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3 Ways to Empower Girls as Athletes

Photo: Courtesy of The Alliance for a Healthier Generation

Howell Wechsler, Ed.D.

CEO, Alliance for a Healthier Generation

We have come a long way. When my daughter reached school age, we found opportunities for her to play on basketball, baseball and soccer teams – just as her older brother had done. A generation ago, these kinds of athletic opportunities were not available for girls. Today’s girls have opportunities to play team sports through college and to see amazingly gifted women compete in professional sports leagues.

And yet, we have a long way to go. Opportunities have increased — but not enough and not in every community. Studies show that girls are far less active than boys and that their activity rates significantly decline as they enter the crucial period of adolescence. In fact, from age 6 to 17, the amount of time girls spend in daily vigorous activity drops by as much as 86 percent. Unfortunately, the lack of participation in sports is even greater among girls from under-resourced and minority communities.

What does this mean for today’s young women? It means fewer opportunities to develop the critical teamwork skills that are honed on the field and essential off the court. It means fewer opportunities to engage in daily vigorous physical activity — the kind that causes us to break a sweat and leaves us breathless — that supports healthy cardiovascular development and lifelong health and wellbeing. It also means that many girls today lack the confidence that is gained by crossing a distant finish line, being part of something bigger than oneself, or stepping up to lead when the scoreboard’s working against you.

We all play a critical role in ensuring our girls enter and stay in the game. Here are three tips for parents who want to help support their daughter’s love of the game.

1. Talk about the benefits

Research suggests the No. 1 reason boys like to participate in sports is for competition and excitement. For girls? Physical health improvement. Don’t be shy about explaining the immediate and long-term health benefits of being active.

2. Encourage new experiences

Encourage your daughter to try new activities whether they are traditional or non-traditional sports. Consider a family afternoon focused on less common activities like rock climbing, badminton, stand-up paddle boarding or a game of four square. The options are endless.

3. Go to the ball game

Have you ever taken your daughter to a WNBA game or a National Women’s Soccer League match? Showing your daughter professional female athletes provides a powerful example of role models.

Most of all, we need to increase opportunities and, once and for all, change cultural perceptions about girls and physical activity. May is National Physical Fitness and Sports Month, and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation and the Clinton Foundation are shining a spotlight on the disparities between girls’ and boys’ participation in physical activity and sports. Join the conversation using the hashtag #GirlsAre.

#GirlsAre entitled to as many physical activity opportunities as boys. #GirlsAre expected to be as physically active as boys. #GirlsAre going to be supported by their families and communities in their physical activities. Spread the word.

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