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Social Inclusion in Practice: Advocacy for Adolescent Girls in Sports
Julia Tehovnik
Adler School of Professional Psychology



Social Responsibility of Practitioners
The focus on community health in the field of psychology originated as a main theme in Alfred Adler's
theory of practice, Individual Psychology. Adler observed the effects of social determinants on health and how
unjust social conditions adversely impact people (The Adler School, 2012). Individual health is directly related to
community life, making it impossible to separate psychological symptoms from the external factors that negatively
influence them. Social, economic, and political factors contribute to the health and wellbeing of the community in
both positive and detrimental ways. Failure to address these social factors as they relate to mental health limits the
ability of practitioners to provide effective services (The Adler School, 2012). To properly advocate for those they
serve, mental health practitioners must develop a social interest to reform the unjust social conditions the community
faces as a whole. Social interest, originally known as Adler's concept of Gemeinschaftsgeful, includes a sincere
concern about others that leads to active advocacy to promote the welfare of humanity (Corey, 2013). Helping
professionals, such as counselors, therapists, social workers, and medical professionals, are tasked with providing
care and services to diverse communities that suffer from a range of social injustices. It is a practitioner's duty to
demonstrate social interest by working as a socially responsible practitioner. A socially responsible practitioner is
committed to social justice, does not tolerate oppression or inequality in any form, works to reform systematic
problems, and actively advocates for the rights and well-being of all people (The Adler School, 2012).
Responsibility of Sport and Exercise Psychology Professionals
Sport and Exercise Psychology (SEP) professionals should strive to be socially responsible practitioners,
particularly because the field directly relates to health by promoting physical activity. SEP professionals possess a
unique skill set that can be applied to a wide range of environments (Basevitch et al., 2012). They can work with
individual clients, larger groups or teams, or with institutions such as fitness centers, universities, and health clubs.
Their wide range of knowledge and skills gives them the ability to educate diverse populations on the importance of
physical wellness and how to implement an active lifestyle. These services can be provided pro bono, or without pay,
to benefit the health of the community in settings such as hospitals, community health centers, or public fitness
centers (Basevitch et al., 2012).
One way to demonstrate social responsibility in the SEP field is by practicing social inclusion. Social
inclusion involves making all people feel valued despite their difference, respecting and valuing those differences,
and ensuring basic needs are met (VicHealth, 2005). The concept of social inclusion applies to SEP because the field


formerly incorporated forms of social exclusion, such as racism, genderism, sexism, classism, and ageism. For
example, in the United Kingdom, there was a significant decrease in public athletic facility use by socially
disadvantaged populations between 1998 and 2008 despite the UK government providing grant money to make
these facilities more accessible to a wider range of populations (Liu, 2009). SEP professionals have a duty to correct
injustices such as these through their practice by promoting equality.
Adolescent Girls in Sports
A specific population that remains disadvantaged in the field of sport and exercise includes adolescent
females. Women have faced oppression in sports because they have continuously been given fewer opportunities
and privileges as men. This holds true for adolescent girls who are explicitly excluded from participating in sports
and symbolically excluded by their male peers. Young boys openly distance themselves from sports that are "for
girls" like figure skating, gymnastics, and track and field, and fear being labeled as a "sissy" for participating in
them (Elling & Knoppers, 2005). These explicit opinions can influence their peers into believing that some activities
are just for girls while others are solely for boys. This may be why adolescent girls tend to distance themselves from
sports perceived as masculine, such as soccer, boxing, skateboarding, and automobile racing (Elling & Knoppers,
2005). Girls who opt out of sports reported doing so because the preferred to invest their time in activities they were
told they could excel in (Paprin, 2005). These attitudes are maintained through adolescence and practiced as adults,
continuing the cycle of oppression.
Oppressive attitudes surrounding young girls in sports and athletics can also be demonstrated by caregivers
and coaches. Cheryl Cooky (2009) observed a Los Angeles club basketball team only recruiting younger girls in late
childhood because they thought older adolescent girls were interested in boys, not sports. The coaches assumed that
if a girl was not playing a sport before her high school years, she would not be interested in sports at all. Parents and
caregivers express similar viewpoints, as seen through reports of girls who opted out of sports because their parents
supported them but did not actively encourage athleticism or participation (Paprin, 2005). Attitudes such as these are
unjust because they deny opportunities for girls to participate in athletics based on stereotypical assumptions.
Benefits of Athletics for Adolescent Girls
It is important for adolescent girls to participate in physical activity to improve and develop their physical
health and mental well-being. Increased participation in sports is highly correlated with enhanced emption and
behavioral well-being, as demonstrated by including lower levels of social problems and increased perceptions of


athletic competence, global self-worth, and social competence (Donaldson & Ronan, 2006). This is developmentally
important as adolescent girls experience puberty and develop relationships with their peers. Young girls can benefit
from team dynamics and experiencing personal growth and development through the relationships they form.
Female athletes with an increased sense of connection with their teammates and coaches report lowered perceived
stress and higher athletic satisfaction (Jenkins, 2005). Playing sports also has practical application to academic
performance; participation in athletics has a positive influence on adolescents' academic outcomes and increases
academic expectations (Videon, 2002). The benefits of participating in physical activity, particularly sports and
athletics, are essential to developing positive, healthy influences in adolescents' lives. Young girls should be
provided with equal opportunities to experience these benefits with their male peers.
My Personal Identification with Adolescent Girls in Sports
As a young child, I remember watching my brothers play ice hockey and wanting to follow in their
footsteps. My parents worried that I would injury myself, and lightly pushed me toward figure skating instead. I
loved figure skating, and do not regret the years I dedicated to the sport, but wonder how my life would be different
if I had played ice hockey. I also wonder if my parents wanted me to participate in a more "gender-appropriate"
sport instead of the rough game that my brothers played. It's unfair and unjust that young girls are kept from
pursuing certain aspirations simply because of their gender.
Once I discovered my passion for lacrosse, I noticed other injustices with female sports. In high school, the
boys' team had precedent over the athletic fields. We practiced on a smaller, poorly-kept field, in the gymnasium, or
on the tennis courts when the boys' team had practice on the fields. Our coach was able to negotiate a few exceptions,
but our team was not given the same facility opportunities as the boys'. My experience was heightened during my
years playing college lacrosse. The locker room we were assigned could not accommodate the size of our team,
preventing us from preparing for games in a unified environment. When the new locker room was finally completed,
it was attached to the public restroom for the tennis courts and did not have showers. This seemed completely unfair
considering the size and quality of the locker rooms the men's teams were provided with. Even the locker room
designated for the away teams was nicer than what we had. Our complaints were not heard, and we were told how
lucky we were to even have a locker room. This dismissive attitude towards female athletic teams was hurtful and
insulting, and I plan to combat these attitudes in my work as a SEP professional.
Personal Application of Social Inclusion in Practice


My personal experiences with sexism and genderism in sport have influenced the way I plan to practice. I
firmly believe that women deserve the same fundamental rights as men because we are all human beings regardless
of how we were born; this includes the right to play whichever sport we choose. Young girls should be provided
with the same opportunities to participate in sports as boys and not be forced into "gender-appropriate" activities. I
would like promote the development and sustainment of athletic clubs for girls that focus on empowering the
participants during their adolescent development. Through this work, I hope to encourage confidence, positive self-
image, and beneficial social relations in girls as they develop a passion for the sport of their choice. I also plan to
acknowledge and fight any breaches in Title IV that I observe during my practice to prevent experiences similar to
my own. By advocating for equality among young women and girls in sport and remaining educated on the issue, I
feel confident that I will fulfill my role as a socially responsible practitioner.



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