliff DP, Magee CA, and Okely AD. Sports participation and parent-reported health-related quality of life in children: Longitudinal associations. The Journal of Pediatrics, Vol. 164, No. 6, June 2014.

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