While sport participation can improve lifetime leadership skills, most girls drop out of sports by the time they turn fourteen. What’s more, that’s at two to three times the dropout rate of boys. One major contributor? Confidence.

A time of transition

“Middle school in particular is an ambiguous time for any child, but for girls in particular,” says Kimberly Clay, Ph.D., president and CEO of Play Like a Girl! “Girls have a developing body that is changing so much at that age.” Not to mention the barrier of access. “Sport often lends itself to the male gender, so when girls are going through an already ambiguous, difficult time in their own self-identity, they are also facing the question of: ‘Can I be successful in a sport?’” The question of self-worth and ability becomes vitally important and questionable for girls, she explains. “If a girl has the confidence to stand her place and make demands in her environment, the better equipped she is to manage relationships” in both the personal and professional circumstances.

A path to success

“As I continue to indoctrinate myself in girls’ sports, I realize the benefits in confidence, team work and career trajectory for women.”

Clay herself was raised in rural Mississippi in a period where sports were not available to girls. “Early in my life, I began struggling with my weight due to not being physically active,” she says, which has helped her identify the correlation between middle-school sports and physical activity with post-secondary school success — both in college and career life. “As I continue to indoctrinate myself in girls’ sports, I realize the benefits in confidence, team work and career trajectory for women. That has really informed the work that I do.”

A powerful connection

A major aspect of Clay’s work in rests in mentorship. During middle school, the mentors and advocates of the organization help girls sample the variety of sports that are out there, so that they can find one that they enjoy. During that process, they’re introduced to inspiring female coaches and counselors to discuss long-term goals as well. One of the initiatives is to “connect the worlds of school and sport,” says Clay. 

“We really tap into the collective power of women coming together to have an impact in the lives of young girls,” says Clay. “We really focus a lot of our attention on encouraging girls, help them see themselves as capable, worthy, effective and able to win.”