Thinking differently about women and girls – changing attitudes in grassroots sports

By Judith Rankin, Development & Delivery Manager – Northern Ireland

Two girls chatting with a netballSported’s Engage Her project aims to strengthen community sports groups’ and sporting governing bodies’ understanding of how to engage women girls more effectively across Northern Ireland 


Engage Her is part of the ‘Active, Fit and Sporty’ initiative, funded by Sport NI and the Department for Communities.   


Only 18%* of Sported members across Northern Ireland have stated that they work with women and girls – but 38%** said they could and would want to do more to attract female participants!   Often, a lack of confidence is holding them back.   


Our Engage Her programme combines expert insight and research from across the UK with one-to-one support from Sported’s volunteers to increase club leaders’ knowledge and insight, improving their confidence around engaging women and girls and offering some practical hints and tips.  


The Engage Her programme is centred around basic ‘Behaviour Change’ theories that suggest what we think affects what we do and, in turn, what we say. With the support of a Sported volunteer, groups are challenged to review their thinking around women and girls’ needs and the barriers to participation. They are encouraged to review their current provisions and improve their marketing and communications specifically targeted at women and girls.  As a result, groups create a bespoke women and girls ‘Engagement Action Plan’ for their group, to ensure their learning and insight is implemented.  


Engage Her provides a top-down, bottom-up approach by providing support to a number of sporting governing bodies alongside grassroots groups, ensuring the learning and ‘best practice’ is disseminated to a wide range of groups.   


The Engage Her programme has been delivered for three years, supporting six governing bodies and 28 community sports groups across Northern Ireland through our team of 16 trained Sported volunteers.   


Participating groups have benefited from the support and increased confidence 


“Our Engage Her volunteer was great. She posed many challenging questions that has made us think differently about how to develop the club. Our action plan is a working document and it’s great to see some of the things we have agreed to do really adding value to our club ethos and attraction.”

Newcastle Shooters, Engage Her 2018  


… and are recognising the benefits of their increased capacity and understanding around making their groups more inclusive and accessible to women & girls: 


“As a result of the Engage Her support, we have a much greater understanding around the barriers to participation for girls in our area. The learning and skills gained from the Engage Her programme and the support of our Sported Volunteer has enabled us to successfully engage and retain more women and girls.”

An Riocht Camogie Club, Engage Her 2017   



To find out more about the programme structure and key learning, download the Engage Her three year report here.


If your group is interested in support to develop your work around engaging women and girls, please contact  



*Sported membership database.

**Sported ‘Game Plan’ survey of 160 members