Breaking barriers and empowering communities

CEO of Rounders England Natalie Justice-Dearn speaks of the importance of sport as a consistent theme for women, particularly from Asian communities, from school through to adulthood

“What family would want a daughter-in-law that can run around kicking a football all day but can’t make round chapatis?”

This phrase from the 2002 film, Bend It Like Beckham tugged firmly on the heartstrings of families within communities throughout the UK and sparked household conversations about women’s expectations of becoming conventional housewives and not pursuing aspirations of playing team sports – and not just in South Asian families.

Following a recent survey carried out by Sport England, statistics suggested that participation in sport for females from South Asian backgrounds is as low as 21%, with 40% of this demographic claiming that traditional expectancies was the overarching reason as to why they did not feel that they had the same opportunities as those from different cultures.

Community deep dive

One sport that is helping South Asian women – and women in general – to overcome social barriers to sport is rounders. Rounders England has been spearheading a national rounders revolution, showing how the game is accessible to anyone and everyone, regardless of age, ability, gender, race or sexuality – a sport that starts at school and can be a companion for people throughout their lives.

On a playing field in the West Yorkshire town of Batley, the 20 or so members of the Batley Ninjas rounders team take their training sessions incredibly seriously. Originally set up in 2015, the Batley Ninjas are made up of women from predominantly South Asian backgrounds – namely India and Pakistan – and participate in the Ready Steady Active (RSA) Rounders League.

The RSA Rounders League was founded and set up by Rashida Salloo, who aims to provide equal opportunities for women within the local South Asian community to get involved with sports and physical activities. Salloo says that she was encouraged to establish the league due to some of the barriers that she faced while growing up, including not having any South Asian female role models to look up to at the time.

Rounders England has been spearheading a national rounders revolution, showing how the game is accessible to anyone and everyone, regardless of age, ability, gender, race or sexuality

How rounders helps

Rounders offers a fun and friendly way to socialise and spend quality time with friends and family. In line with Sport England’s #FitGotReal campaign, Rounders England celebrates the amazing ways people can incorporate exercise into their lives – no more so than by picking up a bat, gathering up a team and playing rounders.

Being a sport that emphasises sociability, rounders is a cross-generational, mixed gender game that connects people in an age where screens separate generations and are replacing real and meaningful interactions. Nationally, there are upwards of 80,000 adults that play rounders regularly, with around 700 teams playing across the country – and perhaps more astoundingly, there are one million people that have taken part in rounders sessions over the past year.

Far from being just physical benefits, playing rounders has been proven to help those suffering with mental health issues too. According to the Mental Health Foundation, 50% of mental health conditions are established by the age of 14 and 75% by 25.

Although these are staggering statistics, it is equally as shocking to learn that 70% of adolescents who experience mental health problems have not received appropriate interventions at a sufficiently early age.

Rounders England promotes inclusivity and champions participation, regardless of any actual or perceived barriers to entry. Rounders has been said to particularly support individuals who suffer from overwhelming feelings of isolation and loneliness through offering them a safe, secure and fun environment to meet new people, try a new sport and form relationships that will last a lifetime.

Looking ahead

As a sport that is reliant on each member of the team doing their bit to succeed, rounders embodies teamwork, communication and organisation in the hope of encouraging everyone to become more confident in themselves as individuals. Rounders England has many ways of supporting teachers and schools that are looking to develop rounders through resources, courses and competitions.

Sport in general, and rounders in particular, has the power to unite communities, break down barriers and promote cultural shifts for both adults and children.

The physical, mental and emotional benefits of playing rounders are all elements that encourage people to pursue the game long after their schooldays are over and by placing emphasis on enjoyment and engagement, rounders stands out from other sports and can inspire even the least active of individuals to have as much fun as they can shake a bat at.

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