The Five Finger Contract by Meera Raja

Today, we bring you a blog from the Girls in the Game After School Program in Baltimore. Meera Raja is the Coordinator at Towson University, our Baltimore partner school. Meera gives us a national perspective on our programs, along with a basic tenant that we use everywhere!

This past fall was my first season at Girls in the Game. I had the privilege to coach at many of the sites on a regular basis, and I got to know most of the girls in our programs in Baltimore. Some of the girls were reluctant to participate or had behavioral issues, but as the season progressed, they became more comfortable with the schedule and routines set by the coaches. I personally noticed that they participated more consistently and there were fewer behavioral issues as the season progressed. The girls were always excited to see the coaches, and the coaches were always great in getting the girls interested in all the different activities planned for the day. One of the tools that worked best for us here in Baltimore to get more consistent participation was reminding girls of the five finger contract that they agreed to when they first started at our After School programming.5 Finger Contract

The five-finger contract is used to encourage positive behavior and decrease unwanted or disruptive behaviors. Each finger stands for a different aspect that we expect the girls to commit to while at programming and hopefully outside of Girls in the Game as well. Starting with the little finger, the five fingers represent safety, commitment, respect, working together and having fun. It’s easy to remember for the girls and coaches because there are only five, and they can all be tied into the different activities we do during programming.

IMG_6243Many recall the violence that occurred in Baltimore last April. Since April, the homicide rate has gone up in the city while the rate of arrests has gone down. Many of our participants are aware of the violence in the city. Girls in the Game allows participants to have fun playing and learning about sports, health and leadership in a safe and fun space. Although we talk about things like peer pressure and body image during programming, being in a space where violence can be talked about with a coach who is supportive and positive can be a wonderful experience. In our last parent survey, many parents mentioned that there were few after school programs in their neighborhoods. Girls in the Game in Baltimore helps meet a need that is lacking in many Baltimore neighborhoods.


#WheresRey by Jess Larson

Seeing Star Wars with some friends

I am a total geek and I’m proud of it. Yes, I love sports and competition, but if it’s science fiction, fantasy or comic book related, I’m completely obsessed. So you can guess how excited I was to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens. When the sequel was just a baby internet rumor, my friends and I were already making plans to go see it together when it came out, no matter where we were living in the world.

And let me tell you, I was delighted with the movie. It made me laugh, kept me guessing and left some huge mysteries that I continue to debate with my Star Wars friends. But the thing I loved most about the new Star Wars? The inclusion of women as a normal part of the Star Wars universe. There were female fighter pilots, General Leia, female analysts in the background, female Stormtroopers, Captain Phasma, and of course, the main character Rey. At Girls in the Game, we teach girls they can be whatever they want to be and it’s great to have evidence that the possibilities include Stormtroopers and Jedis.

c7bc17f0-6883-0133-0b97-0e76e5725d9dRey won my eternal fan loyalty at the moment when she and Finn are fleeing the First Order, and she yells at him, “I know how to run without you holding my hand!” But Rey was also caring, driven and had an intriguing backstory; she was so much more than a one-dimensional “tough girl” stereotype. Not only is this type of full-fledged female main character rare in movies, it is especially rare in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy genre which consists almost entirely of white male protagonists (just look at the older Star Wars movies). It was thrilling to see one of the biggest franchises in Sci-Fi/Fantasy cast a woman and a black man as the two main characters. And it wasn’t just Rey and Finn; it was all the other characters in the background of the movie, from the team of fighter pilots to the rebel soldiers. Women were present as a normal part of the universe, which is vital for girls to see in their media.

So when I cruised by the toy aisle at Meijer while doing my grocery shopping a bit after the movie came out, I was shocked to see that the only Rey toy in the entire Star Wars section (which had been expanded out into the  main aisle as well) was a bobble-head. That’s right, a bobble-head. I found her in the background of one or two other items that had scenes from the movie, but there were no action figures, no Lego sets, nothing else that included THE MAIN CHARACTER!

The exclusive Target action figure set

I texted my other Star Wars friends in outrage from the aisles of Meijer and began to investigate. It turns out I wasn’t the only one who noticed the big hole in merchandising. All over Twitter, the hashtag #wheresrey began to pop up with pictures of toy aisles filled with every possible character, both from the new and old Star Wars movies, with the glaring exception of Rey. Hasbro’s new Star Wars Monopoly didn’t include Rey as a playable piece. The action figure set exclusive to Target had cut her out as well. Although Rey flies the Millennium Falcon in the movie, toy makers replaced her with Finn when it came time to create the toy set. Parents desperately searching for the elusive Rey action figure online discovered that it was selling at almost triple the price of all the other action figures because there simply weren’t enough of them. In the mugs and blankets where you did find Rey, she was generally in the background while the other male characters stood front and center.

What in the world made these toy companies think it was a good idea to cut out the main character in the biggest movie of the year in their merchandise? It came down to the mistaken belief that girls don’t sell. They don’t sell in movies and they don’t sell in merchandise, especially when it comes to the so-called “boy” genre movies like Star Wars or the Marvel movies. Let me just point out that Rey and The Force Awakens have been smashing box office records left and right. But the people behind the scenes at the toy companies still believe that girls are bad for business. And what kind of boy would want to play with a “girly” toy, anyway?

Plenty of them, it turns out. Take Girls in the Game Interim CEO Meghan Morgan’s 3-year-old  son Patrick, for example, who always pretends to be Rey when they play Star Wars. Not to mention all the girls that saw the movie and fell in love with Rey’s character. Quite simply, Rey is a courageous, compelling character, no matter her gender. Who wouldn’t want a Rey action figure? And fans of the movie stood behind this idea. The backlash against the toy companies was so intense, they were forced to send out press releases announcing the re-release of the Monopoly game and a new line of Rey-themed toys to come out in January. But the fan response took these companies completely by surprise; it never crossed their minds that people might be upset that they had cut the main character from the story they were telling with their toys just because she was a girl. To them, this was simply business as normal.

And, I firmly believe that this is why Girls in the Game’s message to girls about strength, confidence, leadership and courage is so important. We don’t just send this message to the girls we work with, but we also tell the stories of the girls in our programs on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and our blog. We are re-writing the traditional, negative narratives that surround girls to tell a story of courage and bravery. Like Rey, our girls have stories of their own to tell. And at Girls in the Game, their stories will never be ignored.

No Regrets by Mary Banker

Next Level YouI love professional development. Throughout my life I have found many opportunities to learn by shadowing people I want to emulate, finding conferences to learn at and books to sharpen me as an individual.  This past weekend I was able to attend a conference called Next Level You. For the past several years Coach Swider, the head football coach at Wheaton College, has spoken to conclude the weekend at this conference. *(Coach Swider’s coaching background can be found at the end of this blog).

Coach SwiderOne of my favorite phrases is “success leaves clues”. Coach Swider is living an exceptional life and through speaking has been sharing his wisdom beyond the locker room. He speaks with NFL teams, various companies, at graduations and at professional development conferences. I feel fortunate I have been able to hear him speak on more than one occasion and I wanted to share what I learned with all of you.

Here are Coach Swider’s 12 concepts to know so you can live a life without regret;

  1. Someone has to want to be motivated if they don’t you can’t do it for them. You have a choice of what kind of person you want to be. Make the choice to be a person who wants to be challenged, motivated and confronted.
  2. Integrity-Can you be trusted to do what is right? Be a person of honesty, with good character, and be loyal.
  3. Audit the state of your soul. Leaders reflect where they are in their heart. When perspective is lost a person can become disoriented, irrational and frustrated. Regain perspective. When Coach Swider’s team lost a game he came home and was so angry he decided to rake leaves. Later that night he was having trouble sleeping when his son came into his room. Coach said; are you having a hard time sleeping? His son responded he was. He said he was thinking so much about something, mind you he was under the age of 10 years old. So Coach asked him what was on his mind, and his son said; “Dad when I come play football for you will I call you Dad or Coach?” All of a sudden Coach Swider’s perspective was restored to what really mattered in life. His son respected him so much as a coach he wanted to address him as that but also loved him so much as a father he wanted to call him dad. When his son did play for him he called him Coach on the field and Dad in the offices.
  4. Quitting is NOT an option. When you take on an opportunity or join a team of any kind think of the worst possible conditions. It is easy to say yes when things are rosy and clear and easy. But what about when the conditions are tough? When Coach Swider speaks to his team at the first day of practice he paints a picture of a day when it’s 30 degrees, they are tired, the field is muddy, it’s finals week and he is in their face at practice. He then asks, do you still want to commit to being part of this team and all that means?
  5. Seek to serve rather than to rule. Amazing leaders are self-less, humble and service oriented. This world and life do not revolve around you. Serve others and your joys will be greater.
  6. Your mission should be motivated by cause. What are you motivated by; playing or winning? If you are on a team and you are motivated by playing, you are concentrating on yourself. If you are motivated by winning you are focused on what is best for the whole team and the team’s goal as a whole. Glory is a bad motivator; instead fight for a cause. Ask the question what is best for us/ for the organization/or for the team? And then check your individual goals and make sure they line up.
  7. Do not treat people as things, people matter. When you place rules and demands on people without a relationship it will equal rebellion. People want to know you care before they care what you know. Time spent on developing relationships is never a waste of time. Learn to really listen and wait your turn to talk, listen to understand not to respond. Make yourself available to everyone.
  8. Discipline-be willing to labor wanting nothing in return. Can you work at something and not be paid or reinforced in any way?
  9. Competent-are you part of the problem or are you part of the solution? The small details in life matter, they turn into the big things. Are you willing to pay attention to those minute details and make them important even though there aren’t immediate returns?
  10. Enthusiasm! Genuine leaders lead with energy, passion and enthusiasm. If you have ever been in a room with no enthusiasm or energy you are part of the problem. Have a powerful and positive presence. Is this who you are? Energy and enthusiasm can overcome anything!
  11. Moral Courage-This is the ability to act despite of your fears, do what’s right because you know that it is right. One year Coach’s son played in a junior high football league that won the entire league and were champions. His son’s coach asked where they wanted to eat and celebrate and the boys said Hooters, so they went to Hooters. Coach Swider’s son said he was uncomfortable going there and didn’t want to partake. He gave his money to one of the boys and asked them to bring his sandwich out to the parking lot where he waited on the curb, where he planned to eat. The whole team went in and 15 minutes later the entire team came back out. The coach said they decided it wasn’t right and that they could do better. In that moment Coach Swider’s son who was all of 13 years old had moral courage and did what was right, his actions changed the hearts of grown men and shifted the direction of that entire team.
  12. Understand the responsibility of being part of the team. You are part of something more, this is not a place to allow ego, pride, jealousy; those things are poison and will destroy your team, it’s only a matter of time. Be more!

No Regrets

* The 2015 season marked Mike Swider’s 20th season as head coach and his 31st as a member of the Wheaton College football coaching staff. Since taking over the program in 1996, Swider has posted a 159-44 record with an 80% winning percentage, which ranks him first all-time in both categories among Wheaton’s 21 head football coaches. He also holds the ninth-highest winning percentage of any active Division III coach and the 12th-highest winning percentage of any coach in Division III history with 10 or more years of experience. During Swider’s tenure as head coach, the program has reached the NCAA playoffs seven times in the last decade, won eight CCIW titles, produced 31 All-Americans and 198 All-Conference players.

New Heights by Jess Larson

rock-climberThis weekend the Teen Programs Manager, Margaret, our brand new Teen Squad Coordinator Krystal and I will be taking a group of teens to First Ascent Climbing for a climbing day. Two community members and climbers generously raised support among their friends in order to send our Teen Squad on (for most of them) their first climbing experience!

When Margaret and I were discussing the plans, she laughed, mentioning that Krystal wasn’t the most comfortable with heights; what a way to welcome her to her new job! At that point I broke down and confessed that heights are not my favorite thing either. I love hiking in the mountains, but when it comes to actual, vertical climbing I prefer to have my feet planted firmly on the ground. And then, Margaret admitted the same feelings. So we now have three Girls in the Game staff members, all slightly uncomfortable with heights, accompanying a group of teens climbing for their first time (of course under the guidance and supervision of the trained professionals at First Ascent Climbing with all the correct safety gear).

To some, this might sound like a disaster waiting to happen. To me, it sounded perfect.

A volunteer leading the dance!

I do a lot of the volunteer training for groups that come out to help  at our After School and Game Day programs. Every time I meet with a new group of  volunteers, I tell them that it’s a good thing if they don’t know the sports we’re playing or if they aren’t particularly athletic. It’s good for our girls to see adults try something new and struggle with it, whether that be learning how to cradle a lacrosse ball or feeling self-conscious about dancing the Whip/Nae Nae. It’s good for them to see us fail. Yes, fail. Just as long as we get up and try again.

I must admit I am a perfectionist. I have a hard time trying anything new unless I can guarantee that I will be successful at it; I’d rather not take the risk of failure. Our culture fosters the need for instant gratification, which in turn does not bode well when trying new things if you are not good with the first try. We decide that that new experience just isn’t our thing, or that we are just not good at it. The problem with this type of perspective? How do we really know unless we get back up and try a second, third, fourth time? I think so many girls feel that same pressure, whether it be in school, extracurricular activities, in their appearance or even in their future careers. There’s always that pressure to be good immediately or to get off the field, so to speak. And it holds us back from our own personal growth and new amazing opportunities.

Cradling Clarendon
Learning to cradle a lacrosse ball

We want Girls in the Game to be a safe place for girls to try new activities, both the girls that are ready to jump right in and the girls that try to disappear on the sidelines. Girls in the Game should be a place where both of these girls feel safe to fail and try again. How do we create this environment? We do so by modeling this attitude from the top down, from our coaches to our volunteers to our girls. Which is exactly what our teens will see this weekend at First Ascent Climbing from the Girls in the Game staff: a little fear, a lot of nerves and eventually, triumph.

This weekend, both the teens and the staff will be facing our fears together  in order to reach new heights, both on the climbing wall and in life. After all, there’s no reward without a little risk.

What’s In a Name? by Mary Banker

Girl2Girl. What comes to mind when you read this word? A childhood memory, perhaps you thought of your daughter or niece, maybe you thought of your sister when she was younger or you thought of girlie ‘things’ like pink, curls, earrings or something along those lines.

I started working with Girls in the Game last summer; I remember accepting the job offer specifically because I set the meeting up on my birthday. Happy Birthday to me. I was being pursued by an amazing organization that worked with girls through sports, fitness, nutrition and leadership. The fit was uncanny. I’d like to think I hit the ground running. My job; to work in development by creating new relationships and at the same time focus my efforts on our expansion within Chicago and the U.S. So off I went….

Girl 5My network has been incredibly generous in several ways, showing up to events, becoming sponsors of the Teen Squad members in our named scholar program, donating family foundation money, sharing my Facebook posts about Girls in the Game, liking our pages on social media, and volunteering. One donor wanted to stay anonymous. He wrote us a check instead of coming to our fall happy hour event at Guaranteed Rate.

We met for coffee by my request, I don’t just accept checks you have to have coffee with me and tell me about your life too (I hope that doesn’t deter any of you from becoming donors). During this time, he also wrote me the check for his generous donation of $2,500.00. When I got to the office that Monday I recorded our check and gave it to our business department to be processed. This is where it gets interesting.

I received several calls from this donor a few days later. I was in meetings all day and then had track practice so I was unable to talk to him until the following day. When we finally spoke he told me his lead accountant cancelled the check and had left him several messages about it. His accountant had thought his check pad had been compromised or stolen.

GirlNow why would our donor’s lead accountant think this? The donor had the check pad the entire time, no other checks were written that caused alarm. Girls in the Game. That’s why. When did girl become a dirty word? Sadly this is not the first encounter with this type of problem because of the word “girl” in our title. It has also caused our emails to be blocked, checks to be cancelled and credit card companies to call their clients when they see transactions made with Girls in the Game.

Girl. This word, in the six months I’ve been here, has caused more than a few communication issues. Granted they are handled immediately but in my opinion that word should not imply anything other than what it truly means, a female child.

We are in the business of change. So here we are day in and day out, providing a space for female children to play, laugh, learn, make friends, look up to new mentors; we give these girls a place to be a kid. My hope is to revert the word ‘girls’ back to its original meaning, to give it value again in our language. To take the word “girl” from polluted back to pure. How you ask? By doing what we do every day, by having a presence on social media, by new partnerships, by offering programs with value, by creating awareness for the need of our programs, by walking the talk.

Girl. What do you think of when I say this word? I hope you think of giggling, a sense of wonderment and newness, of a little human being who is female, who breathes air, who feels hunger, who dreams, who needs guidance, attention and love because if you do that means you are changing the game along with us.


Last Year’s Resolution by Jess Larson

Last week on New Years Eve, we gave you our Top 10 “small” moments of last year. To continue that theme this week, we want to both look back on 2015 and ahead to 2016. Are you ready?

In 2015, the Girls in the Game staff resolved to blog more frequently and consistently. We wanted to be able to tell the story of what goes on behind the scenes at Girls in the Game. And, looking back, I think we’ve done an amazing job! Here are our most popular blog posts from the past year in case you missed any of these awesome stories.

  1. Their Lost Voices by Meghan Morgan

FullSizeRenderWhen 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.

  1. REACH by Mary Banker

“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.”

  1. Nothing But Net by Laura Sullivan

Lawndale Hoop“The basketball hoops I played on growing up and the hoop in North Lawndale are the same. The sport itself and the power it can have are universal. This is exactly why I was drawn to Girls in the Game. I jumped at the chance to spread the power of sport because I knew how much it could impact a young girl. I knew this because at one point I was that young girl; sports have shaped me into the individual I am today”

  1. There Is No Finish Line by Mary Banker

“You are who you are at this moment not who you were 30 years ago. You are where you are right now in your accomplishments not what you accomplished thirty years ago”

  1. Grateful by the Girls in the Game Staff

Pershing1“I am thankful for a place I can call home when so many people right now don’t remember what having a home feels like anymore. I am also thankful I am surrounded by so much love and support both at work and in my personal life that has allowed me to do and experience some incredible things this year.”

It’s great to see how far we’ve come in 2015 to gain inspiration for 2016. And we’re already sprinting full speed ahead! Our coaches are back in the office ready to start season two of After School programming this week. Our 21st Anniversary Field of Dreams Gala happens in February. Teen Squad is headed towards new Leader to Leader interviews and even an upcoming rock climbing adventure! And here at the blog we’ll continue to tell Girls in the Game’s story as we expand and grow in 2016.

What was your favorite blog post of 2015? What stories would you like to read from Girls in the Game? We’d love to hear from you!

Out 2015 word cloud!

FUEL by Mary Banker

fuel_economy_cars_LGAlmost every person reading this has ridden in a car, bus, train, maybe a riding lawnmower or tractor (I’m from a farm town); perhaps you’ve flown in a plane or been on a boat. What do all of these vehicles have in common? They all use fuel. Not one of us thinks that’s weird in any way. I have never thought twice about putting gas in my car when the gas light comes on because if I don’t the car will stop running. Pretty simple concept: fuel provides the energy needed for something to run. In addition I would never put bleach or orange juice in my car in place of gasoline. That would be crazy right? If I did, the car wouldn’t run properly.

So why then do we hesitate to put fuel into our bodies? Also why do we put incorrect fuel into our own bodies? According to ABC News, the annual revenue of the weight-loss industry is 20 billion dollars. Yes BILLION.  This includes diet books, diet pills and weight loss surgery. There are over 108 million people in the United States that are dieting and eighty-five percent of those people are women. There are several things wrong with all of these statistics, specifically one; eighty-five percent of dieters in the U.S. are women. Soak that in for a moment. That means if you walk into a room with ten women at least eight of them are dieting.

To simplify even more; our bodies need fuel to operate. We need food, water and sleep to function properly. Yet the media has us strung out on coffee, energy drinks and soda, eating low fat, no fat, low calorie foods and so stressed over social media, consumerism and work that we don’t sleep. We are all chasing something that doesn’t exist, maybe a perfect body, home, or identity. When we fail to attain the ‘unattainable’ it creates a domino effect. As a society we start to buy into lies about our worth then we share these lies with each other through our conversations, things we post online and our daily lives reflect what we believe because each choice we make is based on our belief system. We start to believe that our worth is found in our body type our pant size or what the scale says; we start to believe that if we looked a certain way we would, in fact, be happy. Then we stop putting fuel into our bodies, and when we do put fuel into our bodies it is improper fuel, diet drinks, energy drinks, etc. all to attain an ‘imaginary’ image. Do you think the 85% of women who are dieting are more concerned with their health or outward appearance?

I want to highlight two serious problems I find with the state of health in the United States and how it leads to 108 million dieters, 85% of whom are women:

  1. Our youth do not learn about proper nutrition.
  2. Proper body image is not being taught to our girls.

Guess what we do at Girls in the Game? We teach about nutrition and we are intentional with our curriculum regarding body image and a healthy relationship with yourself.

We recently interviewed a collegiate track and field athlete who runs for me at the University of Chicago. When Jess, our development coordinator, asked her why she wanted to get involved at Girls in the Game as an intern she responded by saying she loved that we taught girls about positive body image. She explained that as she grew up she felt like she didn’t fit in with the other girls because she was ‘big’. What she learned once she became a member of U of C’s track team is that she was actually just muscular and strong. She expressed how she thinks it’s important for girls to hear this message at a young age and she wanted to be part of that process.

What about nutrition? We are taught to eat fat free, low calorie foods, to starve ourselves to look a certain way. This is wrong and it pains me to hear, watch and be privy to the conversations had regarding food and calories amongst women and girls.  Did you know fat is healthy for you, as in avocados, almonds, fatty fish?  Chemicals are not. Real food is good for you; packaged foods have been compromised in some way. There is a lot of freedom in food once a person is taught proper nutrition. *(see below for more in depth nutrition information)

IMG_6244At Girls in the Game we teach our girls to be active, we teach why fruits and vegetables are important for their bodies and above all else we teach them to love themselves and their own bodies. How would you feel if you woke up every day free of worry when it came to calories, fats, food and your body? As you read this does it seem impossible? It’s not. Your body deserves proper fuel to run. Can you imagine if you had been taught that when you were a girl? How different would your conversations be to others and to yourself about what you ate, how your clothes fit and how you feel inside?

Girls in the Game is committed to changing the game, one girl at a time, one day at a time. Change the game with us by loving your own body enough to provide it with the proper fuel. Here’s to a healthy and prosperous New Year!

* What does proper nutrition mean? It means a proper meal consists of a fat, a protein, a carbohydrate and a fiber. This provides the proper nutrition for your body and satiates your appetite. There is a concept called low glycemic eating. That means you control your blood sugar. If you eat something sugary, i.e. a pop tart, and nothing else for breakfast your blood sugar will spike. Then insulin releases, and your blood sugar drops below where it should be so you become agitated, it’s hard to concentrate and you crave simplex carbs (bagels, chips, sugary snacks, soda) because your blood sugar is lower than normal. So you eat junk again, and guess what, your blood sugar spikes again, insulin is released and on and on and on. What eventually happens is a person’s body becomes insulin resistant and Type II Diabetes enters the picture. Learning what foods are low glycemic and putting the proper food in your body creates a consistent blood sugar level which leaves you feeling full, satisfied and gives you proper energy.