Program participants say while it was difficult at the start, skating now comes naturally. (ABC Great Southern: Ellie Honeybone)
A rollerskating program in Western Australia is working to reverse the trend of teenage girls giving up on sport by providing access to a safe space and free equipment.
- A 2019 report found one in three girls aged 11 to 17 stopped playing sport because they thought they were no good at it
- Two years ago, Skate Like a Girl program coach Natalie Jarvis wanted to create a space where girls felt comfortable and could have fun
- The US-based non-profit Girls On Track Foundation just gave the program $10,000 to ensure participants from all walks of life could access the program and use free equipment
According to the 2019 Australian Youth and Confidence Research report, one in three girls aged 11 to 17 stopped playing sport because they thought they were not really good at it.
For two years now, the Skate Like a Girl program, which operates in the town of Albany on WA’s south coast, has been encouraging these girls to stick with sport and strap on a pair of rollerskates.
Thanks to a recent $10,000 donation from the US-based, not-for-profit Girls On Track Foundation, the program can now offer free equipment to participants and continue for many more years.
‘We just didn’t fit’
Natalie Jarvis is an avid roller derby player and one of the coaches at Skate Like a Girl.
She said the program was born from discussions with her peers about her own teenage life.
“We loved sport, but we just didn’t fit,” she said.
“We were the worst on the team or, being female, we couldn’t excel at the sports that we loved and really enjoyed.
“Women’s AFL wasn’t a thing back then, and we didn’t have a space where we were comfortable.”
Ms Jarvis wanted to create a space so that current teenage girls did not have to feel the same way.
“They don’t have to be the best at it, they’ve just got to have fun and enjoy coming,” she said.
A worldwide issue
The Skate Like a Girl program has since been replicated in Victoria and Tasmania but teenage girls dropping out of sport is not just a problem in Australia.
The Women’s Sports Foundation, which was founded by US tennis champion Billie Jean King, claimed that by age 14 girls were dropping out of sports at two times the rate of boys.
The reasons behind the dropouts included cost, decreased quality of experience, and lack of access.
The Skate Like A Girl program operates out of The Track, a one-of-a-kind skating venue in WA that is owned and operated by volunteers. (ABC Great Southern: Ellie Honeybone)
Around 18 months ago, the Girls on Track Foundation decided to fund programs that encouraged teenage girls to play roller derby.
Here, on the other side of the world, the Skate Like A Girl program was one of only two groups in the world to be chosen and received $10,000 in funding.
Girls on Track co-founder and president Carla Smith said the program demonstrated great leadership in developing an innovative recruitment and participation model.
“The Albany Roller Derby League’s past program successes, and big plans for the future, impressed our panel of reviewers,” she said.
“We also appreciated that they have made specific efforts to make their programs financially accessible to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander girls, LGBTIQA+ girls, and girls from migrant or refugee backgrounds.
“Sport is for everyone, but these marginalised communities get fewer opportunities than most to feel strong, confident, and powerful in their bodies.”
More than 160 participants and counting
Annabelle Rose, Brodie Childs, Ella Gladish and Hayley Shanks, all 13, are some of 160 participants who have formed a close bond through attending the Skate Like A Girl program over the past two years.
They relished the opportunity to rip open a large pile of boxes last month, which contained a delivery of brand new helmets, skates, mouth guards, and kneepads courtesy of the Girls On Track Foundation’s funding.
Albany skaters will now have access to free equipment thanks to funding support from US-based Girls On Track Foundation. (ABC Great Southern: Ellie Honeybone)
For Hayley, learning to skate was like learning to walk again.
Boxes of skates, kneepads and mouthguards we also purchased using the international funding. (ABC Great Southern: Ellie Honeybone)
“You have to move your feet in a different way, all while being able to safely slip over many, many times,” she said.
Brodie wasn’t involved in much sport prior to the program, but soon found her community and a chance to make friends.
“It’s not really about who’s faster than the other. It’s a really friendly place,” she said.
She’s also learnt to choose which ‘cheek’ to fall on and which side is more comfortable.
“You will get bruises and hurt yourself but there’s always a fridge full of frozen sponges,” she said.
Annabelle can still remember holding tight to the walls when she first started but said it soon “became really natural and now it just feels normal”, and Ella has been skating nonstop since receiving a flash new pair of wheels for Christmas.
The Skate Like A Girl program aims to make sport accessible for all teen girls in the community. (ABC Great Southern: Ellie Honeybone)
For Ms Jarvis, watching these girls become more confident in themselves has been the highlight.
“We’ve had girls who have come through who didn’t even want to put skates on for the first few weeks,” she said.
“But as they’ve felt more relaxed and more welcome, they’ve been skating backwards and learning to jump things.
“It’s amazing watching their confidence grow.”