How Can We Empower Our Girls Through Sports?
By Alison Foley
How can we empower our girls through sports? More than half of girls QUIT SPORTS by the end of puberty—more than half. QUIT. This is a dramatic statistic that is much higher for girls than for boys. And we want our girls to play sports. So as youth sports parents, how can we empower our girls to play sports longer? The positive effect sport has on girls has been proven over and over.
- Better grades
- Decreased illness
- Healthier body image
- Better social decisions around alcohol and drugs
- More confidence
- Lower pregnancy rates
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But what can we do as sports parents, coaches, educators, and mentors to keep girls in sports? We’ve come up with five tips, but remember, the main ingredient is always pretty simple…keep it “fun.”
1.) Increase female Role Models: In a world that worships external beauty, we all need to support and elevate positive females who are strong and confident, not just pretty. Girls need to see strength as beauty both inside and out. They need to view females competing and challenging each other as healthy. We need more female coaches, trainers, and sports administrators. Female coaches can connect with girls and understand their experiences. Only 23% of youth coaches in the US are female. That number is the lowest on record since 2012 and is down from 28 % in 2016. In 1979 Title IX was passed to get gender equity in all opportunities in sports, but we are still way off from equal playing fields in any capacity. We have to push this message and encourage women to lead in different roles in sports. There are apps and programs such as She can Coach and Mojo.sport that give women the tools, training ideas, and practice outlines to help equip novice coaches and empower them to coach confidently.
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2.) Life Skills: Being a member of a team teaches girls how to collaborate, work together, lead, and be led. All the talent on a team or in a board room will never beat out team chemistry. Being on a team allows girls to feel more confident later in life advocating for themselves and achieving higher positions in companies and organizations. Athletes know how to take on challenges and handle feedback, and they understand creating a culture and working with people from all different backgrounds. And, of course, sports have ups and downs, wins and losses. These situations teach kids how to deal with adversity and problem-solve.
3.) Body Image: Through adolescence, girls can become very self-conscious about the changes in their bodies. We need to make sure equipment and uniforms are correct for girls at this age. Making sure that uniforms aren’t too tight and or that the cut of the shorts is right, and proper sports bras are provided. We need to empower them to know that strength and muscles are beautiful. We need to make sure we talk about food as fuel and nutrition and not talk about gaining weight negatively. Our words to describe strength and size have to be done carefully. Saying something as innocently as “The big girls can go in the back of the team photo” or “Look at her blow by everyone. She is like a tank” can have very harmful effects.
4.) The power of our words and positivity: Our tone and how we say things are often more powerful than expressing our precise knowledge of the tactics of the game. Every girl is different and needs to be motivated differently. You need to get to know them individually and figure out what works for them to feel competent and stay engaged. Try to give advice and encouragement. Stay away from hard criticism and negativity. It is easy to compliment the stars on our team but look to acknowledge everyone on the team. Even if it is not sport-related and you heard that someone on your team did great on their history exam. Or compliment another player for being an excellent teammate. Utilize everyone on your team to demonstrate at practice. If you do this, your players will follow, and this will become your culture. Simply put: Everyone doesn’t need to win a trophy but everyone does need encouragement.
5) Facilitate a safe environment that encourages taking risks: If you can keep an environment safe and nurturing, kids will feel more confident to try a new skill, a new position, or to demonstrate in front of the group. Girls tend to stay in their “comfort zone” because they don’t want to feel embarrassed if they fail. We have to applaud our risk-takers and encourage girls to challenge themselves. If they don’t hit the mark exactly, we have to pick them back up with kind words. If there is a punishment or fitness attached to lack of success, kids struggle to develop and improve. Ultimately we need to encourage a growth mindset through sports. We need to let girls know a setback is okay, and they need to persevere, and we have to help them through these times. As coaches, we have to be careful about how we react to losing. If we ask questions and involve the players in the solutions, they will learn and improve and develop a growth mindset.
Alison Foley is the former Boston College head women’s soccer coach, the winningest coach in BC history, youth National Team scout, and celebrated author of two books; ‘How To Coach Girls’, and ‘The Elusive Full Ride scholarship.’ She currently helps high school athletes with the recruiting process. You can find Alison at foleyathleticadvising.com or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.