What Did You Win by Playing Sports? Rally to Help Girls’ Sports Day

Rally for Girls’ Sports DayI almost never blog about sports here … but since today is National Women’s Law Center’s Rally to Help Girls’ Sports Day, I figured I’d make an exception.

The theme for the blogging day is “What did you win by playing sports?”  First, though, a little context.

And it’s something that made a lot of difference to me personally.  I was the stereotypical “weird smart kid” in school, wearing glasses starting in first grade, with a lot of multi-syllable words in my vocabulary and a preference for reading instead of TV.  In the classroom, I didn’t fit in well at all with most of the other students.  But on the baseball field, I totally did.

Second base and shortstop were my thing in Little League.  We moved to a new town when I was in fifth grade, and my team (go Mansfield Mets!) was pretty bad my first year.  But the next year, when I was twelve, we somehow got a lot better, and wound up in a tight race for the championship.  One of our star player’s moms was the main coach, and my dad (who had no athletic ability whatsoever but was a great teacher) helped out too.   I made the all-star team and we went on to the district finals.  Cool!

So one of the biggest win for me was winning people’s respect.   I practiced hard and played hard too, and didn’t mind getting dirty.  Even though  I was a lot smaller than most of the other guys my age, I had a decent eye and was a good bunter — so I added a lot of value to the team.   It really changed how the other kids reacted to me.

Another big win for me was learning to be part of a team where we each contributed in different ways.    Like all the other teams in the league, we had a couple of great players — natural athletes who would go on to star in high school and college.  But baseball’s a team sport, and everybody matters.  Fortunately we also had a bunch of players like me, and when we were in the right roles our mediocre team suddenly became a winner.   Almost every game somebody would come through big time.

Both of those wins have grown in importance over the years.  I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve come into a situation as an outsider and had to gain people’s respect.  From a professional perspective, working effectively as part of a team is just as important than anything academic I learned in elementary school or high school.

Many people I talk to have had similar experiences — and even bigger wins.  NLWC’s fact sheet has tons of information about the value of sports for girls; for example, young women who play sports are more likely to graduate from high school, have higher grades, and score higher on standardized tests than non-athletes.

When girls don’t get to participate as much as boys do, or have second-class equipment or facilities, it puts them at a disadvantage.   We’ve made a huge amount of progress since the all-male Little League and pre-Title IX world of the 70s: 3.2 million girls in the US now play sports.  But there’s still a significant gender differential: 4.5 million boys play sports.

So as we celebrate the successes of so many girls, and the progress we’ve made, let’s also keep in mind that there’s still a ways to go.  The She’ll Win More Than a Game campaign has links to a briefing paper and a dozen complaints that the NWLC has filed against school districts who are violating Title IX and not giving girls equal opportunities.