A recent post on LinkedIn caught my interest. It was titled, ‘All change. Is it time to review women’s sports kit?’ Reading as a woman who has felt very uncomfortable at times in her sports attire (see below for my rant on skorts) this really hit a nerve. I’ve been seeing more on this conversation over the past few years which is great, but on the flipside, it’s crazy that it’s 2022 and this is even a discussion at all. From whether or not elite hockey players should have to wear the dreaded skort, to Wimbledon and England football players having to conform to the all-white kit, (the thought of wearing white and getting your period just raises anxiety levels) So could a simple thing like what you have to wear, stop a girl from even taking part in sport the first place?
I have horrible memories of my PE kit. At primary school, girls to wear tiny black shorts and white vests, so you were essentially doing PE in your underwear. Boys, on the other hand wore small grey shorts and white t-shirts. When I was at an all-girls secondary school, I had to wear navy shorts that were akin to granny knickers. They made me feel very self-aware. And since taking up hockey nearly twelve years ago, I have despised the skorts that we have to wear. Skorts for those who don’t know, are basically hot pants covered with a completely pointless overskirt. They are horribly outdated and only seem to have been made for tall, slim woman and, erm, not me. They always ride up too high, thus accentuating the bits you don’t want to show. I’ve spent entire matches wrestling the skirt down from my waist, where it insists on staying. I hate them but because of an old rule somewhere, they are the uniform kit for matches. I’ve finally started to wear shorts now, realising that at the level I play, skorts are not essential, but it’s taken nearly twelve years and only from seeing others doing so, for me to realise I could do this. I feel far more comfortable running around (and falling over) in shorts.
In 2005, the Institute of Youth Sport at Loughborough University shared survey results on how to tackle girls dislike of school games. Their research, carried out on 11,000 students aged 11-16 showed that: ‘30% of girls didn’t like their PE kit, 40% were self-conscious about their bodies and one in five only took part in PE because they had to’ (1). Children’s charity, the Youth Sport Trust found that , ‘Secondary-age girls are more likely to experience barriers, with disruption to friendship groups and declining body confidence affecting girls participation in PE’ (2) and recent findings by Women In Sport found that 45% of teenage girls (3) don’t feel they have the right body shape for sport. All these stats show that how girls feel about their bodies, has a huge impact on whether or not they want to take part in sport. If girls feel their kit is too tight, too short or if they are on their period and have to wear white shorts for example, you can see why they would chose not to participate. Simple changes to what they have to wear can make a big difference. Giving them a choice, letting them opt for shorts, leggings or tracksuit bottoms, t-shirts or sports tops, and not making them conform in ill-fitting uniform.
I had a look at the kit details for 7 hockey clubs. My own, Old Cranleighan, Surbiton, Guildford, East Grinstead, Wimbledon, Woking and Reading. Tracksuits aside, all clubs only had skorts as club branded match kit for women/girls. East Grinstead are changing this apparently and will soon offer shorts, which will be a first for a UK club and I’m pleased to say that when I raised this with my Club Captain, she agreed this was something that would be looked into. England Hockey are also working on this, so hopefully England & GB will be the first international team to play in shorts, which will be a massive milestone and so inspiring for young girls to see. Interestingly, the GB women’s hockey squad recently played some friendlies against Spain and in all the photos on social media, every single woman was wearing shorts, not a skort in sight.
I listened to a fascinating webinar recently, hosted by Sue Anstiss, CEO Fearless Women’s Collective. The speakers bought a wealth of knowledge on this topic, GB & England and EG Hockey player Tess Howard, Wendy Taylor from the Youth Sport Trust, Rimla Akhlar OBE and Holly Bradshaw, an ex Olympic Pole Vaulter. The overriding message was that ultimately it should be about having a choice and what makes you feel comfortable. Such a simple message. I almost welcome the day when my daughter is told she has to wear a skort (she is a short wearing girl through and through) if only to see her reaction, because this would be something both her and I would actively challenge. She can wear what she likes and I will back her all the way.