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Body Image Woes Linked To Teenage Girls Dropping Out Of Sport

Teenage girls are dropping out of team sports at an alarming rate, an Australia survey has found. And body image concerns are believed to be the main reason why.

The Ausplay survey is a national sport participation tracker funded by the Australia Sport Commission.

The survey found that since 2016, participation by girls sport has fallen from 62.5 percent of 57.6 percent.

The decrease of almost 5 percent is believed to be because teenage girls are worried about what their teammates think of their bodies, as well as concerns over uniform.

For 16-year-old Katie Bell, who has played softball and netball most of her life, she said she has found herself comparing her body to others while playing sport.

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"I felt very self-conscious due to the way I looked in the uniform," she told 10 daily.

She said spectators watching the game, often made her feel uncomfortable.

"When I play netball, I felt that my thighs were too big for the dress. But in softball I felt uncomfortable in the shirt."

Younger teenagers, between the ages of 12 and 14, have a fairly high participation rate of 75 percent.

But this number falls dramatically to 20 percent by the age of 18.

Peri Maniakas, who coaches high school teams in a variety of sports, said there was difference in the participation in age groups.

"The years sevens, eights and nines will all join in straight away," she told 10 daily.

"But when you get to the senior years, in year 10, 11 and 12, they tend to stand on the sideline."

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The participation rate falls again as girls head into their 20s, sitting at just 8.9 percent.

The survey does not take into account individual sports, and Maniakas said she finds the girls she coaches are more likely to do exercise on their own rather than in a team setting.

"Sometimes girls will say 'think of the calories, or think of the legs', and this will make them want to join in," she said.

"But they are more likely to want to go for a walk in a park, or they do squats and lunges, instead of a team sport."

Lynda Voltz, NSW Shadow Minister for Sport, told 10 News First the declining number of girls in sport is worrying.

Voltz, who also coaches under 13s soccer, said body image is "certainly a factor" for stopping girls from playing sport as they hit their teenage years.

"Around the age of 13 and 14, they are difficult ages for girls and while some some people play sport because it keeps you looking good and it makes you feel better, it's also be a barrier to people," she said.

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She says irrespective of how girls feel they look while playing -- the benefits of team sports are too important to ignore.

"If they are going to build their bone density, and be healthy later in life, they need to be doing exercise now."

Olivia Achmar, 16, told 10 daily that while she was body conscious when she was younger, she now plays sport for the love of it, and not to "show off my body".

"Some girls would stop playing because they believe their teammates or people around them have an amazing body and they don't," she said.

"Also if someone has a different body type society finds 'ugly' it may lead to body shaming."

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While netball is traditionally the sport of choice for young girls, there has been a sharp increase in participation in soccer and cricket.

"We've seen a boom in girls taking part," WA Cricket CEO Christina Matthews told 10 News First.

"With new leagues we have had just an incredible rise in participation."

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