Embracing co-design to break down barriers and get more teenage girls active
The age-old expression ‘no stone left unturned’ aptly describes Sport Waikato’s approach to boosting participation and satisfaction levels among young women in sport and active recreation over a three-year programme supported by Sport NZ’s Young Women’s Activation Fund (YWAF).
Through its wide-ranging This is ME® programme, Sport Waikato engaged with the region’s secondary schools to unite students and staff in a top-down and bottom-up, co-designed approach to boosting participation and enthusiasm for physical activity. The programme also broke down barriers around female participation in cricket and tackled health issues such as period poverty and endometriosis.
Developed by Sport Waikato to encourage, support and celebrate physical activity participation among women and girls of all ages, This is ME® aims to change the ways girls and women think and feel about physical activity while connecting them with opportunities to participate with their friends, children, whānau and workmates.
The programme is based on research, targeting barriers such as time, cost, injury and illness, concerns about ability, body image and fear of judgement.
Having been selected to receive YWAF support, Sport Waikato focussed on three key pillars of the Government’s Women and Girls Strategy: Participation, Value and Visibility and Leadership.
Its broad goals were to unite delivery partners to enhance participation opportunities and change attitudes by connecting individuals with opportunities to be active and have fun together. It also wanted to change the conversation about females and physical activity and develop young women as leaders in their schools and communities.
Work in secondary schools focused on supporting young women to lead outcomes that increased involvement in physical activity opportunities that met students’ complex and changing needs.
Schools that were seeing low participation in physical activity were chosen for the programme, with an initial five pilot schools expanding to 14. These were: Te Kūiti High School, Cambridge High School, Forest View High School, Putāruru College, Hamilton Christian School, Ōtorohanga College, Waihi College, Piopio College, Paeroa College, Hamilton Girls High School, Rototuna Junior High School, Rototuna Senior High School and Fraser High School.
This is ME® fully embraced co-design and – the Voice of Rangatahi (VoR) survey that captured the views of over 3,000 young female students, while over 40 school staff members and 250 students were engaged to support physical activity activations.
A total of 55 student-led initiatives were adopted by schools – including amazing races, colour and water festivals – while a further 11 initiatives were adopted by schools and providers as a result of support and thought leadership from This is ME®. These included ‘walk and talk’ and ‘workout and talk’, and pole fitness have-a-go sessions.
This fully inclusive approach generated plenty of positive feedback.
“It’s great to see our girls partaking for over an hour with smiles on their faces,” noted a teacher involved in This is ME® delivery.
In bringing both female students and school leadership together, Sport Waikato bridged the disconnect between what young women wanted out of their physical activity participation in schools and what was traditionally available.
"We believe everyone should have the opportunity to participate in activities that are good for their wellbeing."
Outside of schools, This is ME® was also highly impactful. Over 25 physical activity providers across Waikato are now better equipped to deliver opportunities to young women thanks to This is ME® and YWAF support.
For example, the team worked with Northern Districts Cricket Association (NDCA) to dismantle participation barriers for women and girls in cricket. These barriers are outlined in a case study detailing another YWAF-supported initiative, New Zealand Cricket’s Yeah! Girls programme.
This is ME® partnered with NDCA to test a revised ‘brand’ of cricket that stripped away all inhibitors for women and girls (for example, long days in the field, fast bowlers, hard balls, and ‘outs’) and instead focused on the fundamentals for example, hitting a ball with a bat and running between wickets) in a fun and friendly environment.
A ‘backyard’ style game for women, young women and girls, the Backyard and Sista Smash formats are now an established feature of the cricket programme across Northern Districts., 800 young women in Waikato having participated and Northern Districts Cricket taking ownership of this new concept themselves, which includes sharing this game with the Bay of Plenty and Counties Manukau.
In Te Kūiti, This is ME® tackled the issue of period poverty preventing young women from being physically active. Partnering with national period underwear brand AWWA, workshops were delivered to young women that dispelled myths about physical activity while menstruating and provided reassurance and confidence in their abilities to manage their periods at the same time as keeping moving.
The thirty-six young wāhine between 11 and 16 years old who participated in the workshops each received three pairs of underwear donated by AWWA.
“AWWA’s partnership with This is ME® represents our commitment to ensuring no individual misses out on opportunities to engage in sport, recreation or education due to having their ikura (period),” said AWWA co-founder Kylie Matthews.
“We believe everyone should have the opportunity to participate in activities that are good for their wellbeing, and AWWA want to help remove the barriers preventing some waahine from doing so.”
Another wellbeing-focused initiative through This is ME® aimed to facilitate ways for young Waikato women with endometriosis to be active. A focus group with five young women with suspected or diagnosed endometriosis highlighted that committing to regular physical activities such as sports teams and gym classes was difficult due to pain management demands, fatigue, and inconsistent energy levels.
This is ME® partnered with The Studio and Insights Endometriosis to develop a series of Healthy Movement for Endometriosis sessions. These sessions created a space for young women with these very personal and challenging barriers to learn more about their bodies so that they could be physically active in a safe way, normalising physical activity participation among a previously marginalised group.
At a Glance
What was the need or problem in the community?
Participation in physical activity by young women between the ages of 14-18 drops off significantly – and is often not recovered over their lifetime. Young women understand why being active is good for them, but their experiences of sport and physical activity can lead to them dropping out altogether.
What challenges or barriers existed and how were they overcome?
An overemphasis on competition, education and family related pressures, appearance (body image), confidence (personal and social), and concerns associated with ability (for example, injury or health; being new to the activity) have been identified as barriers to participation by this group.
Motivations for being active include having fun with friends, learning new skills, meeting new people, and keeping fit.
What were the key success factors – and were they driven by an innovative approach?
The This is ME® Secondary Schools programme adopted a research-based approach, surveying widely to capture female voices to ensure physical activity opportunities leveraged motivations and met the needs of female students. The approach was to avoid “doing” and focus on influencing.
What outcomes were achieved?
More than 3,000 Waikato young wāhine participated in Voice of Rangatahi (VoR) surveys and more than 40 members of school staff supported their female students to lead physical activity activations.
More than 1,200 young women attended This is ME® partnered sessions, enabling them to try new activities and understand how they like to be active.
Following engagement with This is ME®, 80 percent of sports and recreation providers felt they were better equipped to meet the needs of young women.
What comes next?
This is ME® aims to continue to ensure that young women have access to a range of quality physical activity opportunities that encourage, support, and celebrate them moving their bodies, to develop a lifelong love of being active.
The team will continue to utilise insights from VoR and work alongside Sport Waikato’s Youth Engagement Advisors to determine how they might support schools with low physical activity levels and satisfaction among female students.
Outside of the school space, This is ME® will maintain relationships with key stakeholders as well as national, regional, and local physical activity providers to build their capability and encourage them to apply a female lens to their offerings. Find out more: www.sportwaikato.org.nz/.