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Childhood Wellness

The Importance of Sports in Girls’ Development

Sports and physical activity have multiple, far reaching effects that last into adulthood. Sports play a critical role in girls’ development and provide valuable skills to help girls become successful in all facets of life. Girls who play sports are more likely to make better grades, score higher on standardized tests and graduate from high school. In addition, they report much lower rates of drug use, high-risk sexual behavior and pregnancy and they have higher body confidence and self-esteem. In the long-term, playing sports decreases girls’ risk of health-related issues including breast cancer, diabetes, heart disease and obesity. Sports participation also positively affects a girl’s future employment status and earnings potential. In fact, 94% of leading female executives first found success in sports. 

Facing barriers

Yet while great progress has been made to reduce gender barriers to sports participation in schools, social and economic barriers still keep many girls from getting in and staying in the game. Girls are dropping out of sports at twice the rate of boys by age 14 and, by age 17, half of girls will have quit sports altogether. Their reasons for quitting — whether it be not feeling like they belong in sports, not having female athlete role models or simply not having access to the opportunity to play — all speak to the wider societal limitations that girls still face today. Without intervention, this problem will continue to grow and be passed forward across generations, creating a cycle of poor emotional and physical health and tragically wasted potential.

Community-based nonprofit Play Like a Girl gives girls an opportunity — and in many cases, their only chance — to participate in sports and physical activity. We are committed to keeping girls in the game, specifically starting with the 9 to 13 year-olds who are missing out on the lifelong benefits of sports and a physically active lifestyle. To deliver against this commitment, we focus our efforts on harnessing the collective passion of women from all walks of life to volunteer and coach girls in their own communities, creating a more active world. We believe girls given the opportunity to play on a team become women who have the confidence to stand on their own. As an organization, we address the factors that hinder girls’ sports participation by providing early, positive experiences in sports and physical activity for girls in after school, and leveraging the power of these female role models to change the lives of these young girls. 

Changing the narrative

Play Like a Girl allows girls with limited access to sports and physical activity opportunities to adopt healthy, active lifestyles early on. Through a variety of programs and our growing team of volunteer leaders, we instill a strong sense of confidence in girls so that they may realize their potential to do amazing things in all aspects of their lives. Volunteer coaches like Olympic gold medalist Claire Donahue are critical to the fulfillment of our mission. Donahue played six different sports including softball before finding success in swimming. She inspires our girls to stay in the game by sharing real-life stories of her successes and failures, highlighting the many ways sports have benefited her life and career. “Sport has taught me the value of being on time, and has helped me build a strong work ethic. I’ve also learned a lot about how to treat others as well as myself,” says Donahue. “It took me a long time to learn this lesson but it’s one of the most important I’ve learned as an athlete: Failure is necessary. We can’t succeed without it,” she continues.

We know the difference sports and active play can make in a girl’s life. Through sports, our girls learn the value of teamwork, cooperation and competition. They also learn to take healthy risks that often lead to new opportunities. Take for example Christa Dietzen, a member of the Play Like a Girl Board of Directors — and an Olympic volleyball athlete. Growing up, Christa struggled with many of the same insecurities other girls face during puberty. But participating in sports allowed her to overcome challenges and gain important leadership skills. Sports taught her that she was capable of doing whatever she aspired to do even if it meant rewriting the rules. Dietzen recounts, “Every time I competed on the court from middle school to the Olympics, I learned more about myself and how to create working relationships with teammates and coaches. Having the opportunities I did when I was younger helped to develop my personality and my drive to succeed. Sports also shaped me as a leader. I know personally the value of sports in the life of a girl. For these reasons, I’m committed to supporting Play Like a Girl’s mission to keep more girls in the game.”

Help girls play

With the help of Donahue and Dietzen and so many other women who share our vision, we are creating a world where all girls have the confidence and opportunity to become unstoppable women. But we can’t do this without you. Helping girls realize the benefits of sports in any locker room, classroom or board room takes all of us coming together. Playing like a girl is a team sport, and we need you on our team.

Dr. Kimberly S. Clay, President/CEO, Play Like a Girl!, [email protected]

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