Researchers’ work helps encourage more women into sport

Research from LJMU lecturers generated insight which led to the creation of the national This Girl Can campaign, aimed at encouraging more women to be involved with sport. 

Milly Blundell, Senior Lecturer in Sport Development, and Dr Kaye Richards, Chartered Psychologist and Senior Lecturer in Outdoor Education, led key research components of the pilot study for the campaign, I Will If You Will (IWIYW). The results were then used to create This Girl Can. 

IWIYW, funded by Sport England and Bury Council, examined the attitude change and sport behaviour of women and girls in Bury. A dedicated programme of sport activity was created, targeted at getting them to do sport and be physically active on a more regular basis. 

Dr Kaye Richards and Milly Blundell carried out research both before and during the targeted campaign, aiming to understand women’s behaviour and attitudes to sport and physical activity. A general survey of women throughout Bury took place at the start of IWIYW, and the participants were then tracked for up to nine months. Accompanying this was a survey of women participating in IWIYW, who were then also tracked for up to six months. 

Further qualitative research was undertaken by completing in-depth interviews with both of these groups of women, examining their journeys in relation to participation in sport and physical activity. This enabled comprehensive examination of patterns of activity, how and why their attitudes changed, those who helped or inhibited their participation and their understandings and experiences of IWIYW. In addition, adolescent girls were interviewed in focus groups in schools across Bury to help understand their experiences of sport and physical activity prior to, and after, the implementation of a targeted IWIYW school-based intervention. 

Men’s attitudes towards women’s involvement in sport, their perceptions of barriers and enablers, their awareness of IWIYW and their influence on women’s participation were also explored via a telephone survey of men across Bury. Finally, focus group interviews with adolescent male pupils in schools were undertaken to examine attitudes towards women’s and girls’ involvement in sport. 

This research activity completed by LJMU helped to identify if the pilot project had shifted the attitudes of women in Bury and whether women felt more encouraged to take-up and maintain regular sporting habits. It also helped to identify if women and girls in Bury were acting upon any developing confidence and motivation to change their behaviours into taking the first steps towards playing sport or playing sport more regularly. 

The study found that participation in IWIYW positively impacted on areas of sport participation, women’s mental well-being, and that adolescent girls who participated in IWIYW school provision valued these sessions. The challenge of translating this enjoyment into long term sporting and physical behaviour change is an area that Sport England will continue to research and understand. The research also found that men’s awareness of IWIYW was limited, yet they were generally supportive of women taking part in physical activity and sport. This raised questions about the brand focus and men’s associated influencing role. 

The main recommendations from the study were to differentiate activity to attract women with different relationships with sport including creating broader processes to enhance participation and motivation. Among other suggestions, LJMU researchers also recommended developing a strategy to ensure IWIYW engaged with men in order for them to be fully educated on the programme, its purpose, and the benefits of women being involved.

Dr Kaye Richards, Co-Principal Investigator for the IWIYW research strands undertaken by LJMU, commented: “We were asked to measure the impact of the project to see if, following the targeted campaign, women and girls were more encouraged to take up and maintain sporting habits. All the lessons learnt from IWIYW have fed into the development of This Girl Can. We are delighted that the insight we generated has been used by Sport England to help shape such a well-developed campaign.”


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