When it comes to sport, boys ‘play like a girl’

Marnee McKayUniversity of Sydney and Joshua BurnsUniversity of Sydney

Girls in primary school are just as physically capable as their male classmates, according to our research, taking the sting out of the insult “you play like a girl”.

When we compared primary school children’s physical capabilities, differences between girls and boys were not as important as people think. So, they should be happily playing with and competing against each other in the backyard, playground and sporting fields.

As part of wider research to assess people’s physical capabilities across the lifespan, we tested 300 children and adolescents between the ages of 3 and 19.

We tested each child for over two hours, taking more than 100 measurements. These included measuring the strength of 14 muscle groups, the flexibility of 13 joints and 10 different types of balance. We looked at factors including hand dexterity, reaction times, how far kids could walk, how high and how long they could jump, as well as their gait.

What did we find?

Across all measures of physical performance, there was one consistent finding. There was no statistical difference in the capabilities of girls and boys until high-school age (commonly age 12).

Let’s use standing long jump (also known as a broad jump test) as an example. This provides a measure of your legs’ explosive power. It needs minimal equipment and the results compare wellwith the type of information you get from strength testing using expensive equipment. It’s also one of the tests would-be American NFL (National Football League) players take to impress talent scouts.

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