Championing sports for girls in Hong Kong

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In an academically cutthroat city like Hong Kong, setting up our children for success is a conversation too often confined to the classroom. With the brand new school semester kicking off, non-profit organisation Women in Sports Empowered Hong Kong helps us break down why it is important to champion sports for children at a young age, particularly among girls in Hong Kong.

by Alicia Lui, founder of Women in Sports Empowered Hong Kong

theDesk Leighton Centre Causeway Bay

School children spend hours training their minds indoors and anything that takes away from this – like sports – is regarded as a mere distraction.  The result is a youth population that spends less exercise time outdoors than prisoners and scores low on overall physical activity levels.

The irony of all this is that playing sports is proven to boost academic performance. Athletics help improve focus and confidence, as well as develop crucial life skills like communication, time management and teamwork. In other words, depriving children of sports actually hurts their chances of success later in life.

To echo this growing research around the benefits of sports, Women in Sports Empowered Hong Kong (“WISE HK”) hosted a panel discussion on “Why girls should play sports: sports to enhance academic, health and wellbeing in life” at theDesk Leighton Centre earlier in the summer.

A panellist of Hong Kong-based sports enthusiasts shared insights debunking the myth that playing sports gets in the way of studying, especially among young girls.

Why our girls need sports

A recent study in the US of over 10,000 girls found that girls who play sports report higher levels of confidence, and often have higher grades than those who don’t. They are also 14% more likely to believe that they are smart enough for their dream career, 13% more likely to consider a math or science career, and 16% less likely to want to change their body image. These attitudes may translate to later success in work.

EY research on global senior female executives found that 94% C-suite women played sport, including 52% at a university level. Female tycoons Indra Nooyi, CEO of Pepsi, and Christine Lagarde, IMF managing director are known, accomplished athletes.

Panellist Steph Cuvelier, an accredited exercise physiologist and exercise scientist, agreed that playing sports can hone important life skills. As a student, she boosts her time management skills by learning to split her time between studies and sports commitments. She is now a professional athlete at the Hong Kong Sports Institute and an entrepreneur.

Playing sports also helps improve emotional health, like it did for WISE HK mentor and volunteer coach, Cindy Reid.

“I am empowered to be more confident as I gain strength and fitness. Playing sports requires me to persist through fatigue and pain, which has made me stronger mentally. I also learned to be compassionate and empathetic as a coach.”

These stories are encouraging, but a recent study by Women in Sports in HK: 2018 Survey, however, shows that there are still so much to work on. 

Women still encounter internal and external challenges when it comes to playing sports. These include physical challenges (25%), sexism (18%) and lack of confidence (16%).

theDesk Leighton Centre Causeway Bay
The WISE HK team and panellists for “Why girls should play sports: for academic, health and wellbeing” panel discussion held at theDesk Leighton Centre.

Children need more opportunities to play sports

Schools offering more extra-curricular sports and inter-school competitions, as noted by sports presenter and journalist Vien Tsang, are a good way to start addressing these challenges.  

However, more can be done to improve access to sports for our girls. Parents often struggle to find sports programmes that cater to beginner players. Most programmes tend to choose the “strongest” and “best” athletes, leaving behind developing players – who, sadly, may eventually lose interest due to shame and embarrassment.

Panellist James Elliot, a physical education teacher and sports coach, agrees that there needs to be a place for  “star athletes,” and kids who play for fun. Increasing access to sporting programmes of varying levels in Hong Kong is crucial to boosting overall sports participation among youth.

More role models to encourage participation

Another challenge faced by 18-and-under children is the lack of important influencers. This age group (29%) regards family, friends, and role models as important in shaping their attitude towards sports.

Steph was influenced by her two older sisters and an exceptionally encouraging teacher and James, as a teacher, has also seen first-hand how parents and teachers become instrumental in helping children go up against stronger competition.

He himself encourages female students to play sport with the boys or with the older girls when there are limited same-age and gender opportunities, which is very empowering for girls.

theDesk Leighton Centre Causeway Bay
WISE HK regularly host activities for children and family such as the Mother & Daughters Sports Day. (Source: WISE HK)

However, our interview series shows that mothers, especially from local families, are often reluctant to let girls take up sports seriously, worrying about sports-related injuries and the impact on academics. This was addressed by several speakers at our event.

Solopreneur and mother Danielle Taylor talked about how playing sports helped her succeed in business. She said, “I definitely think the athlete mindset gives you the courage, confidence and ambition to be a business owner. In the last two years, I started a business in a completely new industry, which is like learning a new sport. Just like at work, you have to be coachable, have a good mentor and know that you could sometimes fail along the way. The desire to win in sports also translates into a do or die attitude that gives you killer instinct in business as well.”

Vien shared that while sports often aren’t perceived to be a viable career path in Hong Kong, those who demonstrate passion as athletes have gone on to lead fulfilled careers.

It takes a village to raise confident women

Female school children, who face much greater challenges than men when it comes to sports, need the support of their families, schools, and the community at large to help them experience the full benefits of sports.

With increased access to sporting programmes and role models who believe in the positive lifelong impact of sports, more female athletes can shine and in turn inspire others.

These stories will further convince our mothers and our society that, truly, a stronger community-led sporting culture for girls in Hong Kong makes for more confident and fulfilled women in schools, in the workplace, and in life.


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