While sports uniforms are rarely at the heart of a conversation about sports participation, it is interesting to observe how certain sports uniforms can impact the interest and willingness to participate by some athletes. For example, for many girls wearing a beach volleyball uniform (if you want to call it that) can be incredibly intimidating — but it doesn’t stop there, as some athletes feel that track uniforms, swimsuits, and gymnastic outfits can be too revealing, and of course cheer-leading outfits seem to always be in question when it comes to how much they reveal.
Sports that require form-fitting clothes, or barely any clothes, can pose real emotional difficulties – especially with kids already struggling with body image issues. It is important that parents and coaches understand that when kids have trouble with skimpy or revealing sports uniforms, it is not a question of “mental toughness,” but might actually be a sign of a deeper, more serious issue.
Sports uniforms have certainly changed over the years, mostly because of advanced technology that allows athletes to run, twist, jump, and swim more effectively. Unfortunately for some athletes, these scientific advances have come at the cost of uniforms becoming smaller, tighter, and more form-fitting. The question then becomes how does an already insecure athlete struggling with body image issues continue to participate in a sport that causes them more anxiety for the uniform than the challenges on the field, pool, or court?
Unfortunately, some less-sensitive adults have mistakenly accused athletes like this of being “weak,” or not having any mental toughness, when in fact those descriptors are actually quite unfair and inappropriate. This dilemma is only going to become more of an issue in the future as sports uniforms continue to become more stream-lined in order to decrease wind drag and other factors that inhibit athletic success.
There really isn’t a magic-bullet answer to the concerns around athletes and the impact of revealing uniforms as it is unlikely we’ll ever see old school conservative uniforms again. The keys for coaches and parents who witness situations like this should include the following:
- Be sensitive to an athlete struggling with body image issues as these are very serious concerns that can lead to a number of problems, including drug/alcohol abuse, depression, and even self-harm
- Don’t make the mistake of calling a kid “weak” or lacking mental toughness just because he/she is uncomfortable wearing a revealing sports uniform
- If you think that the sports uniforms your team currently uses are too revealing, check with your athletic director or league operator about what other options you might have
- If a child is struggling with wearing a sports uniform, it could be a sign of deeper issues – be sure to see what school and community resources, including sport psychology support, are available to you
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