Single Sporting and Overuse Injuries by Mary Banker

Think specializing in one sport will make your son or daughter a better athlete in that sport over the long term? Think again. The logic behind specialization makes sense but the research shows over-use injuries are on the rise for kids who specialize too young.

As a former collegiate track and field athlete coach I have trained all types of athletes and seen many different injuries. I love winning but never at the expense of an athlete’s health. Whenever I did any type of educational training for junior high and high school coaches I communicated that their job was to get the athletes excited about the sport and to make sure the athletes enjoyed what they were doing. In addition I focused on teaching as much injury prevention as I could, I called it prehab so you don’t have to rehab.

There has been a shift from the days of playing several sports as a kid to picking one and specializing. Parents are typically the driving force behind this mentality. If young athletes are going to specialize it should be when they are in their teens and currently kids are picking one sport as early as age 8.

At Girls in the Game we provide a space that is a level playing field. It’s a non-competitive, all-girl environment where we introduce between 20-25 sports a year. We focus on the whole girl by providing education on nutrition, leadership and fitness as well as introducing new sports. So the girls are using their whole body and different muscles as their bodies develop and they grow.

A former coaching colleague of mine Dr. Nirav Pandya is now the Director of Sports Medicine for Young Athletes and has seen firsthand the negative effect of single sporting. “They aren’t playing multiple sports and they aren’t involving themselves in other activities.”

Since football is my favorite sport I’ll use one more statistic to drive this point home; 42 of Urban Meyer’s national championship Buckeyes were multi-sport athletes in comparison to only 5 who specialized in only football. I would say success leaves clues, I can only hope parents use these clues so they can benefit their young athletes.



7 Habits for an Empowered Life by Jen Groover

Habits are behaviors we choose both consciously and subconsciously. They define the outcome of our days. Positive, productive habits give us better outcomes than destructive habits, and the most powerful habits are those that begin with understanding and controlling your thoughts. Though the following habits are not often discussed in common dialogue, they have been critical in all of my work and personal transformation. Each can be quickly adapted and easily applied — so long as the ego does not overrule your desires.

The solid foundation of change, growth, and evolution begins with a commitment to being more mindful. Once you become more mindful, you can expand your awareness. Paying attention to how your every thought causes actions and reactions, you can effectively evaluate which behaviors are serving you well and which are damaging and holding you back from the results your truly desire. Become aware of every word you chose and the outcome it can create. Be thoughtful about who you surround yourself with and how they affect your energy and sense of self. Become in tune with how the foods and drinks you consume affect your energy, mental clarity and moods. Even be mindful of what you watch on TV and what you read and how it can affect your perception of the world, positively or negatively. Eliminate the people and exterior influences that drain you and increase the people and things that increase your energy and lift you up.

Forgiveness equals freedom. When you hold onto anger and resentment, the only person you are hurting is yourself. Forgiveness allows you to grow, expand, and evolve. Once you can forgive easily, you can fully realize the benefits of your ego being in check. The silliest part of holding onto anger is that usually the people you are mad at don’t care anyway, so it is a total waste of energy that can be used more positively and effectively elsewhere.

My mom had a mantra, “You are not allowed to complain about something unless you are going to do something about it.” This mantra was a gift to teach me to have a “solution-driven” mindset which is positive and productive vs. a negative, complaining, and draining mindset which only holds you back. A day without complaints is like being on your favorite island, where everything is perfect.

Gratitude is one of the most powerful emotions that brings peace in every situation. It gives you a mindset of abundance that brings more of what you desire into your life. Be grateful for everything that has happened in your life, good or bad, because all of these circumstances have led you to where you are and where you are going to go.

The journey of self-transformation begins once you decide to no longer live by the rules, constructs, or beliefs of others and, instead, dedicate your time and energy to discovering your strengths, challenging your courage, and empowering your perspective to find wisdom in all circumstances. The most profound transformation begins once you discover the true gift isn’t about gaining power for yourself, but in giving, empowering, and inspiring others. To empower and inspire another is the greatest give we can give.

True compassion exists when you give your strength, guidance, and wisdom to empower another so that you can see who you really are and live in a greater capacity and expect nothing in return. True grace exists when the “teachers” realize that the gift was really theirs — to be able to teach another. Exercising compassion can awaken another’s mind and soul to their true potential.

I know this may sound simple, but hopefully it also sounds profound. Smiling is one of the simplest gestures that can not only turn around the lives of others but can also create a deeper connection between people, giving them a reason to pass on the smile. A smile increases your mood and makes you appear more approachable and engaging. It can instantly make your life more successful but, more importantly, the positive impact for others can be life changing.

As with developing any new, positive habit, time and patience are key. Know that every step is a step in the right direction. Continued awareness brings you closer and closer to the new habit becoming your standard operating procedure and providing a greater sense of peace and happiness.


A Fitting Field Trip Week with Girls in the Game by Marley

In its most basic form, Girls in the Game is a fitness club. It is a community of people that promotes healthy living and provides the resources and personal support for girls to be engaged in positive physical activity. At Game Days and Summer Camp, Coach Jessica stands in front of a crowd and projects, “Good morning, how are we doing today?” She is missing only the microphone headset and tower stereo set that blasts EDM remixes. However, at Girls in the Game, top 40 music has been replaced by a series of ever-changing group hand games, and despite the surrounding city traffic and sounds of other nearby camps, there is no need for a microphone. In my week of volunteering at the Girls in the Game Sports and Leadership Summer Camp, I have found that 120 of Chicago’s young ladies can shout loud and make it clear what makes Girls in the Game special, healthy, and a perfect fit for girls everywhere.

During “field trip week”, I had the opportunity to explore Chicago with summer camp’s Team Two, sometimes self-named Blueberry Zebras or Awesome Sting Rays. This team of 9 year-olds is close to the youngest at camp; however, I have been struck by the complexity of their ideas and stories. Riding a camp bus to the Shedd Aquarium, one of my teammates shared with me her family’s plans to move to Minnesota due to the fact that “so many people are shot up around here.” She seemed a bit disappointed about leaving Chicago, so I suggested she return one summer and visit Girls in the Game’s camp again. “Yeah, I’m going to come back and be a coach one day!” she exclaimed, her voice indicating that I, of course, should have already known her future plans. It was my first bus ride on my first day of volunteering, but this young lady’s tone was appropriate; as gyms around Chicago offer countless discounts and deals, I should have known that Girls in the Game would have a different level of loyalty. This is where “girls run the world” right?

After my first day of camp, I passed another new fitness club in the West Loop, this one with a sign that read, “Judgment-free zone. All fitness levels welcome.” Choosing to volunteer at Girls in the Game after coaching a gymnastics camp where children are very cognizant of their assigned level, I was curious to see how Team Two judged and reacted to each other’s varying talents. In most situations, I found one reaction: support. Even I, a temporary counselor, felt welcomed by both the campers and staff. On Tuesday morning, there were slight debates over seating on the camp bus, but during Tuesday afternoon, a coach’s silent glance prompted a camper to suggest, “It doesn’t matter who we sit with. Let’s do this.” Team Two’s bus realization exemplified the small acts of leadership and problem solving Girls in the Game encourages. In only a week, the small acts added up; each 9 year-old I met is a true individual and leader.

As “field trip week” came to a close, Girls in the Game did experience some issues with bullying. Upon being notified of various small incidents, Coach Jessica made it clear to other coaches that such behavior, however natural and expected it seemed, was to stop.  Another Team Two counselor, a college-bound girl who has been in the game for years, explained to me her plan to address 9 year-old bullying; she aimed to tackle the issue in its entirety by exploring the causes, effects, and possible responses to bullying as a complete, unified Team Two.  I was impressed by the maturity level she demanded from 9 year-old girls as well as by her own commitment to the camp. This co-counselor demonstrated the awareness, confidence, and dedication Girls in the Game builds in young ladies.  I am proud to have been a part of their impact and am excited to contribute to the organization’s growth.

My few moments of involvement with Girls in the Game – at a Game Day, Field of Dreams, and now a week of Summer Camp- have motivated me to be a more impactful leader in my own communities. Now entering my senior year of at Whitney M. Young Magnet High School, I have created a Junior Board to fundraise for and increase awareness of Girls in the Game.  Resurrection High School was successful in this endeavor during the 2014-2015 school year and I look forward to building on their accomplishments as well as helping to establish similar junior boards at Northside College Prep, Walter Payton College Prep, and Loyola Academy.  Please support any social media, activities, or events associated with Girls in the Game Junior Boards!  The Whitney Young Junior Board aims to partner with restaurants, businesses, and even fitness clubs in an effort to expand the number of loyal athletes, thinkers, and leaders who are lucky enough to experience and grow with Girls in the Game.

Check out Girls in the Game on Facebook;

Can a Princess Play Soccer? by Meghan Morgan

Can a princess play soccer? At Girls in the Game, we want young girls to be themselves, to express their individuality and to find their voices. But does this extend to wearing princess skirts while playing soccer?

Every Saturday I take our 3-year-old son to soccer. As we get ready to go, he always makes sure he’s wearing his “soccer clothes,” his blue shorts and shirt that make up the uniform of the program. Keep in mind, he’s 3 and this is not a competitive soccer league. They don’t play games and there is no practical reason for the kids to be wearing uniforms. But for Patrick, the uniform is important. It tells him that it’s time for soccer. It signifies that he’s part of a team, led by his Coach.

While I may find it funny that the kids run around stomping on bubbles and pretending the soccer balls are food for the hungry hippo waiting in the goal, Patrick doesn’t see a difference between his weekly soccer games and the many sporting events we attend for his older cousins. His uniform is an important part of that.

Soccer is co-ed although the unfortunate trend is that there tend to be more boys than girls in the class, even at this age. But that’s a subject for another day. We’ve been going to soccer for about a year and I noticed early on that while the boys almost always wear the full uniform each week, blue shorts and the blue shirt, girls often wore only the shirt and paired it with pink, ruffle skirts or taffeta skirts that matched their usually sparkly shoes. Sure, they look adorable but should that be the point?

I’m all for letting kids choose their own clothes and I often ask Patrick what shirt he wants to wear that day but I don’t give him the choice on Saturdays. When it’s time to get ready for soccer, he wears his soccer clothes. I don’t know the parents’ reasons for not dressing their daughters in the full uniform but I worry that by doing so, even at that young age, we are already setting it up so that girls aren’t taken as seriously in sports as boys.

I’m fully aware that it doesn’t really matter what 3-year-olds wear when they play soccer. The uniform doesn’t make them run faster or kick the ball harder and I’m pretty sure the little girls’ flouncy skirts don’t put them at a competitive disadvantage on the field. But subtly, it starts setting them up to think that what they look like and how they dress matters, even when they are playing sports. Sure, they can play hard, run fast and get sweaty, but it’ll be even better if they have a cute headband on and make a sassy statement with their socks at the same time.

We’ve probably all seen old pictures of female athletes wearing long skirts to play basketball and in A League of Their Own the storyline addresses how the professional female baseball players needed to wear short skirts so that their careers as ball players didn’t compromise their femininity. That should, and does, make most of us laugh.

Nobody wants to go back to the era of constricting attire and the belief that femininity needs to be preserved. Women have come a long way in gaining equal rights and the respect they deserve, both on and off the field. But there is still a long way to go. You could argue that girls should be taken seriously as athletes no matter what they are wearing. And you’d be right. But unfortunately that isn’t the case and adapting her first soccer uniform to make it cute sends the message that looking cute on the field matters.

So we’ll ask again. Can a princess play soccer? Of course she can. But she probably shouldn’t wear her princess dress while she’s playing.

My Summer Squad Experience by Cristina Polenica

On the last Monday of Summer Squad, Mark, a representative from After School Matters (ASM) came to Union Park to visit with the teens and see what they were up to. And we were up to a lot. We had just finished preparing for our final workshop by selecting activity leaders for each part of the Playbook Two workshop on Tuesday (kickboxing, special needs, and combating peer pressure), and ran through the playbook for practice. And we also finished preparing for our  final Leader to Leader interview by coming up with questions to ask the panelists. Shortly after that, Mark arrived.

A couple of the teens explained to him what a Leader to Leader Interview is, and then we as a team demonstrated a few of the transition games that we like to lead with at workshops for younger girls. Mark participated in a game of Rock Paper Scissors Tag (two teams choose a symbol, and the winning team chases the losing team in order to tag them and bring them to their team), and in a game of Elbow Tag (partners link arms, the runner links onto someone, and then the third in the group becomes the new runner). The teens explained both games well, and everyone was laughing and had fun. They cooperated well in teams and in pairs.

Since there was an odd number of people for Elbow Tag, I decided to step to the side and watch. I noticed the joy in everyone’s faces, even the smiles and laughter when girls who were running were tagged and became the new runner. In that moment, it hit me — my time as a Senior Counselor for Summer Squad was soon going to end. As tired as I had been from hours of traveling and walking all over the city; as taxing as it had been when one or more coaches were sick and unexpectedly out for the day; and as challenging as it was to dig deep inside of myself to use a voice of authority when teens exhibited difficult behaviors — I grew to know and love these girls, and I didn’t want the summer with them to end. I looked forward to seeing them four days a week for the past five (almost six) weeks. I quickly learned all of their names, and enjoyed learning about their personalities. Several girls even asked me if I was coming back next year!

I’d like to think that Mark could see a sense of community among the girls as we played those games, just like I did. As my experience with Summer Squad comes to a close, I look back on both the rough days and the great days, and I am completely grateful to have met these girls and had the experiences that we did. I have grown as a person because my life has been touched by theirs, and I hope that they take with them what they’ve learned from our activities and conversations, forward in life. They all aspire to go to college; they all want to be something, be someone. And they are all teachers and leaders. I love that a program like Girls in the Game exists, and am delighted I had a front row seat to watch the impact it had on each girl.

Girls in the Game’s Voice Heard at United Nations Women by Meghan Morgan

Last week I took part in a discussion conducted by UN Women, the United Nations organization dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women. An impressive group of leaders gathered, from the Presidents of the local Planned Parenthood, the Chicago Foundation for Women and Women Employed, to young leaders who challenge the status quo and make their voices heard.

The goal of the conversation was ambitious. Keeping in mind the goals for gender equality laid out 20 years ago at the UN Conference on Women in Beijing, what will it take for us to achieve global gender equality by 2030?

We had about two hours so we split into two groups, one focused on Economic Justice and the other focused on Social Justice. We solved the problems, high-fived, and had a glass of wine.

Just kidding.

We didn’t choose what discussion we took part in, the room was split in half and I ended up taking part in the discussion on economic justice. It’s a big topic, the issues of parental leave, equal pay, flexible schedules and valuing unpaid work immediately came up. Always wanting to make sure girls are represented, I piped up, “We need to recognize the value of investing in girls.”

Some people in the group nodded their heads and voiced their approval. Who doesn’t want to invest in girls? But the moderator pushed me. “Can you expand on that?” she asked. “How will investing in girls lead to economic justice?”

Caught a little bit off guard, I responded that by providing girls with programs that will build their leadership skills when they are young, we’re setting them up to be successful adults, with the job-skills and confidence they need to succeed.

But for the rest of the meeting I thought about it. I’m still thinking about it. I have no doubt that Girls in the Game’s programs not only improve the lives of the girls that are involved, but those girls create better, stronger communities for everyone. But can I prove this?

No society can reach its full potential if half the population isn’t reaching theirs. A community is stronger, and an economy is stronger, when all members of that community contribute. That’s what Girls in the Game does. We help girls recognize the value of what they can contribute to their communities. But it doesn’t stop there. We empower girls to teach others those same lessons which creates generations teaching and educating younger generations. That’s why girls are such a good investment. The return on the investment doesn’t end with each girl, but continues throughout her lifetime.

Let’s break it down. A typical member of our Teen Squad program may have been involved with Girls in the Game for five years. In elementary school, she learned how to play different sports and why it’s important to eat healthy. She didn’t think a whole lot about the long-term impact of those lessons but her parents noticed when she started talking about eating more vegetables and they joined her when she asked them to take a walk as a family after dinner. She didn’t see it, but she affected her family and improved the health of those around her.

In high school, she’s trained as a member of our Teen Squad on how to lead workshops for younger girls. She sees herself as a role model, and not just when she’s officially on duty as a Coach. She speaks up more in class and her teachers notice, her grades improve. She’s thinking about college and likes having goals to work toward. Her friends who aren’t in Girls in the Game notice too, and they join her when she suggests they attend an upcoming college night at her school.

This teen may not have been going down the wrong path, but Girls in the Game keeps her on the right one. More importantly, she inspires others to go down that path as well.  She’s a leader now, and she likes it that way. This teen, like all teens involved with our Teen Squad program, will graduate high school and attend college where she’ll continue to lead and the lessons of Girls in the Game will stay with her.

Many of these girls will be mothers someday and they’ll teach their daughters and sons the same lessons they learned – how to be healthy and strong, the importance of teamwork, and how to set goals and work to achieve them.

At the UN discussion, the group talked a lot about how there needs to be a shift in mindset, from the top down, in order to achieve economic justice for everyone. That won’t be easy and it won’t happen overnight, and it will take a lot of work by a lot of people. But an investment in girls will ensure that it happens a lot faster. That’s just good economics.

For more information about UN Women and their work, visit the Step It Up Campaign for Gender Equality and Progress of the World’s Women Report.  

This What We Do! by Ericka Dawson

As a new member of the Girls in the Game team I must say I am excited and honored to be a part of an organization that is positively impacting girls.  Through an exposure to a wide mix of sports and fitness activities, we are encouraging girls to get in the game —any game—so they can learn teamwork and determination, to make choices that lead to a happier, healthier life.  A few weeks ago I volunteered with Summer Camp and saw this mantra come to life.

There were over 100 girls present each day and they all were amped and excited to participate in a variety of sport, health and leadership activities.  There was a mix of traditional and non-traditional sports which included; Soccer, Handball, Field Hockey, Tennis and Frisbee.  I thought to myself; “how exciting is this?”  In fact, some of these sports I have never played before, but in my short time with Girls in the Game I have learned I can always count on them to teach me something new!  So when we say “Get in the game-any game,” we’re even talking about Handball, a sport that is typically played in Europe.

Once I got past the excitement of playing new sports I noticed there was a mixture of girls who were familiar with different sports and others who were just as new to some of them as I was. However, whether they were familiar or new, everyone was excited to participate and positively engaged with each other creating a very supportive and non-competitive environment. In addition to sports, the girls also participated in health and leadership activities to support them in making healthy choices and develop confidence and leadership skills that they can use in their everyday lives.  I watched them engage in teambuilding activities and effectively communicate to accomplish goals all while having tons of fun and laughing with each other.  This was the time I started wondering, “Where was Girls in the Game in when I was growing up?”

As the day progressed I looked past the girls’ excitement and began to turn my attention to the coaches. Each coach was just as excited, if not more, to lead and participate as the girls.  As you can imagine this excitement was contagious and I was happy to be infected! I also noticed how the coaches engaged with the girls and saw first-hand the strong rapport they had built with the campers. That is the perfect recipe for summer camp success.

My experience was nothing short of amazing. As the new After School Manager, I began to think about how I would ensure this same positive and fun experience in After School Programming.  Then I realized, it won’t be hard because this is the Girls in the Game way. Our Leadership team ensures that every program is staffed with engaging and consistent coaches that build strong relationships with the girls.  All of our programs are designed to produce the same outcome – expose girls to a wide mix of sports and fitness activities so they can learn teamwork and determination to make choices that lead to a happier, healthier life.  This is our mantra. It is what we do and have been doing successfully for 20 years.  It’s approaching that time of year again when our After School Programming will be laid out and I look forward to keeping the positive energy and dedication ball rolling for each girl participant and Girls in the Game as a whole. Together, we serve the whole girl for her whole life. I am honored to be a part of the bigger team making that happen.