The issue of how to initiate more cross-gender participation and the implications for sports kit has been raised by a number of schools. At Limitless, we’ve taken the findings from our 2021 research with the Youth Sport Trust and created new rules for kit design.
Participation in sport and activity drops in adolescence and girls’ participation in particular drops significantly after the onset of puberty. We believe this is the single most important issue to address in designing sports kit: how can we as kit designers ensure that everyone, regardless of body type, feels confident and comfortable in their kit and can join in with enthusiasm? And can this be balanced with a growing move towards gender neutrality?
Research has found that both genders understand the importance of an active lifestyle, and place “having fun” and “being healthy” among their top motivators*. However, there are specific barriers faced by girls in sport, including physiological changes (such as growing breasts and menstruation), concerns over body image, and dissatisfaction with the sports on offer to them.
The role of kit designers is therefore to address these concerns. Sports kit needs to build, rather than erode, body image and self-confidence in girls, including options for being more covered (“I don’t like people watching me” was cited by 29% of girls as a key barrier to participation). Kit also needs to allow participation in a wide variety of sports.
There are fewer barriers to boys’ participation, but research found they are more concerned about lack of confidence and skill. Over time this tends to translate into a desire to focus only on the sports they are already confident playing. As such the design challenge revolves around finding more generalist kit for older boys: for example, one who loves the gym or playing racquet sports would prefer not to buy and wear a heavy rugby shirt.
Currently there are two major trends in school sports. Firstly, schools are moving from traditional girls’ sports to more national sports, such as cricket, football and rugby, driven in part by an increasing media focus on these games. This comes at the expense of more traditional girls’ sports, particularly rounders. Secondly, some schools have chosen to embrace a fully gender-neutral position on sports, allowing any pupil to play any sport in any team. This of course has an impact on the kit required for both genders.
At Limitless, we have therefore put in place several rules to guide new sportswear design. Firstly, schools are encouraged to move towards garments which can be worn across sports, for example shorts and a top rather than netball dresses. A series of cross-school designs can bring consistency to the playing field.
When it comes to designing girls’ kit, confidence and comfort for every individual is paramount. There may be a desire to offer gender-neutral sportswear, but the overwhelming majority of girls will be much happier in better fitting, more flattering garments. Choice in these garments is therefore essential; some girls actively want to wear a skort as they feel the skirt provides some additional modesty, while others may wish to wear shorts as a more unisex option. Still others will feel more comfortable and confident in leggings. One size cannot fit all and the solution is to offer a range of options against a general rule.
The unique needs of girls should be designed into kit from the outset. All girls should be wearing a well-fitted sports bra, such as the Limitless bra; issues such as menstruation should also be considered, for example by introducing navy alternatives to white garments such as cricket trousers and working on period swimwear, both of which are in development at Limitless.
Research and anecdotal feedback have both shown that allowing girls to come to school in their kit, particularly on days when they have PE, drove an increase in activity levels; our research has shown a reluctance amongst girls in particular to change during school time. However, garments must be designed to be worn for longer and allow moisture and odour management for this to be effective.
Students in independent schools are already more active and less prone to drop-out than those in state schools. However, some simple rules on kit design can easily make further gains in this area. At Limitless we will continue our partnership with the Youth Sport Trust, building a body of research in this area to ensure swift responses to the changing needs of young people.
*YST Research2021 (https://www.youthsporttrust.org/news-insight/research/pe-sport-and-physical-activity-survey)
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