On National Girls and Women in Sports Day I claimed soccer as my sport when introducing myself to folks on the Hill. In reality, soccer was my sport. Past tense. Some of my best memories, friends and mentors growing up were from my time spent on the soccer field. As a competitive athlete, I had many great times and some difficult learning experiences as well.
I had my favorite coach during my freshman year of high school. She was a badass soccer and rugby player who encouraged us to simply have fun and work together. Because of her encouragement and commitment, my confidence and skills grew enormously, and I was the happiest I had ever been on the soccer field.
But during other seasons I faced verbal and sexual harassment by male coaches who equated their position as “coach” with power and control over young women and girls. This is ultimately what led me to giving up the sport I loved. I wonder now if I had experienced more coaching from women if my athletic career would have been more positive. After spending today with some accomplished athletes, including Phaidra Knight, Joanna Lohman, Esther Lofgren and Lillian Greene-Chamberlain, I am reminded of the benefits of girls and women participating in sports, and realize the importance of girls having women coaches and mentors to guide them.
On the 31st anniversary of National Girls & Women in Sports Day, NWLC, the Women’s Sports Foundation, Girls Inc., and some incredible athletes visited Congressional offices to discuss the importance of Title IX for girls and women. Sports allow young girls to build leadership skills, confidence, teamwork, and community. Sports also serve as after-school activities, keeping girls out of difficult home situations. Young women and girls also see many physical and mental health benefits from sports. These are just a few of the many reasons why girls, and especially girls in under-resourced schools, should have access to sports.
Sports truly unite us all so it’s not hard to see why Title IX is so important for girls. Athletes discussed how sports allowed them to build community, travel the world, and sometimes escape realities of life at home or school. Many of them are still playing sports, but many are also kicking some serious grass in other ways. They are running businesses and companies. They are attorneys and scholars in their field. They are advocates for young girls in sport across the world. They are hanging their Olympic medals on their family’s accomplishment wall alongside their dog’s training certificates. They say that playing sports taught them the necessary leadership, communication, and teamwork skills to be successful.
I can only imagine what my athletic career would have been if I had been coached by women like these incredible athletes. This Women’s Sports Foundation report cites a very troubling decline of women coaches. This year’s gathering for National Girls & Women in Sports Day made me realize we do not lack talented women coaches in the world. My hope is that young girls today will have the opportunity to be coached and mentored by women. Our fight to defend Title IX for women and girls feels as though it will only get more difficult from here. But NWLC, the Women’s Sports Foundation, and Girls Inc. are up for the fight to ensure girls have the opportunity to play.
As for me—I’m inspired. I’m reclaiming my passion for soccer by joining a local community team to get back in the game and to see the benefits of sport in my own life. So as of today, I will introduce soccer as my sport. Present tense.