Why We Are Failing Girls in Sports

Girls Need Sports

Girls in sports should not be a rarity. Sports build character, teach teamwork, and encourage good physical and emotional health. Our girls NEED sports in their lives. So why do more than 50% of girls stop playing by age 17? I’ve read a lot of articles on the topic and seen dozens of excuses, most of which make complete sense. From body image to society  to politics, our girls are treated differently and it’s not in their best interest. I’m here today to address some of the issues I witness on a regular basis in hopes we can put an end to this trend.

Issue 1: Body Image

I can’t imagine why girls want to stop playing sports when they are thrust into revealing uniforms and then ridiculed for not looking a certain way. My own daughter has been the subject of ridicule on more than one occasion. You can read about a particularly troubling incident in my candid letter to a local sports mom. I’ve heard some of the worst comments on the sidelines. One particular basketball game left a terrible taste in my mouth when the parents of the team teased every member of my daughter’s team. Body-shaming young girls is despicable and it’s no wonder girls don’t want any part of it.

My daughter is a big girl, 5’6″ at age 11. She wears a size 11 in women’s shoes. Autumn will probably never be a slim girl but she is by no means fat. She is strong enough to pick me up and carry me around like I’m nothing. My ex and I have gone out of our way to bolster her confidence and teach her to be proud of her strength and ability. The kid plays two sports (basketball and softball) and practices nearly every day of the week – one or the other or both. It pains us to think she could give up the sports that bring her so much joy and confidence.

I’m asking you to think next time you see girl and open your mouth to comment on their size or shape. Do you want that young woman to stop playing sports?  If you make that comment, you might be contributing to a negative body image that leads to her quitting. Instead, consider reviewing uniform standards for girls, consider encouraging girls who rock whatever they are given to wear, and embrace girls of all shapes and sizes.

Girl Playing Volleyball

Issue 2: It’s Who You Know, Not How You Play

It’s a tale as old as time, right? So? This should NEVER be the case. EVER. I am sick and tired of committed, talented girls quitting because they don’t know the “right” people or run in the “right” circles. It runs rampant in kids sports and it is up to us to end it.

My daughter plays on a basketball team that was formed because the girls were told they weren’t good enough to play for DYA. Our girls we crushed and their confidence shaken but as parents, we realized that skill had NOTHING to do with how the team was selected. Just one season together and these girls care for each other, support each other, and most of them will continue to play together.

Notice I say “most.” Some of those girls are looking to quit because they know they don’t have a chance to make their school teams next year. Why? Politics. How is that okay? Why aren’t we encouraging our girls to play ball, to work harder, and to stick with it?  I realize that people are easily influenced by monetary contributions, families they know, and all that jazz, but directors need to step up and put an end to the caving. You are impacting girls on so many levels with this type of behavior.

Incidentally, because I hope DYA sees this, some of those girls who “weren’t good enough” have had inquiries from other local teams to play AAU ball. Thanks for not giving our girls a shot because they are BETTER for having not played for you.

Basketball Girl

Issue 3: Poor (Parent) Sportsmanship

Have you ever noticed the parents who push the kids to “take somebody out?” While I’m all about the competitive spirit, I don’t believe we should be teaching vindictiveness or a kill-or-be-killed mentality. I’ve been witness to parents (and coaches) urging girls to take others out of the time. I’ve seen some of the most vindictive players on girls’ teams. Not that I’m surprised with the way girls bully each other.

Last week at my daughter’s basketball game, we watched them play a team for the third time and for the third time a particular player acted in a despicable way. Every time somebody from Autumn’s team beat her – to the hoop, to a rebound, whatever – she would go back after them on the next play and throw and elbow or trip them or whatever she felt like doing it seemed. Not one foul was called on her, not one. Her mother and another mother CHEERED HER ON every time.

This is nothing new. You can see it any almost any girls’ sporting event. Would you keep playing if this is what you have to look forward to? As adults it is up to us to  stand up and say something when we see this happen. It is not acceptable to teach children to hurt each other or to play “dirty.” It is not acceptable to teach kids to “get even” or “cheat” if somebody plays better than you. Instead, teach them to work harder and get better.

Girl on Softball Field

Issue 4: Society and Girls in Sports

Girls report that they don’t feel society appreciates or supports girls in sports. Are you surprised when you consider the above? I’m not. In spite of Title IX, women’s sports are treated as lesser. Cheerleaders are some of the hardest working people in professional sports but they are paid next to nothing. In the NFL the ladies on the sidelines fought for minimum wage. That’s right, MINIMUM WAGE, because they were making around $2/hour, sometimes less! In the WNBA, women are paid a fraction of what men make, many of them end up leaving to go play overseas.

Of course, pay differences between the sexes isn’t exclusive to sports. It’s across the board in the United States. It’s a matter of equality, a matter of respect. If we, especially adult women, want to see something change in our lifetimes we need to start working with our young girls. We need to help them see the opportunity for change. Help these girls demand more and stay in the game.

The Bottom Line

Girls need sports to build confidence, as an outlet for emotional stressors, and so much more. We need to step up and give them the support and encouragement to stick with it. Provide more opportunities for play. Even if there are not enough spots on the school team, form a secondary team that can compete in other leagues.  There are TONS of options. Letting our girls quit for reasons we can easily remedy is not an acceptable stance. It is up to us.