This week on February 2nd, we celebrated National Girls and Women in Sports Day sponsored by the Women’s Sports Foundation. It was the start of the celebration to recognize the 50th anniversary of Title IX, the historic legislation that mandated that girls and women can not be discriminated against in educational settings. The education code trickled to Athletic Departments across the county and created more opportunities for girls and women to play sports.
Sports are beneficial for girls to feel powerful and strong in their bodies. On an individual level, movement and mastering physical skills helps girls feel confident in themselves. Collectively, girls who are on a team have the opportunity to learn commitment, resilience, and leadership. These are all qualities we want our girls to have in future board rooms and influential places.
In honor of National Girls and Women in Sports Day, I have been thinking about ways we can support teen girls in sports. According to the Women’s Sports Foundation the attrition rate of girls playing sports increases by 20% from 8th to 12th grade during the teenage years (Teen Sport in America: Her Participation Matters). Girls are playing sports when they are young, but as they get older they decide to stop playing for multiple reasons, but here are three ideas how we can continue to encourage teen girls to play sports.
“I love to watch you play”– I love this phrase and recommend it to parents of female athletes all the time. I learned it from a Positive Coaching Alliance seminar a few years ago and have been using it ever since. This phrase is a great way to encourage a teenage athlete. Saying “I love to watch you play” on the car ride home removes the pressure of winning or outcomes from a teen girl’s self worth. It shows that she is loved simply for existing and not just sports performance. “I love to watch you play” reminds teens that sports are just a game and should be joyful. It is positive and emphasizes the importance of effort and play. As a bonus, this phrase is so versatile for encouragement. It can be changed to “I love to watch you swim, ride, dance, run, or shoot hoops.”
Encourage practice– Sports need to be fun for girls to want to participate, and the not so glamorous part of sports, the practicing, has to be enjoyable. I have said before that leadership practice makes confident leaders, and this also applies to sports. A well practiced athlete is confident during competition. Offer to practice with your teen athlete. Catch, rebound, or keep time for her so she doesn’t feel alone. My fondest memories from my athletic career are the many hours I spent practicing with my dad. I also suggest if your teen athlete isn’t having fun on her team, help her talk to her coach about what they can do to bring some levity to the game and practices.
Female Coaches– Calling all mom’s, aunts, grandmothers, and former athletes in women’s sports! Women’s sports should be coached by women because role models are important. If teen girls can see us coaching, they can become us some day. Whether it is youth or professional sports, I encourage everyone to support and invest in female coaches. If you can, take your teen athlete to a sports event coached by a woman. Watch sports events coached by women on TV. Wear their team’s gear and like their social media posts. The more publicity for women’s sports the better.
In appreciating the girls in sports in our lives, let’s remember that the athletic journey starts at a young age and we want them to continue to love sports and value movement their entire lives. Tell your athlete you love her for who she is. Make sports enjoyable and fun for girls so they want to continue playing. It breaks my heart to see a hard-nosed coach ruin a young athlete’s love for the game. Lastly, make a difference by getting out there and coaching! It is up to women to support each other and create more opportunities for future generations of girls.