• Researchers are aiming to increase girls' participation in sport by addressing fundamental movement skills. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Science says that primary school aged girls don’t run, jump, hop and catch a ball as well as boys, but researchers now want to know why. The University of South Australia is currently investigating the gender gap between boys and girls in movement skills in attempt to level the playing field.
Yasmin Noone

17 Mar 2016 - 3:04 PM  UPDATED 17 Mar 2016 - 3:04 PM

Young girls can do anything they set their minds to. But when it comes to movement skills – running, jumping, hopping and even catching and throwing a ball – it may be a bit harder than first thought. 

That’s because girls and boys have varying movement skills, which can impact physical activities and sporting abilities.

Previous research states that girls lag behind boys in movement skills, balance and physical activity, with the gender gap becoming wider as girls become teenagers and women.

The big question that remains to date is why? The University of South Australia (UniSA) is currently conducting a new study to explain the gender divide between boys and girls when it comes to movement skills.

“There is such a big push at the moment for children to be as physically active as possible, particularly because we know it is so important for maintaining a healthy lifestyle into adulthood,” says Dr Margarita Tsiros, researcher and physiotherapist from UniSA Alliance for Research in Exercise, Nutrition and Activity.

“The problem is that many girls may have limitations in their physical skills – especially when it comes to ball skills.

“If you don’t have a proficiency in those fundamental skills, it also makes it more difficult to get involved in sporting activities.

“So at the end of the day, we need to set girls up as well as we can for success in physical activities, which can benefit their long-term health and wellbeing.”

A preliminary study (not yet published), conducted by Dr Tsiros, assessed movement skills in both genders and found that girls have proficiently lower results than boys.

She says reduced balance could be one reason why girls have movement difficulties.

“Having good balance and stability is an essential part of being able to perform more complex skills like rolling or kicking a ball, catching, throwing, running and jumping.”

A number of other theories also need to be explored to determine whether the gender gap is due to physical attributes or social issues.

“Is it because boys practice more and girls aren’t participating [in sports or movement] as much and that’s having an impact?

“Body size and puberty also interact with physical development and activity.

“These are interesting findings that we want to explore further.”

It would be amiss not to investigate this issue and develop a targeted intervention to help girls to develop their movement skills

If successful in the current research, Dr Tsiros and her team will create therapeutic solutions that will aim to improve balance and movement skills in girls.

“That way, we can set girls up for success in sport and physical activity and ultimately, better health in the long-term.

“One of the things we also hope to do with the study’s findings is to make recommendations about physical activities that can be built into schools’ PE curriculum and influence how health professionals can design interventions to help girls improve their movement skills.

“I think it would be amiss not to investigate this issue and develop a targeted intervention to help girls to develop their movement skills.”

Dr Tsiros is seeking girls of all shapes, sizes and activity levels aged eight to 10 years old to take part in her study.

Eligible girls and their parent would need to attend UniSA for a two-hour visit and will wear a movement sensor for a week.

“Parents who might want their children to be involved might have an interest in children’s health and wellbeing and are curious about how their own child is going with their balance skills.”

For more information, parents can phone (08) 8302 1365 or email sansom.researchvolunteers@unisa.edu.au about the ‘Balance in Girls’ study. Participants will receive $100 for their time.

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