At high schools across the country, sports are a big part of many students’ experiences. According to a study conducted by the National Women’s Law Center and Poverty and Race Research Action Council, “at the typical heavily minority high school girls have only 67 percent of the opportunities to play sports that boys have.”
Fewer girls are playing sports, but why?
Perhaps they have fewer opportunities to play, whether it be that minority high schools have less resources or that the resources are allocated to their male counterparts. Maybe girls at these schools don’t have the experience of playing sports outside of school so they don’t know what it’s like and therefore don’t advocate for opportunities at school. Or maybe they don’t get the encouragement from home or are lacking role models that are female athletes. It’s not that they are discouraged from playing sports, it’s that they are not encouraged. Culturally, the majority of girls don’t start playing sports when they are young like their male peers. While the boys are out playing street soccer or enrolled in club leagues, most girls are helping out at home or babysitting younger siblings. This is not to say that all girls are not starting sports at a young age, but this is the case for many.
We need to start empowering girls through sports. But how? First, we need to start by providing the opportunities, such as the opportunity to participate and to be challenged both mentally and physically. This means giving girls the same opportunity that their male peers are provided. They need the opportunity to play competitively, practice regularly, wear “real” uniforms, and have a coach who is committed to developing their skills and overall being as an athlete. For the girls first playing a sport as high school students, their skill level is low, which is expected. This lower skill level is expected because they are beginners just like any other beginner regardless of age. Despite the starting skill level, I still strongly advocate for the same opportunities. Opportunities to be challenged physically and train to reach the next level, opportunities to be challenged mentally to work together as a team, and opportunities to be an athlete.
Second, we need to provide more female role models for our girls. We need role models that embody what it means to be an athlete and that it is okay to be competitive, aggressive, and strong. Girls need role models that embody healthy eating and lifestyles, in addition to female role models that are encouraging our girls to be active athletes.
By empowering girls to participate in sports, we are providing them with additional skills to be successful in life.
Sports teach girls about hard work and teamwork. Playing a sport physically pushes athletes to the next level. Success is the residual of hard work; and hard work is hard. Muscle fatigue and exhaustion from trainings and competitions are real experiences and ones that are uncomfortable and unfamiliar to new athletes. But the hard work and determination to push through these feelings are transferable life skills. Sports empowers girls to be leaders, teaches them what it takes to work together as a team, teaches them to support one another, and builds a community.
Sports instill the idea that it is okay to make mistakes. In sports, just like in life, mistakes happen all of the time. Sometimes these mistakes result in missing a pass or goal and losing the game. But
in sports, if you miss a pass, you can’t just give up on the game. Just like in life, one mistake should not define you. The mistake that you make isn’t as important as what you do after. Sports teach resilience and to never give up on the game or your team.
Sports empowers girls to take ownership of their bodies and health. It teaches them to think like an athlete, train like an athlete, and fuel their bodies like an athlete. This means educating them about nutrition and what foods they should be fueling their bodies with rather than Cup of Noodles and Hot Cheetos. It also means teaching them the importance of getting enough sleep and making smart choices about not doing drugs or drinking alcohol to allow their bodies to perform at the optimal level.
At the end of the day, the result of the game isn’t the only thing that matters. It’s the opportunity that now opens many doors for our girls. Sports empowers girls to be responsible, good teammates, hard working, accountable, and healthy.
How else can we empower our girls?
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