Warwick, Ian (2015) An Exploratory Study of Mental Wellbeing and Factors Associated with Resillience Among Girls Engaged in Competitive Football. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

This study investigated the social and psychological impact on girls of playing competitive football and explored whether football is associated with their mental wellbeing. Football was identified as an appropriate focus for exploring the link between sport and wellbeing because of its status as the UK’s national sport and its role in gender socialisation processes. The study also explored the barriers to girls’ participation in football and discusses these findings in relation to gender/structural inequalities. The study contributes new knowledge about girls’ agency, desires, resilience and strategies for overcoming adversity and ways in which girls challenge the universality of assumptions about feminine body image.
Girls aged 10-16 from a Centre of Excellence and a local community football club (n=68) and their parents (n=66) completed the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire. The questionnaires were analysed using SPSS. Smaller groups of girls were selected for focus group interviews, which were analysed using template analysis. Focus group questions were derived from three sources: consultations with parents, coaches and the representatives of the Football Association, the literature review and the SDQ results.
This study was set within an interpretative paradigm with three theoretical strands being used to interpret results: gender, sport and agency; social context and structural inequalities; resilience, overcoming adversity and positive psychology. The study found a number of social barriers to girls playing football and demonstrated that they play football because they have agency and are self-motivated to do so. Although it is difficult to determine a causal relationship, girls who play football were found to have good self-efficacy and positive indicators for good mental health. The study sample seemed able to resist external social pressures to conform to gendered body image stereotypes that limit girls’ involvement in sport and which can contribute to low self-esteem.
The primary incentive for girls who maintain their involvement in football centres on making and keeping friends. Girls who play football have in general positive explanatory styles and an optimistic nature.
There are benefits for girls who play football. Girls are motivated to play football but need the opportunities to participate. Access to physical activity such as football should therefore be promoted for girls. There is a pressing need to address the under-representation of women’s sport in the media and to challenge the status quo in school sport. A commitment to equal resources, equal time and space in the playground, and equal treatment by teachers and coaches is overdue. Furthermore, the study raises questions for social workers. An appreciation of the importance of resilience is embedded in Social Work professional competence requirements and the study suggests that supporting the development of resilience in girls, through access to physical activities that challenge gendered prescriptions and promote agency, can improve protection from adversity.

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