Guest Column - April 2011
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Intramural Sports

Women in Intramurals
A Look at Declining Participation

By Abigail Whaley, Dr. Peter Titlebaum & Patrick Wallace


There are options to help increase women's participation based on best practices in the intramural sports arena. A survey conducted with recreation directors and female students on their understanding of the issue of a lack of female participation delivered informative results.

In a survey of intramural program directors, 45 of the 93 respondents indicated that fewer than 10 percent of their female students participate in intramural sports. Another 34 directors indicated that fewer than 20 percent of their intramural sports participants are women. The national average for male to female participation is nearly a two-to-one ratio.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, women tend to pick volleyball over other popular male-dominated sports, such as basketball and flag football. Soccer was a distant second in female participation preference. Interestingly, softball was not reported as a popular women's intramural sport. This may be explained by the large number of co-recreational teams in the sport, resulting in fewer women playing softball overall. As expected, flag football is played the least by female students. The majority of programs offered female-only leagues in at least one sport, with many schools offering several women-only leagues. However, they are often cancelled due to low team registration.

Overall, schools see the most female participation in indoor and co-recreational sports. Sophomores comprise the largest female user group, with freshmen, juniors and seniors representing the next largest groups, in order from greatest to least. Perhaps this can be attributed to the fact that second-year students have had a chance to make more friends and build their social base, feeling confident enough to participate in intramurals. Many directors state that lack of time, lack of skill level and high involvement in fitness activities seem to be reasons why fewer women are participating.

A lack of national data prompted a survey of a Midwest university's female student body, population 10,000, to see what female students have to say about their own low participation. Fewer than 15 percent of the respondents will ever play an intramural sport while in college. Slightly more than half indicated that volleyball is their sport of choice. This was not unexpected given previous published data and the director's survey findings. Interestingly, 82 percent of respondents agreed that the social aspect of intramural sports was an important factor in their decision to play.

The primary motivations for participation for women were social, as opposed to competitive or physical. Exercise was also listed as being a very important reason to participate in intramural sports. Considering the higher number of women participating in fitness-oriented activities in college recreation centers, this makes sense. Two-thirds of the women noted that being able to play with friends would make playing intramurals more enticing. These female students also cited lack of time, lack of skill, and a larger interest in other forms of exercise as reasons that they and their friends do not seek intramural sport participation. Interestingly, the female students also largely responded that lack of marketing outside of the recreation complex may impact participation. Many suggested that a larger marketing plan may help spread the word and increase interest in intramural programs.