Girls on the Run International has implemented several internal and external research studies evaluating program impact since 2002. In 2016, the organization embarked on a rigorous national-level, longitudinal study of program effectiveness conducted by Dr. Maureen Weiss. This study is detailed in the narrative below as well as in a summary report in the designated link. A video, which communicates the study findings can be found here. Manuscripts for submission to peer-reviewed journals are being prepared Dr. Weiss and her research team.
In 2016, Dr. Maureen Weiss, University of Minnesota, conducted an independent study evaluating the impact of Girls on the Run (GOTR) on positive youth development. The findings provide strong evidence that GOTR has a positive impact on girls during the program and beyond, and makes a stronger impact than organized sports and school physical education in teaching life skills. The intentional life skills curriculum and coach training program are key to our impact and are exemplars for other youth programs.
There were two main study questions: (1) Do GOTR participants differ from a comparison group of girls not in GOTR on developmental outcomes and life skills? (2) Do GOTR participants show improvements from pre- to post-season on developmental outcomes and retain improvements three months after season’s end?
Study participants included 3rd to 5th grade girls in GOTR and girls who had never participated in GOTR, matched by grade and school. Survey measures included the 5Cs, physical activity, and life skills transfer. Focus groups interviews with girls, coaches, parents/guardians, and school personnel delved into depth on life lessons and outcomes attained through participating in GOTR.
Key findings: (1) GOTR girls compared favorably to non-GOTR girls on connection, caring, coach autonomy support, and life skills transfer, (2) GOTR girls improved from pre- and/or post-season to follow-up on confidence and connection, and sustained ability to use life skills learned in GOTR from post-season to follow-up, and (3) GOTR girls starting below the pre-season average made dramatic improvements on all developmental outcomes from pre- to post-season and in most cases from post-season to follow-up. Focus group findings complemented survey data and provided in-depth narrative on season-long improvements.
In summary, findings using a matched comparison group, a longitudinal design, and multiple methods provided strong evidence that GOTR is effective in promoting season-long and lasting improvement in developmental outcomes. The intentional life skills curriculum and comprehensive coach training offer strong explanations for findings of program impact and can serve as exemplars for other after-school programs.