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When I had kids, two boys and a girl, I knew without question that I wanted my daughter to be involved in sports. Unfortunately, very early in life, girls are socialized to focus primarily on their appearance and work really hard to attract the boys. I’m not suggesting that playing the “I like you; do you like me” game is inherently bad or wrong, but when it comes at the expense of other developmental activities, like academic, physical and psychological success, it’s problematic. I knew that playing sports would teach my daughter a number of skills that she would likely never learn in the traditional, institutionalized school setting, or anywhere else for that matter.

First and foremost, girls who play sports tend to develop a sense of self that does not revolve around their appearance. They are trained to assert themselves in ways that challenge them physically and intellectually. As they condition and learn the skills necessary to play the game, their focus is on building the physical stamina and finesse necessary to do well on the court. They can’t be concerned with appearance. They aren’t focused on how good their clothes look on their bodies. They’re not worried about applying their makeup just right so that everyone seeing them finds them attractive. They don’t spend hours trying to decide what shoes to wear with their outfit and calling their friends to make sure they coordinate. Their attention is to more important things, such as making sure they’re fit enough to run the court and know their plays well enough to succeed in the game.

Second, girls who play sports learn what it means to be part of a team. While boys in American culture are encouraged at every turn to work with one another, girls are taught to compete against one another rather than learning to support each other toward a positive end. Playing to win a game requires the girls to anticipate their teammate’s moves, communicate their intent, and collaborate when carrying out a play. Teamwork learned on the court will be a good carryover into the workforce where forming alliances is a must.

Third, girls who play sports learn to use their time wisely. In most schools, to play sports you have to sustain a certain grade point average. Because of the substantial commitment for practices and games, the girls have to learn to efficiently manage the time they do have in order to meet the required standards. It is, at the very least, an exercise in discipline.

Fourth, girls who play sports tend to stay out of trouble. As my daughter says, “It gives me something to do and it’s a great way to express anger.” What better way to engage our daughters than to introduce them to an activity that will not only keep them in shape, but entertain them as well. There is ample opportunity for them to get in trouble, to be places they ought not be, to be thinking about things they ought not be thinking about… Sports provide a healthy alternative to less than positive opportunities.

Finally, girls who play sports learn how to build relationships and deal with people of all types. From the proverbial “ball hog” to the optimistic encourager to the self-appointed leader, sports affords girls an opportunity to work and play alongside  peers and, in the process, learn  how to get along with even the most obstinate of the group.

Being involved in sports is a good pastime for just about anyone, but it especially benefits girls in terms of building their self esteem, giving them confidence, teaching them teamwork, and developing their ability to communicate and connect with others. At one of my daughter’s games, she had blocked one of the other team members causing the girl to fall backwards onto the floor. My daughter extended her hand to help the girl up, to which she replied, “Don’t you dare touch me!” In that moment, my daughter made the choice to take the high road and simply continue on her way rather than respond in like manner. If nothing else, playing the game is most definitely an exercise in character building.