Sarah’s 11 year old daughter, Viv, has always loved a physical challenge. As a young child, she was always turning the play structure at the park into her own obstacle course, then came the cartwheel, and it became clear early on that they had a gymnast in the family. Today in partnership with Athleta Girl we’re chatting with Sarah about raising a female athlete in such a male-dominated sports culture.
Athleta Girl is not only a community for female empowerment, but focuses on providing premium and quality apparel that fits all women and girls’ bodies and needs. In our photos today, Viv is wearing the Shadow Stripe Power of Chi Tank in Purple (love all the bright color options!) and the classic Chit Chat Capri in Black. High quality, comfortable and super versatile for her fast paced training schedule. Sarah’s in the All in 7/8 tights (with handy zip pockets!), Topanga Racerback tank in the perfect shade of pale pink, and the Hyper focused bra with a hidden key pocket. I’m super impressed with the quality, and how functional all the pieces are. It makes me want to re-vamp my whole athletic gear wardrobe.
There’s been so much written about how important sports are, especially for girls. It builds confidence, strength, drive, and maybe most importantly, it helps them love their bodies- not just for how their bodies look, but for their strength and power. Sarah’s seen how instrumental it’s been for her daughter’s self confidence. She says, “Over the years its been amazing watching her hard work develop into solid skills. She joined a competitive gymnastics team a little over a year ago and it’s done so much for her confidence. Often she comes home tired from her training but so lit up and excited to tell us about a new skill she has figured out. One of my favorite things is seeing them cheer one another on and support each other at their meets.”
There’s been a lot of interesting studies recently about young female athletes and how important it is for them to feel confident in their bodies and their game to continue having the drive compete. According to the National Alliance for Sports, 20 million kids ages 7-12 play sports each year, but by the time they’re 13 about 70 percent of these kids quit and never play them again. That number is even higher for girls. According to the Women’s Sport Association, by the age of puberty, girls are dropping out of sports at a rate 2x as high as boys are. They have fewer opportunities and their bodies are changing as they enter puberty. They don’t feel like they are able to compete with their male counterparts. They’re gaining breasts while boys are gaining muscle. “Seven out of the 10 girls who quit sports during puberty said they didn’t feel like they belonged in sports, according to the survey of more than 1,000 girls ages 16 to 24. Nearly the same number (67%) said they felt that society doesn’t encourage girls to play sports.” (CNN).
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that at the same time girls start dropping out of sports their self esteem drops as well. The pressure to conform is overwhelming. Remember the #LikeAGirl campaign? Such a powerful message and incredibly important, it makes me want to cry every time I watch it.
Sarah danced in her youth and remembers that the ups and downs of it. “I worry that Viv is pushing herself too hard or her schedule gets hectic. There were definitely failures and disappointments for me along the way, but pushing through and overcoming my fears and self doubt was a powerful experience for me. To this day dancing makes me so happy, and has a way of bringing me back to myself. Exercise can be so grounding and help us shift our moods. It can be excellent tool for young girls like Viv going through all the inevitable ups and downs of middle school, puberty, and dealing with societal expectations.”
Viv is super driven when it comes to gymnastics. Sarah says that she was so excited at her first gymnastics meet last year, and told her ” it was the best day of her life”. Of course there have also been days when she’s crying and frustrated with herself and that’s been hard. “At the end though, I’m always impressed by her grit”, adds Sarah. At age 11 though, she’s also on the cusp of this transition into puberty. How do we support our young girls based on all the studies about this difficult period of transition?
After reading a lot about this, I’ve found four important ways we can be better at supporting our young female athletes:
Positive body talk (and leading by example). I think this is the most important thing we can do. Research now shows that kids are starting to be concerned with their body image by the age of 5. Already, these little girls are starting to internalize societies standards of beauty and thinness and feel like sports don’t fit into that ideal. It’s an uphill battle, but we focus on talking about our bodies in a positive way. Focusing on what your body can do, not what it looks like. Instead of the physical appearance, we can focus on how our body functions and performs. How hard physical work and training can help it grow strong and healthy.
Pointing out the unhealthy societal messages towards girls. We see the negative female messages all around us and especially in entertainment, music, and magazines, even in how girls are treated in school. It’s impossible to shield them but we can be proactive about pointing out the harmful message and challenging it so our girls can learn to do the same for themselves.
Give them female-only spaces. Girls are just as athletic as boys until they hit puberty and then they’re at a disadvantage as they gain curves and breasts and their male counter parts gain muscle. Comparing themselves to boys just isn’t fair anymore, and leads to decrease in self esteem. From puberty on, most sports teams are separated by gender, and that’s good. But girls need other spaces that are female-only to fully develop their self confidence (fully grown women have this same need). This is one of the reasons my girlfriends and I organize a women only backpacking trip every year. It’s incredible how empowering female-only spaces are and these trips always leave me feeling strong and confident in my body.
Female athlete role models. Today’s girls are bombarded with many more images of external beauty, than those of confident, strong female athletes. We need to actively find try to find role models for them and make positive and meaningful connections. This could be as simple as creating a friendship with an older female athlete or coach.
The future is female, after all. We just need to support our girls to get there. Do you have any advice to add for support young female athletes?
Thanks to Athleta Girl for sponsoring this post and supporting our strong girls