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It has been well documented that participation in sport has numerous psychological and psychosocial benefits (Anokye, Pokhrel, Buxton, & Fox-Rushby, 2012). Though the benefits of involvement in sport are vast, the drop out rate of participation in girl’s sports remains a prevalent concern. Research has demonstrated that females have higher and faster drop out rates in sport settings compared to males (Kirshnit, Ham, & Richards, 1989). Additionally, females have greater feelings of dissatisfaction towards their bodies in relation to males (Neagu, 2015).
Though unhappiness with one’s body and the need to change one’s appearance is most prevalent during females teenage years (Attie & Brooks-Gunn, 1989; Grigg, Bowman, & Redman, 1996; Thompson, Coovert, Richards, Johnson, & Cattarin, 1995), girls begin to form thoughts about their bodies at a very young age (McCormack, Star, Beadle, and Maartens, 2013). In fact, body dissatisfaction was found to be prevalent among those as young as age five (Spiel, Paxton, and Yager, 2012). This trend of dropping out of sport is not only adverse in the short term but can be detrimental in the long term as girls are missing out on the benefits of sport and are removed from the sporting process (CITE).
Body image, defined as a complex construct centered around the idea of how one thinks about his or her self (Grogan, 2008) has been found to play an important role in this participation or lack of participation in exercise and activity settings (Choi, 2000; Grogan, Evans, Wright, & Hunter, 2004; Jensen & Steele, 2009).
Although body image resources exist, it is unclear if the body image materials currently being used have the evidence, quality and depth of content necessary to definitively address body image concerns in girl’s sport. Furthermore, there is uncertainty in whether the materials present to address body image concerns in girl’s sport target all demographics involved (athletes, parents, coaches, officials, stakeholders, and sport organizations). Resources targeting each of these subpopulations is important because females’ perceptions about their bodies usually stem from dialogue and remarks made by those closest to them including parents, siblings, and coaches (McCormack, Star, Beadle, and Maartens, 2013).
The purpose of this research was to perform a systematic evaluative review of the evidence-based practices being presently used in girl’s sport to determine if these practices are helpful in mitigating the body image concerns occurring in girls sport.
This review revealed that of the fifty-four resources evaluated, 90.7% of the resources did not provide prescriptive information on actionable suggestions that coaches, parents, athletes, officials, and stakeholders of sport organizations could utilize in sport settings to address body image concerns in girl’s sport. Resources analyzed instead found an abundance of descriptive information surrounding the topic of body image in sport. Only 1.9% of body image resources analyzed were usable in relation to providing actionable suggestions to implement in sport settings. Furthermore, only 14.8% of the resources evaluated provided evidence based suggestions in how to address the body image concerns in girl’s sport.
It is also important to note that of the fifty-four resources extensively analyzed, none of the resources had regular updating of information. And of the resources studied, only 19% of materials provided content on body image specific material that was of high standing.
Lastly, this review revealed a lack of proportionality in regards to body image material targeted towards each demographic involved in the sporting process. Of the resources gathered, 20.4% were targeted towards athletes, 27.8% towards coaches, 22.2% towards parents, 1.9% to officials, 13% to officials, 5.6% at sport clubs, and 57.4% as category “other”. Only 27.8% of resources had a clear and focused target audience.
This comprehensive systematic evaluative review aimed to analyze the demographics, quality, and body image specific material present within the body image resources currently being used to address body image concerns in girl’s sport.
As mentioned earlier, of the fifty-four resources evaluated, a vast majority of the resources provided knowledge on the topic of body image in sport, however, a clear lack of prescriptive information on how to implement actionable, usable suggestions was distinctly noticed. This discrepancy between providing information about body image versus offering actionable suggestions to implement in sport settings may perhaps explain why the drop out rate of females in sport is still prevalent and rising among young girls today albeit the many resources that exist.
Very few resources evaluated provided evidence based suggestions on how to address the body image concerns in girl’s sport. Many of the resources instead provided opinion based suggestions which were not supported by research and thus have not been scientifically proven to be effective, accurate, and helpful in mitigating body image concerns in girl’s sport.
Of the five resources that offered above satisfactory prescriptive suggestions to implement in a sport setting, a few common themes arose: the importance of being a role model, recognition of the body’s capabilities rather than appearance, and a focus on enjoyment in sport contexts.
Being a role model was found to be incredibly important in addressing body image concerns in sport because children observe their parents, coaches, and all the behaviours and expressions they do and do not engage in (Papadopoulos, 2013). As a parent or coach, being a role model includes fostering an environment where athletes feel comfortable discussing the insecurities they have about their bodies and their concerns (Yager, Diedrichs, Ricciardelli, Halliwell, 2013). Fostering this level of comfort can include talking about one’s own body as a coach or parent (Alberta Health Services, 2018). By creating this open environment, it allows athletes to avoid conforming to unhealthy expectations of the body from other sources such as social platforms, friends, and generalized norms (Yager, Diedrichs, Ricciardelli, Halliwell, 2013; Papadopoulos, 2013). Additionally, viewing the athlete as an individual instead of based on their appearance (Bieseker & Martz, 1999), their personal demographic characteristics or their skill level (CAAWS, n.d) is important.
The second theme found revolved around the idea of teaching athletes to recognize and appreciate their bodies and all that it can do, from a functionality perspective, rather than emphasis on appearance (CAAWS, n.d). This includes having athletes focus on on their own self improvements and accomplishments (Papadopoulos, 2013), being grateful and self loving of how their bodies are able to perform (Greenleaf, n.d.), offering encouragement and constructive feedback (Price & Weiss, 2000), validating the positives both in and out of sport contexts (King, 2017), and being mindful of how one provides praise, focusing on affirmations of athletes skills rather than using terms of endearment (Papadopoulos, 2013),
The idea of focusing on enjoyment in sport contexts was also a common theme found. Emphasis on fostering and learning new skills and abilities, and a focus on enjoyment of self was popular across the recommendations found on how to address body image concerns (Pelican, et al., 2005; Greenleaf, Boyer & Petrie, 2009; King, 2017).
None of the resources analyzed had regularly updating of information. This is concerning, given that research is always advancing. Staying current with new information is important in attempting to be aware of useful practices to implement.
This study had some limitations that were present. This review excluded the use of scientific journals and research papers. These types of resources could have had evidence based practices to address body image concerns in girl’s sport. When coding the questions using the criterion created to evaluate each resource, interpretation of the questions being coded could have been misinterpreted by the investigators which contributed to the greater result of inter-radar reliability seen. When locating further body image resources to analyze (so that saturation could be achieved, following the performance of a systematic review) online searches followed a randomized format. Furthermore, search engines such as “Google” and “Youtube” were able to remember the sites users of the computers visited, therefore computer based algorithms may have influenced the references that appeared on investigators screens. Lastly, although many resources were found to exist, actual viewership of each of these resources was not known (excluding videos).
The extensive systematic review performed in this study has revealed that although numerous body image resources exist, very few of these resources contain actionable steps that parents, coaches, officials, and sport organizations can use to address body image concerns in sport settings. The drop out rate of participation of girl’s sport will continue to occur unless implementation of actual actionable steps is created and implemented to address body image concerns in girl’s sport. Future research should look at using evidence to form actionable suggestions to implement in sport settings. Additionally, when creating evidence based suggestions, conducting interviews with athletes, coaches, parents, stakeholders of sport organizations, and officials should be considered to determine: if these demographics are practicing the body image prescriptions present, to gain knowledge on the practices they use and do not use, and to consider their perspectives on what would be helpful in developing a useful body image resource.
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