The benefits of sports for girls
By Brandy Martin | Guest Opinion | September, 2012
When I was a kid, recess was a bit polarizing for girls.
You could play kickball or soccer with the boys, or you could play with other girls on the playground.
For a few years, it seemed like all of the cool kids would play sports.
But as we got older, the divide between the genders grew—and if you weren’t super feminine, you were a tomboy.
By the time we got to the fifth grade, the “girly girls” would lay out on the asphalt to tan and the “tomboys” would continue to run around in the grass with the boys.
The boys just kept doing what they’d been doing.
Today, though, more and more parents are encouraging their young daughters to participate in extracurricular sports of all kinds—everything from ballet to softball.
Maybe it’s because of the recent emphasis on fitness at an early age—or maybe it’s another indicator of our progress toward gender equality.
I’m not saying that sexism no longer exists in athletics, because that’s just not true.
But I do think that girls who play co-ed sports, whether in organized leagues or just at recess and with friends, will develop a sense of self-confidence that’s not so easy to cultivate in middle and high school.
Think about it: from the onset of puberty (and really, before then), girls are given this message that they should be sexy and camera-ready, and that they should do certain things to attract the opposite sex.
If a girl has been playing co-ed sports from a young age, she’s more likely to have better body image than her non-athletic peers.
She’s also more likely to realize that she can earn a boy’s respect by playing on the same field with him—and that respect is better than attention.
This is a simplified version of the whole thing, but I do think it’s true.
Meanwhile, research has shown that a girl who doesn’t become or stay involved in sports after the age of 14 is more likely than her athletic peers to drop out of high school, use drugs, and get pregnant in her teens.
When I first read those statistics, I was floored.
But then I started thinking.
A girl who stays involved in sports has knowledge to counter the idea that a woman’s value comes from her ability to attract men.
She has a built-in support system of teammates and/or athletic peers, so she’s got people to talk to.
A recent study shows that many people exercise to feel more in-control, so she’ll probably feel more powerful in her day-to-day life than her non-athletic peers.
In short, her self-worth will be higher than if she spent her spare time watching TV after school.
Fifty, maybe even twenty, years ago, I don’t think involvement in competitive sports would be as much of a boon to young women because it still wasn’t a social norm.
Now, though, girls are probably as likely to play soccer as they are to do ballet—and that’s awesome.
The earlier a girl gets involved in sports, the stronger her self-confidence and self-conviction will be—and that, I think, is just as important as her physical health.
–Brandy Martin is the marketing representative for NewsOK.com/Sports, your source for Oklahoma City Thunder news.