The issue of how to initiate more cross-gender participation and the implications for sports kit has been raised by a number of schools in recent months. As part of Limitless’s drive to improve, the company partnered with the Youth Sport Trust to conduct a detailed research project across independent schools looking at sports participation, the drivers and barriers.
Participation in sport and activity drops in adolescence, and girls’ participation in particular drops significantly after the onset of puberty. Limitless believes that this is the single most important issue to address in designing sports kit: how to ensure that everyone, regardless of body type, feels confident and comfortable in their kit and can join in with enthusiasm. At the same time, there is a growing move towards gender neutrality in both sports and clothing. It is the job of those organising the sports, and kit designers like Limitless, to walk a clear path between what are often competing objectives.
Across all ages both boys and girls understand the importance of an active lifestyle, but girls are much less happy with the amount of physical activity they do: 58% overall vs 71% for boys. In ages 16+, just 46% of girls are happy with the amount of physical activity they do vs 72% of boys. (YST Research 2021.)
In both genders, the desire to “have fun”, “be healthy” and “spend time with my friends” are the top three motivators for being active. Girls and boys both clearly understand the need to be active, see activity as fun, and want to be active, but there are barriers to participation, particularly for girls.
Puberty drives physiological changes for girls which make sport less enjoyable. However, boys experience fewer barriers to participation during puberty and are, in fact, more inclined to be active. The main problem that boys face is a concern about their lack of confidence and skill in various sports.
Limitless has developed rules for designing kit to drive participation. These include a move towards garments which can be worn across sports and encouraging a series of cross-school designs to bring consistency to the playing field, irrespective of which sports are being played. Offering choice, particularly for girls, is highly important as one size cannot fit all; the solution is to offer a range of options against a general rule – ‘navy bottom halves’ for instance.
Girls’ needs should also be considered to actively remove barriers. Limitless has introduced navy blue girls’ cricket trousers to address concerns here and is also actively working on period swimwear. Research in Australia, and anecdotal feedback during the pandemic, showed that allowing girls to come to school in PE kit, particularly on days when they have PE, drove an increase in activity levels. This solves the problem girls have with changing during school time in front of their peers. Longer wear, moisture control and odour management should also be considered during garment design.
Limitless believes in designing sportswear that inspires every student, irrespective of their skills, body type or ability, to feel confident and enjoy being active. Limitless will continue to develop their partnership with the Youth Sport Trust and build their body of research in this area to ensure responsiveness to changing needs.