It’s that time of year where things start to heat up on the team sports front. Girls and sports is big in our households. We had our daughters in a soccer league that proved to be both instructive and inspirational for them (more below) and which led to participation on a travel team (a competitive leap that many girls aren’t encouraged enough to pursue). The journey from recreational to more competitive teams and why sports in general for girls are important is a conversation we need to have more of as parents. How do sports impact girls? And what does it means to support and nurture girls in a way that brings enjoyment while also fostering a competitive streak that will help them later in life? Here are a few thoughts:
My Daughter is Destined to be a Ballerina
It’s a common refrain to which parents of daughters often fall victim. You know how it goes, your daughter is lithe and graceful. She dances around. So she must be signed up stat for ballet. Without a doubt ballet is a grueling and difficult sport and there are boys and girls that absolutely excel at it. Beautiful to watch; there is no question that ballet is not a sport for the faint at heart. But sports for girls is done a disservice to the idea that it’s a girly, pink, graceful, appropriate activity. That’s not fair to ballerinas or to other sportsmen and women. Worth a read is a piece from 2013 in The Atlantic where writer Hilary Levey Friedman illustrates how parents choose sport based on the characteristics they believe the activity imparts. See more here.
Team Sports Can Be Full of Fancy Footwork Too
Have you ever noticed that professional team sports can be full of fancy footwork and dance-like moves? Or watched the way in which male and female soccer players worked those toes? Maybe considered the balance and agility required to play football and basketball? True story: Vince Lombardi hired world-class ballerinas to teach the Green Bay Packers in the 60s. Good ‘ole Lombardi knew the secret power of balance and grace. Well, we forget this fact when we push our girls to dance. Just because our daughters can jump, spin and kick their legs doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be used for soccer instead of dance. And the fact that we don’t know this is due to the inherent sexism in the sport — but more on that below.
Girls Benefit from Single Sex at Some Point
There is sort of a reverse egalitarian point-of-view that suggest we should just have kids play co-ed from young. ‘Why not’ the male coaches suggest? I mean if you want equal access, they say, you should dive right in a grab it. Well, not so fast. Maybe as the world evolves this fact will change, but little girls need to find their footing (literally and metaphorically) with other girls…first. Don’t ask us…those wiser have made this argument much more eloquently.
There is a lot to unpack in the article written by journalist Christina Cauterucci. But here is our take — if girls can have a bit of space to find their mojo they absolutely can re-engage with boy in co-ed leagues. Just give little girls a bit of space to explore the idea of aggression, confidence and independence there is more of a chance they don’t give up. We’ve watched this play out as our girls play basketball and navigate a world where they can take the ball and run. Which is actually the the antithesis of what those much-criticized Gap shirts seek to tell us about being ‘nice’. And this, of course, is a fantastic metaphor for life.
Team Work is Learned
A quick poll of friends brings more stories of disappointment and backstabbing than female support. From school to work and volunteerism as a parent. The dynamic of women to women can be completely disheartening. But why is this? Well there are so many reasons. There are too many reasons. But here is one…. not that many girls learn team work at a young age. And yet participation in sports can be a brilliant path to success.And one of the many reasons we are fired up about supporting girls and sports. Who needs Lean In when you learn from an early age how to build consensus, support your teammates but still score? Are you surprised that girls and young women that play sports are more successful?
Girls Can’t Be What they Can’t See
Do we share frequently enough stories about the incredible sports achievement of women in the past? Or the stories behind films such as The Battle of the Sexes movie? Do our girls know the story of the Women’s World Cup 1999 team? It’s been a hard fought journey for women in the sports world so we need to make clear the shoulders upon which we have climbed. Of course the universe shifted just a bit thanks to the World Cup this year. All of the sudden every country saw their toughest, best female athletes take the stage. We hear incredibly stories of grit (see this amazing piece about the Thai national women’s team). And cheered on our US heroes upon their return from victory.
Billie Jean King founded the Women’s Sports Foundation which provides research and advocacy to ensure girls have access to sports. Her organization has found that girls participate and drop out of sports at a rate much higher than boys. At the same time the organization has found tremendous benefit which makes this all the more tragic. So we need to cheer our girls on. For their health, the happiness and their future.
So let’s be good role models for our daughters and run with them; play with them; encourage our girls to keep in the game. They don’t need to bring home a World Cup trophy for them to have truly won at the game of life.