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Subjecting female soccer players to a negative stereotype about their abilities reduced their dribbling speed significantly, according to recent research.

Published in Psychology of Sport and Exercise.The results demonstrate the impact negative stereotypes can have on athletic performance.

There continues to be a stereotype that women are inferior as soccer players. This view continues regardless of women’s success on the field. Scientists from the Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany, researched one stereotype in particular, namely: “females cannot play soccer.” This idea is still prevalent in Germany despite the success of the nation’s women’s national team. Germany is the only country whose men’s and women’s national teams have both won at World Cups.

Thirty-six teenage female soccer players who play at a competitive level from three soccer clubs in Frankfurt were asked to read a fictitious article either about female inferiority in soccer or about the worldwide growing popularity of soccer. Then, they had to answer on a seven-point scale whether they agree with the statement, “I think boys and girls play soccer equally well.”

The researchers then compared the time the women needed to complete the dribble exercise before and after reading the article was to see if negative stereotypes did in fact affect the girls’ performances. The results showed that women who had read an article with negative stereotypes needed significantly more time to complete the exercise than those in the control condition.

Negative stereotypes can limit women from achieving their potential and effect participation in sport. This study confirms the results of previous research by demonstrating that female players are influenced by stereotype threat as early as their teen years, pointing to the importance of early intervention. Therefore, encouragement and positive messages are important for increasing female participation. As Johanna Hermann, co-author of the study, recommends: “Don’t stop when you’re stereotyped, stop when you’re done, girls!”