Love Those Shoes by Jess Larson

During my second day at Girls in the Game, I participated in an all-day Coaches training for our After School program. During this time we as we ran through various scenarios as either a “coach” or a “girl”, one comment from our after school manager, Katherine, really made me stop and re-evaluate.

She explained that at Girls in the Game we compliment the girls on their character, enthusiasm, or choices, not on their physical appearance. Of course, that much seemed blatantly obvious. However, Katherine went on to point out our tendency to compliment girls on their clothing or belongings. For example, “Your backpack is so cute” or “I love those shoes”. We have a bad habit of focusing on girls’ belongings and appearance instead of on their character.

At that moment, I realized that I am not only guilty of this but I do it frequently. Complimenting my friends and coworkers on a particularly nice dress or pair of shoes is something I find myself doing almost daily; I would even go so far to say that it’s a central part of our culture. Yet I rarely find myself giving my male friends or coworkers the same compliments.

That’s not to say that we should never compliment someone on a particularly snazzy outfit. However, it is vital that we also take the time to affirm women and girls on their character, their abilities, and their choices. Why do we go for the easy, shallow compliments so often instead of digging deeper? Especially when these deeper compliments are so important to young girls’ as they form their identities.

I can clearly remember sitting down with my 6th grade teacher after shyly giving her a long-winded story I had written in my free time. She not only had the patience to read it, but discussed it in detail with me and continued to encourage me as a young writer and thinker. That moment became a pillar in my mind, something that formed my identity as a young girl. Someone that I looked up to told me that I was smart, that I was talented, and that I had something important to say which helped give me my voice.

This is the kind of encouragement that we strive to give the girls at Girls in the Game. We want them to know without a doubt that who they are is more important than whether or not they have kept up with the latest backpack or fashion trends. That their character matters more than their ability to kick a soccer ball. That their coaches notice how hard they work, how intelligent they are, and how much they have to offer the world around them.

I will be looking to change the way that I compliment those around me. I don’t particularly need one more comment on my awesome leather jacket (although, yes, it was a great thrift store bargain). More than that, our friends, family, and the girls in our lives need to be lifted up and encouraged through affirmations about who they are on the inside; and that is just what I plan on doing from here on out.



Statistic by Mary Banker

What comes to mind when you hear the word “Sports”? Different people have different ideas, feelings and thoughts when asked about their favorite team, their own experience, what they think of certain coaches or athletes…the opinions never stop.  It’s why we have so many media sources focused on all aspects of the sports world.

I grew up playing sports and watching sports. I was paid to coach sports and talk about sports. But this still doesn’t hit the meaning of sports for me as an individual. For me, sports saved me from becoming a negative statistic.

I grew up in a single parent home without a father that was involved in my life. I have a phenomenal mother who raised me but she could not do it alone. I have been headstrong my entire life and I like to challenge things…if you ask my mother I would challenge every single thing out of her mouth. And I like to negotiate, I’m sure this was exhausting with nobody to back her up. I was born to play sports – stubborn, driven, and over the top competitive.

Did you know that girls who grow up without fathers are at higher risk for becoming sexually promiscuous or abusing drugs or alcohol? They are five times more likely to live in poverty, more likely to become victims of abusive relationships or falling victim to predators who capitalize on their lack of emotional stability. Sports and physical activity have been proven to prevent girls and women from falling into these unhealthy patterns. And that is where Girls in the Game comes into play, literally.

According to the True Sport Report;  ‘Young women engaged in sport are less likely to be overweight or obese, depressed, smoke, use illicit drugs, or have unwanted teen pregnancies… Suicide and sexual victimization also is lower in girls and young women engaged in sport.’ If you have ever been part of a team you know the feeling you have, one of autonomy, belonging, support, and a place where you learn and grow.

Girls in the Game provides a safe place for girls to not only learn new sports but to learn about themselves and to belong. Our participants learn how to be active, to play and to take care of themselves not only physically but mentally as well.  A strong sense of belonging is a benefit of being on a team or being a part of something greater than yourself. It provides feelings of pride, accountability, support, worth and love. I feel a bit like a broken record but I have never been a part of any other program like Girls in the Game.

How did I not become a statistic? Because of sports. Because of physical activity. Because of people seeing in me things I didn’t see in myself just yet. According to the U.S. Census, today 1 in 4 children under the age of 18 — a total of about 17.4 million — are being raised without a father. These statistics scream the need for Girls in the Game and other programs that invest in our youth to help keep them from falling into the negative statistical data category.

Together we can do so much so let’s choose that. I wake up daily and know how blessed I am to have had those coaches and those teammates, and now I get to give back the way people gave to me by being a part of Girls in the Game. One day at a time, one interaction at a time, we are changing the game.

Their Lost Voices by Meghan Morgan

When I was in high school, we learned that The Little Mermaid was not just a cute Disney movie. In fact, it perpetuates the unhealthy idea that how a woman looks matters more than what she has to say. That makes sense if you think about it. Ariel does give up her voice and is forced to charm Prince Eric with her feminine wiles. In the end, she gets the guy. And gives up everything she has in the process.

My daughter Jane turned 1 on Sunday. Jane’s hilarious. You always know exactly what she wants and how she’s feeling. If she wants something, she’ll grab it and if she can’t reach, she’ll bang on the table to let you know. She climbs all over everything and moves full speed ahead at all times. When Jane eats, it can only be described as a celebration of food. It’s a full contact event. Most of what Jane does is full contact. She launches herself with abandon into whatever she feels at that moment. I love it.

I hope she never changes. Actually, I’ll qualify that by saying that I definitely hope she becomes a neater eater but I hope her spirit never changes.

As soon as I found out I was having a girl, I immediately prepared myself to counteract all of the unfair pressures she’d inevitably absorb as a young girl. I reread Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein and tried to avoid buying her everything in pink. I also talked to Jim about his role in raising a daughter. He laughed, but now when he tells Jane how cute she is, he’s careful to add “and smart and strong.”

I know that when Jane gets closer to adolescence she’ll likely start to lose her voice, like most young girls. She’ll hesitate before she speaks and she’ll worry more about how others view her than how she views herself. I’m dreading that.

What gives me hope is knowing that there are things I can do to counteract the societal influences that will steer her down that path. Girls in the Game is one of those things. In our programs, girls learn that inner beauty is more important than outer beauty. They learn what it means to be different than other people and more importantly, they learn that those differences are special. In the safe, girl-only space, girls try new things and sometimes fail. But they try again because they know that nobody is laughing at them. They share their thoughts and opinions and their teammates and coaches don’t judge them.

Eventually, the comfort and safety girls feel in our programs extends beyond their weekly Girls in the Game program. They raise their hands in class more often, feeling secure that what they have to say is important. They stick up for others when they are being bullied, and when faced with a tough situation, they make the right decisions that aren’t always easy when everybody else is making the wrong one.

Our hope is that their voices come back and we know this won’t happen in a day or a month. It’s one of the reasons our programs are designed so that girls can stay involved all year round and year after year. The pressures and subtle messages they encounter will tell them that girls should be quiet, and that in order to be feminine, they should keep their opinions to themselves. Those messages are constant and pervasive so we know that Girls in the Game needs to be just as strong of a presence to show them what it really means to be a girl. Loudly and proudly.

Someday Jane will be a girl in the game and I can’t wait. I just hope she stops throwing her food by then.


Jane, courageously battling a spaghetti dinner.

REACH by Mary Banker

I am competitive. Ask anyone who has played sports with me or has worked with me (or has lived with me, I’m sure my brother has some stories). I see things a little different and I like to set lofty goals. People tend to think I’m a bit out there but I don’t mind.

When I started coaching at University of Chicago I was given a list of athletes to recruit, I took one look at their times and threw the list away. I researched, made a new list and gave it to the *head coach. The athletes I planned on recruiting ran 3 to 4 second faster in the 100 hurdles than the original list. I was essentially recruiting conference champions and potential All-Americans. Guess what? Two years later, the team I recruited, along with the head coach, took 4th in the nation.

The first triathlon I ever did I decided I wanted to win, to which my coach (same *head coach mentioned above) said; ‘Why don’t you just go have some fun and see where you end up?’ I got third place by six seconds because I got stuck behind someone walking during one of the transitions. This still makes me mad.

I hate losing and I love being challenged, so it’s a no brainer that I thrive in competitive sport environments. I was a three sport high school athlete, ran track in college, coached collegiate track…during this time I was all-conference, All-American and won a national title as a coach. That is all fine and great for me and girls like me but it begs the question, what about the girl like my younger sister who had a growth spurt and wasn’t coordinated like I was? What does she do? Where does she go? I’ll tell you.  Usually on the sidelines or feeling completely excluded from sports and physical activity.

When I first met Girls in the Game it was through a founding board member, Kevin Krebs. I went to Field of Dreams (our annual gala) and fell in love. I became a student of Girls in the Game. I wanted to know everything, about the programs, who worked there, who was their audience, and most importantly in my mind, where did I fit into this amazing organization? I learned Girls in the Game was an all-girl environment and I understood why that was beneficial but the next part threw me for a loop. Girls in the Game was also a non-competitive environment. What? Why?

And then I read our evaluation results and research and learned that because of this all-girl, non-competitive environment Girls in the Game reaches more obese and overweight girls over other programs. There it was, our REACH. All girls from all different walks, from all different talent levels, together realizing who they are on the inside, through sports, fitness, nutrition and leadership education. Every girl needs to play and every girl needs to learn her self-worth.

Sports psychology research has shown that girls gain confidence and self-esteem through participation in sport and physical activity. A positive team sport experience may mediate the risks of low social acceptance and dissatisfaction with one’s body.

Read the sentence above again, ‘sport and physical activity’. That is the key, not every single girl is going to be an All-American but every single girl needs to learn her worth and have the chance to play and be active. As I write this I think about my younger sister. She was not athletic but she loved to play. I watched her struggle with her self-worth as she grew up and it was heart breaking. She would have benefited from Girls in the Game. I would have too. Two completely different girls, with different interests, but the same needs. This speaks volumes about Girls in the Game’s reach.

There are girls out there waiting to hear their own voice for the first time, to accomplish a goal for the first time, to learn a new sport for the first time and I can’t wait for them to experience that with all of us at Girls in the Game by their side. I am delighted that my competitive spirit and lofty goal setting is being used in a place where the return on the investment cannot be measured because reaching every type of girl is priceless.

*The head coach at University of Chicago is a competitive man and one of the best coaches in the business, in no way should my over ambitious recruiting or triathlon goal make him seem otherwise.

SHAMLESS PLUG; JOIN US FOR OUR SKYLINE SOIREE OCTOBER 1ST from 6PM-9PM at Guaranteed Rate’s rooftop, 100% of the money raised is going directly to Girls in the Game. As you can imagine I have a lofty goal for the amount of people who will attend and the money we will raise to continue Girls in the Game’s amazing programs.  

To get involved or donate visit;

Seventy-Six Percent by Meghan Morgan

If you live in Chicago it’s impossible not to be aware of the escalating violence plaguing our city. We’ve become used to hearing it on the evening news, with Monday morning reports stating the number of shootings that occurred over the weekend. We listen with sadness, sympathizing with the families and victims dealing with the fallout.

But for many of us, that’s where it ends. People we know personally aren’t being touched by violence. The young kids caught in the crossfire aren’t our children and the teenagers caught up in this world aren’t our family. So we go on with our day, perhaps lamenting to co-workers about the sad state of our beloved city.

So for me, it was a bit of a wake-up call when I was reviewing some evaluation results from our teen programs last year and saw a statistic that 76 percent of our teen participants reported having personally experienced violence. That means that either they, or somebody close to them has been attacked or seriously hurt in the past, or they personally have witnessed a violent attack. Seventy-six percent. That really hit home.

Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. I know the data. I know that most of the girls in our programs come from communities facing steep challenges-high poverty rates and high rates of crime. One of the things we’re really proud of at Girls in the Game is that we inspire girls to see themselves as advocates for change in their own communities. We try to empower them to become leaders who can make a difference. They’re part of the solution, not the problem. So I’m still not sure why this particular statistic affected me so much.

Maybe it’s because it’s hard for me to reconcile this statistic with what I see in the teens. Sure, they’re teenagers, so they’re always on their phones and they don’t always take everything seriously. But they’re happy and confident and they smile often. They’re individuals, each with their own dreams and plans and interests, and they don’t fit neatly into any one box.

You wouldn’t look at them and think of them as victims. Nor should you. They are so much more than that. Sure, these girls come from tougher situations than most people but they don’t let that define them.

Those same evaluation results also showed some really great numbers. After involvement in our teen programs, 82 percent of the participants had a higher self-worth and 71 percent demonstrated a lower support for using aggression.

These numbers remind me that what we’re doing is working and these statistics fit more with the teens I see in our programs. The teens who are excited about their futures, who are learning to speak up, and who see themselves as role models for others. These teens don’t let their circumstances define them and they won’t let us do that either.

I’m not going to let the 76 percent number influence the way I think about our teens, but I will let it affect the way I think about our programs. It’s a good reminder to me, and to all of us, that Girls in the Game matters to these teens. That we provide the safe space teens need to discover their voices and their strength and to see themselves as leaders. This way, they’ll be ready to lead their communities in a different direction and we’ll all be there watching.

Grittier Girls in the Game? by Meghan Morgan

Last week I met with our research partners at Loyola University to talk about some of the evaluation results from last year. Among other things, one of the things we learned was that involvement in our programs increases girls’ grit. Even more telling, is that the longer girls are involved, the more their grit increases.

There’s a good chance you’re now wondering what exactly I’m talking about. What is grit?

In 2013 Psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth researched the subject of grit and earned a MacArthur Genius Grant for her efforts. There’s a really good TED Talk where she explains the concept much better than I can, but in a nutshell, Duckworth showed that the number one determining factor for future success is not intelligence or innate talent, but grit, defined as demonstrating passion and perseverance toward a long-term goal.

The concept spread quickly, with schools exploring ways to make their kids grittier and parents looking for insight on how to raise kids with grit.

I was intrigued after our meeting at Loyola so I spent some time reading more about the subject and realized that the idea of grit and how to teach it really was a hot topic.

Last year, my son, then 2, attended a toddler activity at the local library centered on nursery rhymes. Since it was during the day, either his nanny or my Mom took him. Both of them experienced the same thing when the teacher of the class told them they shouldn’t use the phrase “good job” when he does something, but instead should tell him, “You did it!” She explained that “good job” teaches him to look for approval while “You did it!” praises him for the effort he put into the task.

Our nanny laughed about it and my Mom reacted as you would expect somebody who raised five kids and helped raise 12 grandkids would. My husband Jim and I laughed too. But we didn’t completely disregard it.

Shortly after hearing this advice, during a trip to the park, Jim tested out the theory. It was a new playground with some exciting features and more adventurous offerings than our usual park. As Patrick tried to cross one of the rope bridges, and finally reached the other end, Jim exclaimed, “You did it!”

“I actually think it worked,” Jim told me later. “He kept trying harder and harder things.”

Now I realize that the toddler class instructor was talking about grit. Now, will that one trip to the playground automatically make Patrick grittier? Probably not. But if we keep it front of mind and find ways to encourage him to work harder, it just may make a difference.

With that thought, it’s pretty easy for me to see how Girls in the Game programs build grit. Our programs are designed to serve girls year-round and over the long term. We know that leadership skills and confidence take time to develop and sustain and our programs do that for girls. I’ve seen it over and over during my time here.

There’s the fifth-grader who was hesitant to pick up a tennis racket the first time, assuming she’d be no good at it. She learned that nobody is good at it the first time and over the next few weeks, she got better and better. When that same girl first saw a lacrosse stick, she didn’t hesitate. It would take some time, but she’d get it.

Or the teen leader Jasmine, who reflected on her time at Girls in the Game. “Before I joined Girls in the Game, I was too shy to even speak publicly in front of other people, and I never would have taken on a leadership role,” she recalled. “But with Girls in the Game, I am not too shy to lead a group or a workshop. I have confidence when I’m in front of a group.”

Jasmine didn’t gain that confidence overnight. It came from trying nervously to command a group and reflecting with her teammates afterwards on what they could have done better. And trying harder the next time they stood in front of a crowd.

That’s grit. And I’m glad there’s a name for it and I’m glad that people are talking about it. It’s important. But it’s not new. We’ve known it works for 20 years.

Our work isn’t getting easier. Young girls today face the same barriers to success they always have, as well as new ones such as escalating violence in their communities. But Girls in the Game won’t give up. We’ll continue to fight for the voices of all girls until they have the strength and confidence they need to fight for themselves. After all, we’ve got grit too.


A new blog post will be coming out on Thursday in the mean time enjoy this previous blog on Title IX by Meghan Morgan.

How many girls who’ve never played a sport are going to try out for their high school team?

Not many.

Last week, CPS announced that they are increasing the number of high school girls’ sports teams. At the same time, sports programs at the elementary level are being eliminated. At Girls in the Game, we know that girls can’t wait until high school to get in the game. For many girls, it’s too late.

In 2010 the National Women’s Law Center filed a complaint against a number of school districts for Title IX violations. Chicago was the worst of the offenders, with the largest percentage gap between female students and female athletes.

Last week, CPS announced that it will expand the number of athletic opportunities for high school females as part of a larger settlement with federal investigators. In addition to expanding opportunities for female athletes, by 2018 schools must survey students on their interest in athletic participation to gauge the need for more athletic opportunities. But it’s not that simple.

My almost 3-year-old goes to soccer every Saturday. It involves activities like stomping on bubbles and building towers with cones; you know, those important drills to gear toddlers up for some hard-core soccer. More importantly, it gives him a chance to run around with other kids and he likes it. But it’s not cheap and for many families, it wouldn’t be an option.

Therein lies the dilemma for many kids and families in Chicago. Before the high school level, there are few low-cost or no-cost opportunities for kids to participate in sports. There are even fewer girl-only opportunities for young girls and we know how important it is for girls to have that safe, all-girl space.

At Girls in the Game, we aim to level the playing field so that all girls have the opportunity to try sports when they are young, not just the girls whose families can afford to pay. Our programs teach girls sports they’ve probably played before, like soccer, and sports that are probably new to them, like tennis or flag football.

Last year Loyola University found that the percentage of girls enrolled in our after school programs that were overweight or obese was actually higher than the overall population of CPS. That means that Girls in the Game reaches those girls that are hard to reach and likely wouldn’t participate in a co-ed or highly competitive sports program. Our program offers them a safe space to be active and try new sports, so that they’ll realize the value of physical activity and continue on that healthy path.