Young Girls Need To Be Encouraged To Join Any Sport They Choose
By Debbie King, SupaFitMama
Dec 7, 2017
Just this fall, I watched Olympic hurdler Phylicia George cross-over to join Canada’s NextGen bobsled team, aspiring to compete in PyeongChang. Her courage in exploring an opportunity that probably wasn’t on her early radar is an inspiring example to me and, I suspect, many others. I have no doubt that, like many athletes, she’ll continue to be a high performer outside of sport.
I started pondering what it'd mean if more women — particularly of colour — represented all kinds of sports. But more importantly, what might happen if young girls had better access to learn them. It specifically bothers me when girls are misled in any way to believe that certain sports are not for them.
Growing up, I admired Gabrielle Reece, Zena Garrison, and Surya Bonaly — all amazing athletes, competing in beach volleyball, tennis and figure skating respectively. While I only played traditional team sports myself, these women were beacons, showing me what was possible beyond my own experience. I considered them strong, sporty and bold role models for young women of colour.
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My eight year-old daughter will easily be exposed to the same sports that I came to enjoy. Between gym class, school teams and affordable city programs, we’ll likely have a healthy mix of softball, soccer, basketball and running covered by the time she’s a tween. Now, that’s assuming softball, soccer, basketball and running are activities she likes and wants to participate in. I’m happy either way.
But what about tennis and skating? Or rugby and wrestling? Or rowing and fencing?
While accessing non-traditional and individual sports can be more challenging, especially for lower-income families, it’s not impossible. For example, tennis can be introduced on a public court, and the basics of skating learned on a public rink.
As well, 2017-18 programs like “Let’s Row Ottawa”, “Beat the Streets After School Wrestling” and “Go Green Go Girls Game On Project” — all funded by the Ontario Sport and Recreation Communities Fund grant — aim to engage new athletes by partnering with schools, working in low-income communities and appealing to female audiences. It's inspiring.
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Speaking of, earlier this week I watched the new Gatorade ad starring legendary athlete and new mom, Serena Williams. Titled Sisters in Sweat, the video — a hopeful mix of new motherhood and female empowerment — was swiftly shared and celebrated within my social circles. At its heart lies a powerful message, narrated lovingly from mother to daughter: “In this game of life, keep playing, no matter what.” Central to that directive is the precept that sports will help you do that.
I wholeheartedly agree. Participating in volleyball, basketball, soccer and track teams as a teen provided me with all of the traits and experiences Serena shares so poetically. Indeed, I "discovered the power and grace of my body"; "achieved goals with my sisters in sweat’"; and "learned to stand tall and speak louder off the field".
Participating in any chosen sport can empower girls. And without question, something Williams said really resonated: “The lessons learned in sports will help you win beyond the field.”
So, yes, let’s encourage our girls to keep playing, but might I add, with broad opportunity.
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Moms and dads: Let’s expose our girls to “non-traditional” sports, even if it’s as simple as watching the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics together at home.
Mentors, coaches and sport practitioners: Let’s bring all kinds of sports to new spaces that may not have the opportunity, and bring new faces to our sports. Together, let's shape the next generation of players, coaches, officials and execs.
Who knows? Your little girl may — like Phylicia George and the role models before her — become the beacon of possibility for future generations of girls to see.