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  • Writer's pictureVaishnavi Suryawanshi

“I had no other choice other than playing in a skirt because I wanted to play sports”: Examining Uniform Policy as a Potential Barrier for students to play sports

“Victory is in having done your best. If you have done your best, you have won.” What is the “best”? The definition of “best” can be subjective. For some it could be personal performance in a game, for some it could be the team performance. Sports is not always about winning. Having the opportunity to play is an achievement for many. Although we acknowledge sports is an essential part of student life, we have done very less to make it comfortable for them. There are various limitations that students face while reaching their “best” in sports. One of these is their uniforms. This article will discuss how the design of the uniforms becomes a barrier for student athletes to pursue sports.

Manju in her uniform. Source: Vaishnavi Suryawanshi

Manju, a 12th grader, shares her experience with uniforms and sports. Manju has been playing sports since 3rd grade. She has been playing various forms of sports including kabaddi, kho-kho, throwball, volleyball, cricket and is currently specializing in basketball. Manju explains that sports is vital for students as it helps them maintain a healthy body and stay fit. Manju’s college uniform is a skirt and shirt. When asked about comfort, Manju shared, “I am not comfortable in playing sports in skirts but I have adapted to play sports in skirts as my school uniform was also similar. I had no other choice other than playing in a skirt because I wanted to play sports. That's all that mattered to me. Some problems with the skirt is that it's short, when you are doing a serve in volleyball the skirt comes up and that is quite uncomfortable.”

Manju prefers playing sports in t-shirts and shorts as it allows a flexible body movement. However, her school did not allow to wear shorts due to some code of conduct. She shared how many girls in her school quit sports as they are not allowed to wear the shorts. Family restrictions are one of the reasons behind this. When asked about a solution, Manju suggested, “I see a lot of my classmates talking about the issue in their smaller groups. They never go to the admin and talk about the issue. I believe once everybody goes together as a group and shares their issue, the college would definitely get interested in addressing the issue.”

 In India, sports is not given much attention, secondly girls have to face gender biases in pursuing sports. According to a study, the difference in the percentage of boys and girls meeting physical activity guidelines across all countries was, on average, 7.6 percentage points. Existing evidence suggests that uniforms could be a factor.

Shivraj in his uniform. Source: Vaishnavi Suryawanshi

Shivraj, a state level volleyball player echoed Manju's setiments when he shared how boys feel when it comes to uniforms and sports.

"My school uniform was not comfortable for playing sports. We had pants and shirts which were quite tight. At times while playing they would tear in the middle. Hence we had to play really slowly and avoid the rigorous game which we enjoy."

Shivraj highlights that school is the place for most of the students to gain access to sports. If schools do not support students and will not provide a comfortable environment for playing sports, many students will give up playing them.

Sports are essential not only for health, but it teaches more values and skills to a student than a classroom does. Shivraj also holds this belief, saying, "Sports has taught me more skills than a classroom has. I understood what discipline means after engaging myself in sports. I learnt about growth, progress, coordination, and spirit."

I love cricket. I started my journey with cricket when I was in school and I'm fortunate to be able to continue it in my school. My identity has been a major factor in my sports journey. I also faced barriers such as uncomfortable uniforms. My friends have quit playing football because they were not allowed to wear shorts. School uniforms are not easy to play in - they're not flexible. Sometimes while running between the wickets, my uniform reduces my speed. I think a lot of students have normalized these factors. In my own class only 9% of girls are ready to play sports.

It is important to consider barriers like uniforms so that more students participate in sports. Sports is a very strong medium that teaches skills and values. We need to give attention to sports in schools by taking small steps like making the uniform comfortable to play sports.

Written by Vaishnavi Suryawanshi

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