Benton sophomore Melanie Murphy can’t imagine not playing a high school sport.
“I love playing the sports because I can hang with my friends,” Murphy smiled.
But this young teen appears to be in a shrinking class, according to recent survey findings by Always Confidence & Puberty Survey. It found that by the end of puberty, 51 percent of girls quit sports.
In talking with local school officials in St. Joseph, this trend may be caused by a variety of reasons, and not all of them are isolated to the game.
Coach Brett Goodwin has coached Cardinals’ girls basketball and golf for the past 15 years. In his experience, the dropout in participation sometimes has to do with peer competition.
“Girls quickly see where they’re at in that sport, they might look into other options,” Goodwin said.
And Benton Athletic Coordinator Mike Ziesel has a theory to that, as well. After teaching physical education for years, he knows that girls oftentimes have reached their physical maturity in their freshman year, and they can see very quickly where they are.
But even that doesn’t necessarily mean that a female student will drop a sport.
“I see more kids that come out, they give it a try and they realize this isn’t for me,” Goodwin said. “I think I’ve seen more kids go find something else athletic ... to do instead of just giving it up.”
But according to the survey, only one third of girls think that society encourages girls to play sports.
Because of the legal guidance in Title IX, schools are required to provide equal opportunities for both girls and boys. Ziesel can see that, in certain seasons, there may not be exact counter opportunities for girls and boys, but the school offsets that by not cutting players in some of the girls sports.
At Benton, coaches see more girls in tennis than boys. Ziesel said the school doesn’t cut those numbers because it likes the participation. And that, in turn, offers encouragement, this long-time sports leader said.
But for most athletes, looking to go professional is not in their future, for either a boy or a girl. However, Ziesel can recognize how society and the media wouldn’t overtly encourage that path for a young woman.
“Further on in their careers, females don’t continue because they don’t often dream of being a professional basketball player like every guy does,” Ziesel said. “And the fact, too, that you don’t see much of it in the media.” However, Ziesel said, the opportunities for scholarships to play in the collegiate level as a woman actually is greater.
Ziesel also talked about the benefits of sports participation and the life skills it can offer a student. Modern teens are faced with more choices than those of older generations, which sometimes can lead to a lack of participation in activities that could provide physical and mental benefits.
“When you do those things, you understand what it takes to become a better person, a smarter person, a more proficient person,” Ziesel explained. “That is the skill athletics gives these kids when they stick with it.”
Goodwin also has seen the benefits that committing to a sport or an extracurricular activity can have on a player.
“They know what it takes to be successful,” Goodwin said. “They know what it takes to put in the extra time and the work ethic.”
As for the young, four-sport athlete who also dabbles in theatre, Murphy knows for her, puberty physically made it harder to participate some days.
“I just had to focus more on what I was doing,” Murphy said. “Sometimes I would get stomach aches, but I loved the sport, so that’s what I played it for.”
Giving up is not an option for her at this point.
“It just makes it so much easier. That’s where all my memories are,” Murphy said.