(Original Post) I remember being told by my male gymnastics coach once when I was younger: “You run like a girl.” As I walked back towards the end of the line after finishing my vault routine, I recall thinking to myself: “But I am a girl…Rude!”
What does running/throwing/fighting “like a girl” even really mean? When sexist comments like that are thrown around, it’s no wonder that by the age of 14, girls are dropping out of sports at two times the rate of boys! It can take a pretty thick skin and a “don’t care about the haters” attitude for young girls and women to stay in the game.
So in the face of the many reasons that might push girls and young women away from sports (like we’ve mentioned in an earlier post about why girls quit playing sports), what can be done to provide them with the “toolkits for success”? I found the top 3 compelling reasons to encourage and keep girls and young women playing sports:
1. It builds self-confidence, self-esteem, and a positive body image. For me, it was the small victories I made on the volleyball court that made me more confident in my skills. Making a good pass or acing a serve allowed me to feel like I was doing my part to help out my team.
2. The health benefits are tremendous! Girls and women who play sports have lower levels of depression, and just 4 hours of exercise per week can reduce the risk of breast cancer by up to 60% (Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 1994).
3. It teaches important real-world skills like teamwork and goal-setting—behaviors that will help them succeed in a competitive workplace setting.
The list can go on, but without a doubt, the physical, psychological, and social benefits are HUGE! The Women’s Sports Foundation actively works to create leaders by increasing young girls’ access to sports and investing in their health and development. Through their Sports 4 Life Grant, they are leading a national effort to encourage the participation of young girls and women in developmental youth sports programs.
Mia Hamm’s on board? Sign me up!
We all know who Mia Hamm is, right? The powerhouse U.S. soccer star, two-time winner of the FIFA World Player of the Year, idol to female athletes everywhere. She’s been very vocal about sharing her optimism and hopes for equal encouragement and interest in women’s and men’s sports. In a recent TIME interview, Hamm reflected on the impact that sports has:
You just look at women in high-powered positions in top 500 companies and a lot of them will attribute their time in organized sports as something that really made a difference and had an impact in their lives. And I see the confidence it has built in my daughters when they work really hard at something, let’s say it’s soccer. They’re working really hard on passing or shooting or a certain move, and then all of the sudden it just clicks, and you just see this big smile come on their face. And to see that confidence grow in a young girl is so important because I think boys are naturally encouraged to do those things, and the opportunities to do it for our daughters is so important.
Everyone—not just girls and young women—stands to benefit from increased female participation in sports. Even actress Emma Watson hits on this issue of young women dropping out of sports in her infamous speech at the UN on gender and equality: “When at 15, my girlfriends started dropping out of their beloved sports teams, because they didn’t want to appear muscle-y…I decided to become a feminist.” I hope that we can all find ways to encourage girls and young women to be active, and that everyone thinks twice before telling someone that they run/throw/fight “like a girl.”
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