Puberty and body image don’t have the best relationship.
Throw sport in the mix and for some young people it’s a match made in hell.
Because as we’ve found in our Year13 & Visa PlayOn youth sport research, body image issues are a leading factor for why young Australians drop out of playing sport.
In total 40% of Aussie Gen Zs aged 13 to 23 don’t play sport and from this group we found a third of them stopped playing sport due to body image insecurities.
But what may surprise you is that it’s actually an even amount of young males and females reporting this issue. In fact, 30% of young males and 31% of young females who don’t play sport say body insecurities are one of the reasons why they stopped playing sport.
The thing is most will never admit they stopped playing sport due to body image issues. However, in our survey many respondents revealed this to be the case.
“I danced for most of my life but ballet has a very damaging body image culture I just can’t deal with anymore,” a 19-year-old female from the ACT said.
“I wish I could go back, but my body has changed so much and I’m not sure I’d be welcome. The social culture kept me coming back as I loved my ballet friends, but the constant comparison and insecurity made me leave. I would love to go back but I’m not sure I am confident enough.”
It was a similar story for this 18-year-old female from NSW.
“I played netball however due to intense bodily insecurities I was terrified of the uniform and was made fun of for my appearance in the uniform turning me off the sport and distracting me from playing properly,” she said.
“I’d love to continue playing sport, however I think my focus would be more on individual sports as I am afraid of the team environment due to my previous experience.”
As mentioned, body image issues are also driving males away from playing sport in equal numbers, like this 19-year-old male from NSW.
“I loved sport for how fun and casual it was, but am personally not interested in the competitive side,” he said.
“I would love to one day have access to something similar to what I had access to in high school… (but for now) I would feel ashamed and embarrassed if I tried to join a competitive sport, for fear of being laughed at for my body and condition. Sport itself is amazing, I just wish I could enjoy it again.”
A 19-year-old female from Queensland told us how the pressure of competition also had a negative impact on her body image which eventually led to her drop out of sport altogether.
“My experiences range from giving a sport a try for the first time to fill a spot in a team, to competing on the world stage. (However) when I hit my later teenage years, fitness didn’t come as effortlessly anymore and my body image became a big obstacle for me,” she said.
“With my skill declining and being more self-conscious than ever, I stepped away from the sport I once loved and excelled at to focus on myself and my studies.”
So how can we help keep young Australians from dropping out of sport due to body image issues?
As part of the Year13 & Visa PlayOn youth sport research we asked young people who don’t play sport if under any circumstances they would consider playing sport again. The top response to this was having a social environment which encourages making friends and having fun (60%).
These sorts of social sporting environments are perfect for young people wanting to try their hand at sport again but who want to focus less on competition and on fun. In these sporting environments the most important image is that everyone is enjoying themselves.