The 'drop off' age for women in sport is very real... I should know 4 years ago

The 'drop off' age for women in sport is very real... I should know

 Brought to you by Lidl. 

It's a great time to be a female athlete in this country.

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You don't have to search long to find inspiring women who are smashing records and making history. Just look at Gina Akpe-Moses, the 18-year-old recently struck gold on the track at the European U20 Championships taking a sensational victory in the 100m final:

When I was 18, I certainly wasn't winning gold medals, I was firmly wedged in the 'drop off zone'.

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Let me explain: I play squash, and I'm very proud that on occasion (when I train like a demon) I get to represent my country.

However, the fact of the matter is, I'm also a bit of a fraud.

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I write articles about how important it is to play sport and how liberating it is to be fit and healthy and have a passion. Truth is, I'm a big aul quitter. I've only been back playing squash the last five years. I gave up at the age of 17 and didn't step onto a court for around eight years; I fell deep into the dreaded 'drop off zone'.

I won the Irish Junior National Squash Championship when I was just 14 years of age,  by the time I turned 16 I had begun to lose matches. I hate to lose, so what did I do? Did I persist and battle through? Nope; I gave up. Was it childish? Absolutely. Do I regret it? All the time.

A post shared by Niamh Maher (@niamh_maher) on

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Why did I quit? A number of factors were at play. I was a cheeky teenager, the draw of fun and going out on the weekends, as opposed to traveling the country playing tournaments was strong. I was also self-conscious as a young teen, being tiny in stature and with huge pressure to look a certain way, my sporting abilities made me stand out and it made me uncomfortable.

It doesn't surprise me that according to new research 47% of girls between the ages of 12 and 17 years of age quit because none of their friends are playing. I was the odd one out, constantly missing birthday parties and events, and I'd be lying if I said it didn't affect me.

This is not a sad story, the wonderful thing about sport is that it's never too late.  Since returning to squash I've been welcomed back into the community with open arms and I'm glad to be a part of the 76% of adult women playing sport now who are reaping the benefits from increased confidence and mental well being.

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I manage some of the Irish junior squash teams now, girls as young as 12 who are blossoming within the sport. I tell them my story as a cautionary tale from time to time. It wasn't without struggle making a comeback, so if I can give any advice to young girls it's to stick with sport: continue to compete, continue to surprise people, and continue to smash it up!

 

Brought to you by Lidl. 

By the age of 13, one in two young women drop out of sport. They are three times more likely to drop out than boys.

Lidl want more Irish women to stay in sport. That's why they have invested €2.5m to date in women's sport. Continue reading here.

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