Today, we have a blog from Anni Rayas, one of our After School Coordinators who coaches at our Humboldt Park sites.
This is now my fifth week of coaching and the end of my second month here at Girls in the Game. Coordinating for Humboldt Park has been, thus far, an interesting and rewarding learning experience, and it is intriguing to see how schools that are so close to each other in proximity still have such a wide variety of students and school culture.
Regardless of where they are from, however, many of the girls I work with still share the same struggles. I coach at five different sites and at each one have heard the girls talk about coping with cliques and exclusion, family issues, and the dissonance of beauty and their bodies, among other things. It was a stunning and sad moment to hear a girl at one of my elementary schools say in response to a friend’s compliment, “I dunno. My fat is sticking out today.” And I was surprised to remember exactly what that felt like. I was 11 when I first realized I even had a body, and I quickly learned to hate it as a young girl. I saw a younger variation of myself reflected in that moment, and it hurt.
The patterns we live in are cyclical and systemic: certain childhood experiences of mine played out similarly in the girl I coached that day. She assumed parts of this belief about body image—that she’s not enough as she is—just as countless of her peers across Chicago have done. It’s hard growing up a girl even now, despite the steps forward we’ve made. I wish I could have had someone there to redirect me in that moment when I was younger, to help me circumvent self-image issues that I had to later unlearn on my own.
But that’s why I do what I do now. Everything we work toward here at Girls in the Game is about breaking those cycles. We model strength and respect, openness and cooperation, self-appreciation and commitment. We know our programs work—our Loyola evaluation backs it up. But it’s those teaching moments where the magic happens. Coaching will be frustrating and test your patience at times, but it makes every bit worthwhile to know we make a difference in favor of the girls we serve.
As for the girl that day, I took a moment to ask her about what she said. We talked briefly about self-respect and seeing value beyond how someone looks before she jumped back into play. I don’t think she’ll remember anything specific that we talked about years down the road, and that’s okay. But I hope she remembers later how it felt to hear that someone believed in her and to know that she has so much more to offer beyond an appearance. That’s what Girls in the Game is here to emphasize: the intrinsic significance of every girl. This is why we do what we do.