Negative Stereotypes Can Affect Female Athletes’ Performance

Woman about to kick soccer ball into netFemale soccer players exposed to stereotypes about their playing ability experienced significant reductions in their dribbling speed, according to a study published in the journal Psychology of Sport and Exercise.

The study is just one amid an increasingly large volume of studies on stereotype threat. Stereotype threat is the tendency of marginalized groups, such as women and people of color, to underperform when they are made consciously aware of stereotypes about their group. For example, a persistent stereotype suggests women are innately less adept at math than men. According to several studies, when women are told scientific research shows gender differences between men and women in math, they often perform worse on math tests.

Stereotype Threat Reduces Female Soccer Players’ Skill

Although women’s sports continue to increase in popularity, stereotypes suggest women are inferior athletes. To test how this affects female performance, scientists from Germany recruited 36 competitive female soccer players from three different Frankfurt soccer clubs. Each participant was timed in a dribbling exercise at the beginning of the experiment.

Each participant read a fake article about soccer. One article discussed the increasing worldwide popularity of soccer, while the other argued that women are inferior soccer players. Next, researchers asked them to indicate, using a 7-point scale, how strongly they believed the statement “I think boys and girls play soccer equally well.”

Researchers again timed players’ dribbling speed to assess the effects of the stereotype exposure. Women who had read the negative article about women’s athletic ability dribbled more slowly than they did before reading the article.

Stereotypes and Inequality Persist in Women’s Athletics

Female athletes are often exposed to stereotypes and discrimination, even within their own athletic leagues. Earlier this year, five members of the United States women’s soccer team filed a lawsuit alleging gender-based wage discrimination. The suit alleges that, although the team brought in $20 million more in revenue in 2015 than the men’s team, female players are paid about 25% of what male players earn.


  1. Gorlick, A. (2009, February 24). Stereotype threat harms female, minority performance. Retrieved from
  2. Negative stereotypes affect female soccer performance. (2016, July 14). Retrieved from
  3. Quinn, D. M. (2003, January). Women, math, and stereotype threat. Retrieved from
  4. U.S. women’s team files wage-discrimination action vs. U.S. Soccer. (2016, April 1). Retrieved from

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  • Kevin

    July 19th, 2016 at 2:05 PM

    And I would argue that anyone no matter whether they are male or female, if they are an athlete and have someone whispering in their ear in subtle and not so subtle ways that they are not good? They are never going to be as good as what they potentially could be.
    No one can handle being torn down like that all the time.

  • Stacia

    July 20th, 2016 at 2:00 PM

    As a female athlete in high school and college I can tell you that the stereotypes are very much there and it is humiliating and degrading to be thought of as just an afterthought when it comes to your school’s athletic program. Added to that there is all of the pressure that you already feel to act a certain way and look a certain way and that is a lot for young women to feel that they have to measure up to.

  • Izzy

    July 21st, 2016 at 9:23 AM

    We always think that we have come so far and we have in so many respects but there are still many more barriers that have to be broken down for us to achieve true equality.

  • Cal

    July 21st, 2016 at 1:57 PM

    There are things that people are going to say to you as an athlete no matter whether you are male or female that you have to somehow just let ir roll off your back. You can’t be so thin skinned and let every little thing that someone says get to you personally.
    Maybe women have a harder time with this, but I know that there are male athletes who don’t like that kind of pressure either. It is never easy when you feel like someone is being critical of a performance, but this is life.
    You will never be able to make everyone happy all the time.

  • addyson

    July 23rd, 2016 at 11:57 AM

    We may say that we are immune to this kind of behavior but the truth is that for most of us the petty comments and stereotypical behavior really does hurt us. It makes us feel like all of the hard work and training that we do is for nothing and that the work that we put into it is very much undervalued.

  • Miles

    July 25th, 2016 at 2:49 PM

    Sad that they even have to still contend with this . This isn’t the 1950s

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