Becky Riddle – Published in Sport of International Schools Magazine (2018)

Students who are involved in extracurricular activities have lower dropout rates, higher educational attainment, better educational performance, lower levels of antisocial behavior, and lower levels of depression (Denault & Poulin, 2009). Knowing this, most western-based schools strive to develop extracurricular programs that offer a range of activities and athletic opportunities. While girls may be more likely to participate in activities than boys, they are less likely to participate in athletics (Denault & Poulin, 2009). Participation in athletics is important, especially for girls, as it helps develop healthy habits and life skills during critical adolescent years. 

As the global standard for gender equality rises, more athletics opportunities are available for girls. Driven by Title IX in the United States, most western-based schools operate under the assumption that equality in athletics is achieved by providing equal opportunity, funding, and facilities to boys and girls. Despite increased access to more opportunities, girls across the globe drop out of athletics at a higher rate than boys (Flanagan, 2007).  

My experiences as an athlete, physical education teacher, and coach have validated the importance of athletics. Before becoming an international physical education teacher, I taught and coached girls in a low performing school in Las Vegas, Nevada. Year after year, I would see the boys athletic teams battle for league and state championships while the girls teams struggled to fill their rosters. In 2014, I accepted a job at Cairo American College (CAC) in Cairo, Egypt. Despite jumping from one end of the socio-economic spectrum to the other, from a low performing school to a high performing school, there was a common theme-more boys participated in athletics. 

Historically, CAC has offered an exceptional extracurricular program featuring a wide variety of activities and sports to all middle and high school students. Our community values health and fitness, encourages healthy eating habits, and supports the emotional well-being of its student population. After two political revolutions in 2011 and 2014, CAC saw its student population drop from 1,430 in 2010 to 815 in 2016, and fielding full athletic teams, especially for our girls, became a new challenge. 

At CAC, we’ve been working to address these areas of concern and strengthen our girls’ participation in athletics. In 2016, Girls Get Strong (GGS) was founded to empower girls in health, fitness, and self esteem, in hopes of getting more girls to participate in athletics. The mission of GGS is simple-to utilize the resources in our community to empower girls to be socially, emotionally, and physically healthy.  

In the spring of 2016, CAC hosted the first GCC Health and Fitness Conference, which was  attended by 95 CAC girls from grades 5-12, as well as 10 girls from Schutz American School in Alexandria, Egypt. The day-long conference brought together students of different age levels, nationalities, athletics and fitness backgrounds to build unity and support in empowering them to be healthy and strong. In the morning, female experts in health and fitness shared empowering messages about being physically, emotionally, and socially healthy. The afternoon offered fitness sessions led by varsity student-athletes, teachers and coaches, and fitness experts. Their choices included: barre, body attack, bollywood dance, kettlebells, plyometrics, TRX, weight training, and zumba.   

At the conclusion of the conference, we surveyed the attendees to gather feedback. Of the 61 respondents, 95% reported being very satisfied/satisfied with the overall conference. 95% of the respondents reported the conference met its mission of empowering girls in health and fitness. Respondents specifically loved the workshops on gender equality and self-image, as well as a diversity of fitness activities. They found the women workshop leaders to be inspiring, and felt motivated to push themselves to be more healthy. Girls also reported a strong sense of energy throughout the conference and enjoyed interacting with students from other schools and grade levels.  

In its second year, GGS expanded its model to include a student-led executive board. The student-led executive board is responsible for the sustainability and governance of GGS and provides numerous leadership opportunities for the girls involved. The eight-member board has developed GGS into a model that organizes empowering activities for our elementary students, community members, athletic teams, as well as assists in the planning of the annual conference.  

Girls Get Strong will host its third annual health and fitness conference on March 16 and 17, 2018 at CAC with the theme of Girls In Action. This year’s conference will feature workshops to increase participation in athletics, develop healthy eating habits for activity, develop positive self-image, identify gender bias in the media, and the development of communication and leadership skills. This year’s conference will also feature a one-day leadership institute to empower students, coaches, teachers, and administrators from other schools with the leadership skills necessary to develop an action plan that brings GGS back to their communities.

Two years after starting Girls Get Strong, the community at Cairo American College has seen a positive impact. Female participation in athletics has increased for some of our sports teams and the athletic department has made a conscious effort to hire and support more female coaches. This is especially true at the middle school level. School wide in 2015 CAC employed 18 male coaches and 12 female coaches. This year CAC has 14 male coaches and 18 female coaches. Most importantly, GGS has created a unifying platform for our community to share empowering ideas.  

Dwyer, Allison, Goldberg, and Fein (2006) suggest offering more physical activity programs for girls and offering more non-competitive programs that emphasize fun and skill development to increase participation.  To close the gender gap in athletics we need to recognize that boys and girls face different barriers to participation and respond to different motivations. To increase girls’ participation in athletics, schools should: develop a culture which offers activities that are fun and social (Jaffee, 1993), emphasizes personal health is more important than body image (Choate, 2007), and provide positive community role models (Jaffee, 1993). Lastly, coaches and physical education teachers should focus on skill development with an emphasis on increasing girls’ competence and confidence levels (Markowitz, 2012).  

If you are interested in learning more about Girls Get Strong or joining this year’s Health and Fitness conference please check out our website at or email me at


Choate, L.H. (2007).  Counseling Adolescent Girls for Body Image Resilience: Strategies for School Counselors. Professional School Counseling, Feb. Vol 10(3).

Denault, A.S. & Poulin, F. (2009). Predictors of Adolescent Participation in Organized Activities: A Five-Year Longitudinal Study.  Journal of Research on Adolescence, 19 (2), 287-311. 

Dwyer, J., Allison, K., Goldenberg, E., Fein, A., Yoshida, K., & Boutilier, M. (2006). Adolescent Girls’ Perceived barriers to participating in physical activity. Adolescence, Vol 41 (161), 422-428. DOI: 10.5007/1980-0037.2011v13n6p422

Flanagan, L. (2017, July 28).  The Field Where Men Still Call the Shots: The lack of female coaches in youth sports can make lasting impressions on boys and girls. The Atlantic.  Retrieved from:

Jaffee, L. & Ricker, S. (1993).  Physical Activity and Self-Esteem in Girls: The Teen Years. Melpomene Journal, Vol 12 (3), 19-26.  

Markowitz, E. (2012). Exploring Self-Esteem In A Girls’ Sports Program: Competencies and connections create change. Afterschool Matters, 16, 11-20.