Keeping Girls in the Game

14 Jan 2024 8:36 AM | Paige Jennings (Administrator)

By: Christy Clark-Weese, Middle School Health and Physical Education Teacher, Coal Ridge Middle School

The World Health Organization (2018) states that 81% of adolescents do not meet the moderate to vigorous exercise guidelines of 60 minutes a day. Of the 81%, a significantly higher number of these adolescents are girls. Several studies suggest that engaging in physical activity contributes to creating a positive learning environment, improving students' physical health, enhancing cognitive abilities, and nurturing an overall sense of well-being. Apart from the studies mentioned earlier, a study conducted by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2010) underscored that 11 out of 14 of their investigations revealed a positive correlation between consistent physical activity and improved academic performance (p. 29). However, despite these benefits, only 27% of girls in grades 6th-10th reported being physically active for sixty minutes a day (Gruno & Gibbons, 2016, p. 150). The disparity in physical activity levels among adolescent girls, coupled with the established advantages of regular exercise and the low enrollment of adolescent girls in physical education classes, poses significant challenges. It is crucial to understand the factors contributing to girls' lower participation in physical activity compared to their male counterparts and to develop and implement strategies to reverse this trend.

The majority of physical education programs in elementary school focus on gameplay or skill development, while secondary physical education programs often focus on competitive team sports (Gruno & Gibbons, 2016). It is this competitive team sports focus, as discussed by Gruno & Gibbons (2016), that is “one of the key factors associated with girls’ decision to drop PE” (p. 151).  Gruno and Gibson further explain that the majority of middle school girls perceive competitive team sports in PE as unsatisfying. A study conducted by Wallace et al. (2020) specifically identifies barriers to adolescence girls' participation, including boys 'taking over' or not passing, intimidation, confidence issues, perceived competence, the competitive climate, and concerns related to embarrassment and body image.

When examining the disengagement of adolescent female students from contemporary PE, it is discovered that these challenges are often linked to curriculum, teaching methods, and practices (Robinson, 2015). It is evident that practitioners should adopt evidence-based strategies to enhance girls' participation in gameplay, foster confidence in physical abilities, and improve organizational aspects to address concerns related to girls' involvement (Wallace et al., 2020). These evidence - based practices are found in Quality Physical Education (QPE) programs.

Quality Physical Education (QPE) programs are those that focus on the holistic development of students. These programs nurture critical thinking, problem-solving, and self-esteem skills. QPE initiatives can also foster interpersonal relationships, provide a platform for learning about equity and equality, and promote social justice (Ryan & Poirier, 2012). To ensure proper instruction and techniques, qualified teachers should be developing and instructing PE programs. Unfortunately, a study conducted in 2009 revealed that only 40% of teachers teaching PE were qualified to do so (Ryan & Poirier, 2012).

Successful engagement of adolescent girls in QPE programs prioritizes lifetime physical fitness over competitive gameplay. These programs, guided by instructors, strive to create a safe, positive, inclusive, and respectful learning environment. Teachers contribute to this positive atmosphere by acting as facilitators and role models, actively participating in activities with the girls (Gruno & Gibbons, 2016, p. 152). Emphasizing participation and individual effort in physical education classes serves as a motivation for girls to engage more in their physical well-being (Gruno & Gibbons, 2016). Same-gender or cooperative gameplay, centered on lifetime fitness activities, has been shown to increase girls' participation in PE. Providing diverse gameplay options ensures that girls enjoy and consistently participate in physical activities. Gruno & Gibbons (2016) stress the importance of making activities fun, informal, and involving participation with friends to encourage girls to be more active and engaged in PE (Ryan & Poirier, 2012, p. 179). According to Gruno & Gibbons (2016), fostering such a PE environment positively influences girls' perceptions of their physical abilities and competence, making them more inclined to be active, participate in PE, and try new activities.

Christy Clark Weese, a dedicated middle school teacher with 20 years of experience, holds a Bachelor's in Public Health and a Master's in Education with a focus on Digital Learning and Teaching. She blends her expertise to instill lifelong wellness habits and emphasizes the importance of physical activity for her students' holistic development. 


Gruno, J., & Gibbons, S. L. (2016). An exploration of one girl’s experiences in elective Physical Education: Why does she continue? Alberta Journal of Educational Research, 62(2), 150–167.

Robinson, D. B. (2015). Getting girls in the game: Action research in the gymnasium. The Canadian Journal of Action Research, 14(3), 3–28. 

Ryan, T., & Poirier, Y. (2012). Secondary physical education avoidance and gender: Problems and antidotes. International Journal of Instruction, 5(2), 173–194.

Wallace, L., Buchan, D., & Sculthorpe, N. (2020). A comparison of activity levels of girls in single-gender and mixed-gender physical education. European Physical Education Review, 26(1), 231–240.

World Health Organization (2018) Physical activity. Available at: activity (accessed 21 February 2019).

Colorado Association of Middle Level Education


mailing address:  CAMLE  •  4650 E. Amherst Ave.  •  Denver  •  CO  •  80222

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software