One of our Summer Camp Junior Counselors and longtime Girls in the Game member, Rose, shares what she loves the most about Summer Camp and being involved in our programs. If you haven’t registered your daughter for Summer Camp this year, make sure to do so this week! Our Open Houses are next week, and you can email Coach Alecia for more information: email@example.com
Favorite Sport: Softball
Started Girls in the Game: 10-years-old
What is Your Favorite Memory from Girls in the Game?
I think my favorite memory from Girls in the Game has to be all the times I went to overnight camp and was in charge of the tie dye rotation but also going toad hunting with the girls since some of them have never seen a toad.
If Another Girl Asked You to Explain Girls in the Game, What Would You Say?
If I had to explain Girls in the Game to another girl I would say that Girls in the Game is the most welcoming, nonjudgmental, and supportive organization which greatly impacted my life but it’s also a place where I am able to teach younger girls about sports, health and leadership and make sure they feel supported and part of a team just like I was when I was a participant.
How Has Girls in the Game Made You a Better Leader?
Girls in the Game has made me a better leader by teaching me how to work within a team and to communicate with my peers which has helped me with working in groups in school since I am comfortable taking the lead when needed but also letting my peers have an opportunity to be a leader as well.
How Has Girls in the Game Helped You In and Outside of School?
Girls in the Game has helped me in school and out of school by teaching me that my voice matters. Girls in the Game has also helped me by all the support I received which greatly increased my nonexistent confidence and self-esteem.
Why Did You Decide to Join Girls in the Game?
I decided to join Girls in the Game because it seemed like such a welcoming environment and I wanted to make new friends.
I finally got to see Wonder Woman Wednesday evening! It’s been an insanely hectic week of work, so I ducked out of my apartment two nights ago on an impulse; Wonder Woman, I decided, was going to be my you-can-make-it, Hump Day treat to myself. I had purposely avoided reading any review so that I could form my own opinions, but to be honest, I was nervous about the movie. As a lifelong geek and fan of the superhero genre, I knew that if Wonder Woman tanked in the box office there wouldn’t be another movie featuring a female superhero for a long, long time. Which is a ridiculous, illogical standard. Batman v. Superman was a disaster, but it’s not like they stopped making movies about men! But I digress.
I settled into my seat, watched some previews and then the lights dimmed as Gal Gadot’s voice started to narrate. And I was thrilled from start to finish. In so many ways it was your typical superhero origin movie with the hero’s backstory and journey, setting up their motivations for the coming sequels. It included a dash of cheesy moralizing mixed in with action sequences and explosions that get bigger with every scene. The movie even had some superhero-sized plot holes; I mean, did he have to insist on being the one to fly the plane? Really?
But while Wonder Woman retained the familiar elements that make up these movies, to me it simultaneously felt like a whole new genre. Instead of being an outsider looking in, or an extra member of the gang with a bit of screen time most of which is consumed by a romance with the main hero, Wonder Woman was in the middle of the action. She WAS the action.
The movie was about her from start to finish, and that was a revelation.
I have early memories of skeptically watching Christopher Reeve turn back time by making the earth rotate in the opposite direction to save Lois Lane in the 1978 Superman movie. Despite all its gimmicks and cheesiness, I’ve always loved the superhero genre from Heath Ledger as the Joker to Guardians of the Galaxy. And in recent years, women have started to infiltrate these movies more and more; Black Widow is by far my favorite Avenger and totally deserves her own movie. But in my lifetime, a woman has never really taken center stage in a big blockbuster, until now. And this movie totally changed how I see superhero movies.
After the credits rolled, I hopped in my car and blasted the music as I headed home for the evening, a gigantic, silly grin on my face. I was singing along like a fool and feeling on top of the world. Suddenly, it hit me. “This is what superhero movies are supposed to feel like. This is the feeling you’re supposed to get from watching them.”
True, I’ve enjoyed other movies, laughed at goofy Marvel punchlines and had late night discussions on the deeper meaning of The Dark Knight with my younger brother. But I’ve never felt empowered by a superhero movie. Never felt ready to kick some butt and take some names after of watching a favorite superhero do just that.
Wonder Woman made me feel that for the first time, even if the only evil villain I’ll be taking down is the “to-do” list sticky note on my desk. After watching Wonder Woman, I finally felt what so many little boys felt watching male superheroes on the big screen. And every girl deserves that opportunity, the chance to see themselves represented on the big screen. So here’s to more movies featuring a diverse group of female heroes for all of our girls. And I’m still waiting for that Black Widow movie, Joss Whedon.
It’s hard to get middle school girls interested in our After School program at Girls in the Game. Average enrollment numbers show a decline at the middle school level. This year we took steps to revitalize the curriculum, making it more relevant for the 11-13-year-old age group, and plan next year to implement these new ideas. But, there is more to be done to attract and subsequently retain these girls.
Studies show that by the end of middle school, there is a disproportionately large decrease in girls’ physical activity. Despite legislation aimed at reducing discrimination based on sex in educational programs like Title IX in 1972, environmental factors, societal influence and financial decisions are among the reasons why young women are at a disadvantage to get involved in sports.
I count myself among the girls who lost interest. When I was that age, I can’t imagine wanting to join a program like ours, even though I now know how positive it would have been for me. At the end of fifth grade, when my family moved, I transitioned from my large public elementary school in an urban neighborhood to a small private all-girls Catholic middle school in a more suburban neighborhood. I’d also stopped playing soccer due to moving and lack of interest. It was also during this time that I developed juvenile-onset fibromyalgia (JFM).
According to the Mayo Clinic, “Fibromyalgia is a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues. Researchers believe that fibromyalgia amplifies painful sensations by affecting the way your brain processes pain signals.” It affects 3-6% of the world’s population, and 75-90% of diagnoses are for female patients. The average age for diagnosis is 45, though juvenile diagnoses are increasingly prevalent, and the average age for JFM is 13-15. Its cause is not necessarily clear, though genetics, decreased levels of serotonin and a combination of physical and emotional stressors are thought to be the primary causes.
I was diagnosed at age 12, after several months of visiting different doctors. I started annually visiting a pediatric rheumatologist who recommended I avoid stress as much as possible, exercise frequently, make sure to get enough sleep and eat healthy foods often throughout the day. I was also prescribed a small dose of a pain relief drug.
It was hard to be so disciplined with my health a young age, and in large part I failed. Since playing soccer, I’d not taken up another sport. My private, all-girls school offered no other sport options, and I didn’t question it. Instead, I turned my interests to art and music. However, if I ever had the chance to swim, I always did it. I knew how to swim due to my parents enrolling me in lessons as a child, but during this period I was not concerned with technique, I just loved being in the water.
I decided to go to a large, urban, performing arts public high school after this, which had no sports teams. So, my physical activity entailed play rehearsal and occasional swimming for fun. Following that, I chose to attend an art school, which again, had almost no opportunities for athletics. During this time, however, I devoted more thought to treating the fibromyalgia and incorporated biking as my primary means of transportation as well as somewhat regularly practicing yoga.
Now, my Americorps year at Girls in the Game is coming to an end. At the start, when I realized McGuane Park had a pool, I was very excited. I started to swim on my lunch break, as well as attend an adult swim class. I found myself humbled in a swim class for the first time in 15 years. Certain things I could do naturally, but it was clear that I had a lot to learn.
Having a coach tell you what to do is very different from aimlessly swimming laps. At the time, I was struggling with breathing; I didn’t know how to time my breath or breathe out through my nose. It made me realize that I’d been swimming as an amateur rather than as an athlete. I became determined to change that while I had the opportunity.
After several weeks of practicing, our coach told us about an upcoming cross-park swim meet in which we were encouraged to participate. It was an early Saturday morning at a park on the North Side, and I arrived late and missed the warm-up. I’d never competed as an individual athlete before and I’d never watched a swim meet either, so needless to say I was nervous.
When it was my turn, I pushed myself to swim as fast as I could, while trying to stay calm so I wouldn’t hurt my lungs. It was hard and overwhelming. I felt at a disadvantage because most other swimmers were diving off the block while I, who didn’t feel comfortable yet to dive at all, started in the water. Looking back I did pretty well for my first try, but at the time I was tempted to give up on competing. Even though the tone of the event and the people were welcoming and non-competitive, I still felt pressure to do well, or at least not to fail, which was unfamiliar to me. I wasn’t sure if I was comfortable with everyone watching me perform or being compared with other swimmers.
Returning to my pool and talking with the lifeguards convinced me to attend more swim meets. They told me that it didn’t have to be about competing, but rather testing your skills and progress objectively. They were extremely positive and supportive of me and it encouraged me to keep trying to get closer to their level of expertise. I competed in three more competitions, recording shorter times and improving each time.
It became really easy to keep going once I started. My muscles started to change, and my body communicated a clear message: Swim — maintain your new equilibrium. It was the most natural thing to do, and I made it a point to schedule in my swimming time.
Over the past few years, as I’ve learned more about fibromyalgia and my body, I’ve determined that I need to get a lot of regular exercise to feel healthy, normal and functional.
As I continue to grow into adulthood, I’ve discovered the importance of routine and habit formation. Making healthy choices is far easier when the benefits are personal and undeniable. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to challenge myself sooner athletically due to the limits of education I received, and lack of exposure from my family and peers.
Considering the 45th anniversary of Congress passing Title IX, we should all be moved to consider the progress made during this period. Though it’s reassuring that contractually girls are not at a disadvantage to push beyond the limits of their education, we should consider the various social factors that might influence their decision to take that step.
How did I get where I am? I took risks, I questioned the limits of my uncertainty and challenged myself to go beyond what I thought I was capable of, or what was immediately comfortable to me. This is what I want our girls to do! It extends beyond athletics– ask questions. Question your preconceived notions about yourself, and about everything, and you will set yourself up for strength and success.
Around here at Girls in the Game, we’re pretty big fans of Title IX, both individually and as a whole organization. Title IX paved the way for an entirely new generation of women and girls who grew up knowing that they have the right to play. But on the 45th anniversary of this piece of legislation, it’s also important to look back and consider some of the unintended consequences of Title IX, especially on the prevalence of female coaches.
The numbers before and after 1972 when Congress passed Title IX speak for themselves. The percentage of women coaching women’s teams fell from 90% of all women’s teams before 1972, to around 43% today (only 3% of men’s teams and 23% of all teams). So how did it happen? How did one of the most ground-breaking pieces of legislation when it comes to female athletes’ rights do so wrong by female coaches?
Paid coaching positions were the main factor in the extreme decline of female coaches after 1972; as soon as the colleges were required to offer women equal opportunities, they also had to hire paid, full-time coaches for positions that had previously been volunteer and passion projects for women. And those colleges hired men almost exclusively, a trend that persists even today. A 2016 survey by the Women’s Sports Foundation found that systemic gender bias still exists within hiring practices, and that many of the women feared for their jobs if they expressed Title IX concerns.
Looking back on my own participation in sports, even on my co-ed little league soccer teams, my coaches were overwhelmingly male, mostly dads of fellow players with the glaring exception being when my mother coached my brothers’ soccer team (go mom!). As a young person, I never questioned why it was always men who coached my teams, even my all-girl high school team; it was just normal. Fast forward to college and intramural soccer season on campus. My dorm team’s star player gets a concussion during one of our first games. She’s had several head injuries before, and her doctor gives her a strong warning that getting another head injury on the soccer field again could result in permanent brain damage.
So, instead, she becomes our intramural team coach. At the time, I didn’t have high hopes; generally intramural coaches are more of a hindrance than a help. But let me tell you, she was really good, better than any of my coaches before, from little league dads to high school teachers. She was confident and cool on the sidelines. She saw where our opponents had weak spots in their set-up and directed us to exploit those areas. She had vision and she gave great motivational speeches, all for intramural soccer!
I give this example, not because it’s an incredible story that will one day become a major motion picture or be told at motivational speeches, but because it was very normal and yet so surprising to me at the time. Why did I expect her to fail as a coach? Why did I have such low expectations of her? I still remember that year of intramurals to this day, and it’s because of her coaching. She made me wonder why I hadn’t had more female coaches in my years of playing.
And this leads me to one Girls in the Game practice that I absolutely love. Any adult participant at programming goes by Coach, followed by their first name. At programming, my name’s always Coach Jess. We write it on our name tags. We introduce ourselves that way. We call our fellow coaches by this title.
It’s a title that our Teen Squad members aspire to as we heard a few months back from Coach Alecia’s blog. And every time our girls see a new woman coaching them, encouraging them, giving directions and taking charge, they see that they too can be coaches. That they belong not just on the field, but in the locker room calling the shots, in the office making the player trades or in the training centers helping athletes stay healthy and in shape. They see that girls belong in every level of the sports industry. And that they too can be called “Coach”.
Mily is a member of our Teen Squad program which is comprised of high school girls from across Chicago. They receive training from Girls in the Game on how to lead healthy-lifestyle workshops for younger girls and educate adult women on the needs of girls through Leader-to-Leader Interviews while earning scholarship funds for college.
Growing up in Cicero I was well aware that our community was about 95% Latino. Everything from the shops and restaurants on the street to the TV shows I watched at home were predominantly Latino oriented. To my naive expectations, I assumed everyone was familiar with my culture. I have to say, that was extremely narrow-minded of me because I myself was not aware of others’ cultures.
As I entered adolescence I began to notice how my cousins who lived in Chicago had complex personalities and were well-rounded when expressing themselves. I soon became interested in wanting to be someone who was comfortable in any environment as well as someone who made everyone around her comfortable. The only way this would become a possibility for me would be by joining organizations that were outside of my reach.
This finally happened at an ACT summer prep, when I was introduced by a peer to Girls in the Game. I have been enrolled in Girls in the Game for three years now as a Teen Coach and to this day I can genuinely say it has been my biggest life-changer. Along with other teen coaches, I have helped lead workshops all over Chicago and have participated in interviews with such unique companies and organizations I would have never imagined existed.
I love to think of this program as a two-way highway that both provides for teen girls in the area but also allows for us to give back. From spreading awareness on physical and mental health to being granted an internship, the doors Girls in the Game opens for us are countless. What is important is that between the fine lines, my brain was normalizing diversity. I was becoming more comfortable with myself and I was finding happiness in the act of giving.
During a Leader to Leader Interview with Girls in the Game and Fay Servicing back in 2016, I was struck by the evident talent that could be found within the office. When the CEO gave a powerful speech regarding the recession of 2009 and Fay Servicing’s primary goal to keep tenants in their homes, I couldn’t hope but notice the passion with which he expressed himself.
Later that year at our Girls in the Game Field of Dreams Gala, I noticed Fay Servicing was occupying the table right next to ours. Throughout the event I constantly fought my fears and by the end of the night I had decided to approach their table. I began by presenting myself and summarizing my future goals. With a knot in my throat and tears in my eyes I tried rushing to the part where I asked for the opportunity to be mentored by them. I was dumbfounded when Ed Fay, their CEO, offered an official internship over the summer.
That summer I was mentored by two of their incredible employees, Bianca Cruz and Ed Watson. I learned about finance, the mortgage industry, the housing market, and what it takes to develop a company like Fay Servicing. However, I was also subconsciously learning about people. We all possess different talents and aspire to different goals, and that is what makes diversity so complex. Inside the walls of Fay Servicing were people with unique hobbies outside of work, unique backgrounds, cultures, and mindsets. All it took was a common ground to unite every individual’s strength as one. Every employee at Fay understands that a homeowner is more than a loan number, therefore it becomes everyone’s interest to give their job their best every day for the sake of helping others.
When we focus on giving and celebrating everyone’s strengths, we realize our similarities outweigh our differences. It is such a beautiful feeling to collectively embrace learning about different cultures. After all, goals that appear hard to fulfill are only greater in worthiness. Therefore, it is only on us to decide today is the day we start embracing each other’s’ diverse personalities and customs regardless.
I have learned that diversity has ZERO boundaries!…and no limits. It’s okay that achieving diversity will always be progressive. Diversity means race, perspectives, interests, personality types, place of birth, childhood home, all which ties back to EXPERIENCE, and there is no way any person shares the exact same experiences as anyone else. Girls in the Game knows exactly how to tie the differences together.
Girls huddle together in the gymnasium, bouncing on their knees, practically halfway off the ground. Their fingertips wriggle excitedly, ready to shoot up in the air like rockets. The girl in front of the group announces, “My name is Jaida and I like laughing.” Desperately and excitedly the girls wave their arms, begging to be picked. After scanning the crowd Jaida points and says, “Asia.” Asia squeals and jumps to her feet. She links arms with Jaida and declares with a smile on her face, “I can connect with that!”
“I Can Connect with That” is one of several activities we use to learn about diversity at Girls in the Game. In this rare instance all the girls agreed with Jaida, because who doesn’t like laughing? But this isn’t always the case.
“My name is Asia and I like carrots.” Some girls raise their hands, others leave them in their laps. Throughout the game, the girls see a variety of similarities and differences displayed among their team. Some of their teammates like cats, while others prefer dogs. Some girls love avocados while others hate them. As more participants get up to share their favorite things with the group, the girls learn that they have different favorite seasons, hobbies, subjects in school and family structures.
At Girls in the Game we celebrate diversity. We encourage girls to be themselves and make new friends. We challenge them to work together in spite of their differences and recognize the beauty of a diverse team. Our programming provides supportive environments where girls can think, play and grow in their own ways, while still belonging to the Girls in the Game team. As our values read, “We are stronger as a whole team than we are as individuals and we recognize the unique contributions of all.”
“I Can Connect With That” ends when each girl has been picked to share something she likes. The last participant links arms with the first, creating a circle in which everyone is connected. When the game is over the girls sit down and I ask them, “What would it be like if everyone on this team was the same?” Shuffling in silence, they think for a moment until one participant shouts, “It would be boring!”
I think she is right.
A diverse team makes for a healthy team. It would be boring if we were exactly the same. Some of us have to love avocados, and others have to hate them. But while we gladly celebrate our differences, I think we can all agree on one thing: We love Girls in the Game.