Five Reasons Girls on the Run Matters: New GOTR Study Results

Posted by AOBrien in on Thu 09/14/2017 5:44

Over the years, Girls on the Run has received hundreds of letters from girls, parents, school personnel and coaches regarding how the lessons taught at Girls on the Run have changed lives. And we know that there are a lot of afterschool programs out there that claim to teach life skills that lead to lasting change in participants; however, anecdotal stories and quotes from participants are not true evidence of impact.

A recent independent study conducted by Maureen R. Weiss, Ph.D, a leading expert in positive youth development research, provides compelling evidence that Girls on the Run is highly effective at driving transformative and lasting change in the lives of third to fifth grade girls. This third-party study used a rigorous approach to evaluate the effectiveness of Girls on the Run on youth development.  The study specifically looked at whether Girls on the Run participants differ from a comparison group of girls not in Girls on the Run on developmental outcomes and evaluated whether Girls on the Run participants showed improvements from the beginning to the end of the program and if they retained those improvements beyond the end of the program.

Here are five reasons why Girls on the Run matters:

Studies show that 3rd – 8th grade is a critical period of time for girls.  At an age when girls are constantly trying to measure up to ideas of who they should be when they’re still discovering who they are Girls on the Run helps girls realize that their potential isn’t just enormous, it’s beyond measure.

Girls who were the least active before Girls on the Run increased their physical activity level by 40 percent from pre-season to post-season and maintained this increased level beyond the program’s end.  In addition, girls who were more sedentary at the start of Girls on the Run reduced time spent watching TV and playing video and computer games by 20% from pre- to post-season. Girls who began the program with below-average scores significantly improved from pre- to post-season on all outcomes. These results mean that girls who need a program like Girls on the Run the most saw the greatest benefits.

Throughout the course of the ten-week program, girls learn critical life skills and it is the combination of the research-based curriculum, trained coaches and a commitment to serve all girls that sets Girls on the Run apart from other after-school programs.  The study looked at whether Girls on the Run participants differ from a comparison group of girls not in Girls on the Run on developmental outcomes and life skills. The comparison group reported on experiences in an organized sport or physical education. Girls in Girls on the Run were significantly more likely than girls in physical education or organized sports programs to learn and use life skills, including managing emotions, resolving conflict, helping others and making intentional decisions.


Life skills are defined as competencies learned in one domain or context, like at Girls on the Run, that are successfully transferred to other domains and contexts, like at home, at school or with friends. Each lesson focuses on themes that girls can relate to such as making and being friends, recognizing and managing emotions, and working as a team. During the program, Girls learn specific skills and strategies such as how to manage emotions, resolve conflict, help others and make intentional decisions that can be applied in other aspects of their lives. 

“Girls on the Run participants scored higher in managing emotions, resolving conflict, helping others, and making intentional decisions than participants in organized sport or physical education,” confirms Weiss. “Being able to generalize skills learned in the program to other situations such as at school or at home is a distinguishing feature of Girls on the Run compared to traditional youth sports and school physical education, and suggests that the intentional life skills curriculum and coach-training program can serve as exemplars for other youth programs.”

The study showed that 7 out of 10 girls who improved from pre-season to post-season sustained improvements in competence, confidence, connection, character, caring, or physical activity beyond the season’s end. Girls made the greatest gains in confidence (how much they liked the kind of person they are) and connection (how supported they felt by thier peers); however, significant gains were made in all areas.  Running is used to inspire and motivate girls, encourage lifelong health and fitness, and build confidence through accomplishment. Additionally, to show girls that they have the power and potential to make a contribution to their community and on society, each team creates and executes a local community service project. This experience demonstrates to girls the unimaginable strength that comes from helping others and enhances the gains in these areas.  

In Summary, what the study tells us is that the Girls on the Run  intentional life skills curriculum and coach training program are key to our impact and are exemplars for other youth programs.  The findings provide strong evidence that Girls on the Run is effective in promoting positive youth development, including season-long and lasting change in competence, confidence, connection, character, caring, physical activity, and life skills. Furthermore, the ability to transfer life skills learned in GOTR distinguished participants from those in organized sports and physical education programs, demonstrating that strategies such as those for managing emotions, resolving conflict, helping others, and making intentional decisions are optimized when they are explicitly taught.

About Girls on the Run
Based in Charlotte, NC, Girls on the Run is a nonprofit organization founded in 1996 with local Councils in all 50 states that has now served nearly than one and a half million girls.

Girls on the Run St. Louis started in 2002 and has programs in 300 sites in more than 60 school districts and served over 35,000 girls in 23 counties in the Greater St Louis Area. 

Girls on the Run was recently included as a top research-based program in a Social-Emotional Learning Guide developed by researchers at Harvard University and has been recognized by the National Afterschool Association (NAA) as one of the most influential after-school programs.

About the study
Maureen R. Weiss, Ph.D., a leading scholar in positive youth development research, led the independent, longitudinal study. Dr. Weiss is a professor in the School of Kinesiology and an adjunct professor in the Institute of Child Development at the University of Minnesota. She has published more than 150 refereed journal articles and book chapters, and has edited or co-edited four books on youth sport and physical activity. She received the 2014 President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition Science Board’s Honor Award and the Distinguished Scholar Award from the North American Society for the Psychology of Sport and Physical Activity in 2016.