Meet the 23-year-old Ardee wonder woman on a mission to keep Irish girls playing sports

As part of our International Women's Day celebrations here at The Dundalk Democrat, we take a look back at our interview with this amazing Ardee lady

Tia Clarke

Reporter:

Tia Clarke

Email:

tia.clarke@dundalkdemocrat.ie

Jessica Myles

Jessica Myles is on a mission to keep girls playing sports

As part of our International Women's Day celebrations here at The Dundalk Democrat, we take a look back at our interview with this amazing Ardee lady. 

www.dundalkdemocrat.ie/news/home/301614/celebrating-remarkable- louth -ladies-for-international-women-s-day-2018.html 

Jessica Myles is the 23-year-old powerhouse behind Keeping Girls In Sports – a new initiative set up to address the high numbers of young Irish girls who drop out of sports.


The rugby coach noticed the trend of females dropping out of sports when she started playing rugby with her local team in Ardee in order to “get back into exercise after having kids”.

Jessica, who grew up in the UK but now lives in Ardee with her husband and two young children, explained: “There were never enough numbers for our team because girls kept dropping out. So, I asked myself why is this happening?”

There are countless studies that back up what Jessica noticed happening on the pitch in Ardee. A study commissioned by Lidl Ireland in July 2017 revealed that 1 in 2 of young girls involved in team sports give it up completely by the age of 13, despite the fact that team sports are shown to have a direct and positive effect on self-confidence and mental wellbeing.


Statistics from Lidl's research also show that 80% of girls who played sports rated their mental well-being at a score of 7-10 compared with just 67% of girls who don't play a sport.

In addition, girls that play sports report feeling less depressed, less lonely, happier and more supported.

After Ms Myles carried out her own research into the subject, she quickly decided she would do something about it.


Jessica launched a new initiative called Keeping Girls In Sport last September – a non-profit organisation dedicated to keeping young girls motivated in regular exercise and teaching them how to lead a healthy lifestyle.


Jessica is very eager to extol the positive benefits of exercise to younger generations.

She said: “I've always been involved in sports, my dad was in the military when I was growing up, so there was no question whether we would play sports really.

“Exercise really helped my mental health. I've always suffered from anxiety and depression. If I'm stressed I'll go for a run or go out training. It's the best method of stress relief.

“I want to let young girls know that being active can have both physical and mental benefits.”

Another one of the Ardee woman's missions is to teach young girls that “strong is better than skinny”.

“I'm on a mission to convince girls that it does not matter what you look like. Recently, I've been posting a lot of pictures of myself on social media that show me covered in mud after a game or a training session. I think it's important to show images like that to young girls, instead of these staged gym selfies,” the Ardee coach explains.

And whilst she can see the many positives of social media, Jessica also agrees that many platforms put undue pressure on teens, especially young girls.


“Social media can be such a dangerous place. I want girls to know that you don't have to be a size 8, strong is better than skinny.”


When it comes to reasons why such high numbers of teenage girls playing sports drop off after age 14, Jessica cites peer pressure and body image issues as some of the main causes.


“There is a peer pressure aspect to the dropout rates. If one girl drops out her friends are likely to follow. But I also think teenage girls put a lot of pressure on themselves.”


And it's not just physical fitness that Jessica is focusing on. She also teaches young girls about nutrition and does a lot of work on youth mental health issues too.


“I go around schools and give talks to the female students about healthy eating. I'm the child welfare officer for Ardee Rugby Club, so I do a lot of work to look out for the girl's mental health,” said Jessica, “I let them know that it's okay not to feel okay sometimes and to ask for help.”


In her role as child welfare officer for Ardee's Rugby Club, Ms Myles acts a liaison between parents and teenagers.
“Sometimes parents come to me to say that they are worried about their child. And I would use my training to help the parents come up with strategies to help.”


Jessica adds: “The kids trust me, so they find it easy to come to me with problems.”

The social aspect of training and playing on a team is another topic that Jessica feels strongly about.

“There are benefits in sports in that you can build up a social network for life. Many people who play with a local club will stay with them for life. It also helps girls to network and feel confident,” said Jessica.

In the five and a half months since starting the Keeping Girls in Sports initiative, the Ardee rugby coach has been blown away by the support she has received.

“We have nearly 1000 people following us on Facebook now and next week I'll be making my first TV appearance on Ireland AM. We're doing a few races this month, and then next month I'll be doing tough mudder with a group of girls,” she explained,

“They've lowered their age for participants now, which is great. So we're looking for girls aged between 12 and 16-years-old who “want to get muddy” at Tough Mudder in March.”

Jessica and the team she coaches in rugby in Ardee 

And the offers keep rolling in. Jessica added: “I've been approached by a few challenge companies looking to get involved with Keeping Girls in Sports .”


“The guys at Sports Ireland have been in touch. They wanted to do something to help combat the high numbers of girls who leave sports but they didn't know where to start.”


“So I've been encouraging them to reach out to local sports clubs, talk to different coaches and try out different things like having tasters of healthy foods."


But there are still more barriers to break. It's not just about getting girls into a sport and keeping them involved. A viable long-term strategy to keep girls in sports also means recruiting more female coaches so that young girls have female role models such as former Ireland women's rugby union international and current rugby union referee Joy Neville, to look up to.


Jessica doesn't think the feat is without its challenges: “There aren't enough women coaches in Ireland. The IRFU (Irish Rugby Football Union) are trying to get more female coaches on board. But it's hard.


“I think generally women have a lot more on their plate then men and often have to juggle a lot more things. I have two young kids myself and it is hard to find the time for coaching.”

The 23-year-old women in sports advocate also told how she feels teenage girls are often more comfortable training with a female coach.

“One time I couldn't make it to training and a male coach filled in for me. And the girls just didn't feel as comfortable as they would have with a woman coach.

“They're teenage girls, they have a lot of stuff going on with their bodies and emotions, so I think girls are just more comfortable having a female as their coach,” said Jessica.

“I will say, though I have encountered some people who find it difficult to accept female coaches in such male-dominated sports. But I think they'll just have to get used to it!”

As for the future, Jessica has plenty in the pipeline. Keeping Girls in Sports will be hosting an event later in the year “probably the summer”.

There are also some TV appearances coming up, plenty of partnerships with Irish sports bodies and more initiatives to get women into coaching.

And locally speaking, the Ardee sportswoman thinks there is plenty more work to be done to down barriers for females in sports in Louth.

“Louth is not doing so well on the numbers for girls playing sport and female coaches.

However, there are very high numbers of girls playing camogie in the county, so we're doing well on that front!

Keep up to date with upcoming Keeping Girls In Sports events:

Facebook: www.facebook.com/KGISX/
Twitter: @Girlsinsportsie
Instagram: @jm_keepingirlsinsports