As a young girl, I was painfully shy and did not consider myself athletic. That is, not until I was 10 years old when my dad put me on a softball team he ended up assistant coaching. There I learned to trust myself and push through self-doubt when my team needed me. I began to stand up for myself and raised my hand more in class. I was able to set goals for myself in any setting and work towards them the same way I did on the field.
Studies confirm that girls who play sports have improved positive body image and more self-esteem than girls who do not play sports. They also get better grades and are less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol or become depressed. This is why I became advocate for accessible, empowering athletic experiences for all girls. I am a living example of a girl whose life was completely changed by sports.
Now a Playworks program coordinator at Bancroft Elementary, I wanted to pass along the same invaluable experiences to my students. That is why I created an after school girls sports program. Girls today are still raised very differently from boys. They have fewer opportunities to become in touch with their bodies, be aggressive, or even get dirty. Girls are overwhelmingly given dolls, not baseball mitts, and are socialized to focus on how they look over what their brains or bodies can do. We must not assume girls hate sports, before they have been given the opportunity to try them. It is our responsibility to create communities where girls feel free to explore their athletic abilities.
We all can create climates that facilitate girls trying new skills. Here are five steps to get started:
- Showcase professional female athletes. By displaying pictures, sharing videos and talking about professional female athletes, we help girls identify with them and see that sports are for girls.
- Teach girls to value what their bodies can do. We can shift the focus from how girls look, which frees them from limiting ideas of what it means to be a girl.
- Coach each girl according to her learning style instead of coaching them all like girls. Our expectations of athletes can become self-fulfilling prophecies, but everyone is different. Providing girls individualized coaching shows them you know they can be competent.
- When teaching skills, create a more experienced group and a beginner group. Then allow students to place themselves in one or the other. Making it okay to be a beginner encourages students to try new things.
- Allow time at the end of practice to work independently on a skill of their choice. It can be difficult to try new things when the whole team/class is looking at you, so allowing time to make mistakes and learn independently empowers students.
How do you create a community that facilitates girls trying new skills?
Guest blogger Elizabeth Labedz is a Playworks program coordinator in Minneapolis, Minnesota and a lifelong girls sports and empowerment enthusiast. With a degree in gender and women’s studies, she started a non-profit girls’ sports and empowerment camp. Elizabeth is now working on her master’s degree at the University of Minnesota, focusing on feminist sports studies.