girl preparing to serve volleyballUWindsor researchers aim to inspire the next generation of female leaders through sport. Photo by Pavel Danilyuk/Pexels.

Friday night fitness program aims to foster leadership in girls

A research project out of the University of Windsor aims to inspire the next generation of female leaders one volleyball serve, dance step, and yoga stretch at a time.

Kinesiology professor Sarah Woodruff is studying how a locally developed program, Girls Organizing and Learning Sport — shortened to GOALS, can help build confidence and leadership skills. She and education instructor Barb Pollard have received a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and a donation from Courtright, Ont.-based company Trillium Distributing to train students to deliver the program and conduct research on how to improve it.

“GOALS can provide the opportunity for girls to build confidence, self-efficacy, resilience, and leadership skills, as well as improve their mental and physical health,” said Dr. Woodruff. “These positive traits and skills can carry forward in their lives into personal, academic, and professional contexts.”

According to yearly reports by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Windsor consistently ranks as one of the worst cities in the nation to be a woman. The independent think tank bases its ranking on a number of gender-equity factors, including the number of females in political leadership and senior management roles.

“Another study found Windsor’s working women have a difficult time viewing themselves as leaders, applying for promotions, and asking for additional training or pay increases,” Woodruff said. “These women do not lack competence, but rather the confidence to succeed.”

That’s where GOALS can play a part, said Dr. Pollard.

“We know that if we can help girls boost their confidence and leadership skills through sport and physical activity, that can transfer to other contexts.”

A sessional instructor in the Faculty of Education and a former elementary school teacher, Pollard helped develop and is teaching a first-time course which sends students out into the community to deliver the GOALS program. The students have picked an activity they’d like to lead and are learning how to use that activity to teach girls to not ruminate on mistakes, to counter negative thoughts, and to overcome challenges.

“The students in the class are mostly young women, so they can also benefit from these techniques,” Pollard said.

The GOALS program will be offered for five weeks on Friday nights beginning Oct. 7 at nine locations throughout Windsor and Essex County. Offerings will include strength training, camp games, Pilates, yoga, general fitness, and volleyball. Run out of the gymnasiums at John Campbell, Ford City, Roseland, Queen Victoria, Forest Glade, David Maxwell, Glenwood, Anderdon, and Kingsville public schools, it will be offered for free to any elementary-school girl aged six to 14 in Windsor and Essex County.

GOALS has been offered on a small scale in the past through the Leadership Advancement of Women and Sport, a local non-profit group founded by Marge Holman, professor emerita in the Faculty of Human Kinetics. Greater Essex County District School Board teacher Lisa Voakes, who has delivered the GOALS program through LAWS, is collaborating on the project.

As part of the research portion of the expanded program, Woodruff is leading a team of research assistants from the Faculty of Human Kinetics who will survey the participants and leaders before and after the courses. The research will assess the program’s effectiveness and find ways to refine it.

“Our goal is to develop a good, evidence-based program that can be offered throughout Southwestern Ontario, and maybe all of Canada,” Woodruff said.