No Future Leaders Here by Jess Larson

Kickboxing 014I have a secret confession; I shudder when I hear the phrase “future leaders”. You see this phrase tossed around a lot on inspirational social media posts, by schmoozing politicians and in the non-profit circle, especially in the world of after school and youth programs. For all my eye-rolling, I’ve even caught myself using it from time to time; it’s become a normal part of the lingo in the non-profit world.

So let me explain my particular disdain for this phrase. Of course our girls are going to be future leaders. They will be future lawyers, engineers, graphic designers, community organizers, or whatever other career they choose to pursue. But by referring to them as future leaders we mistakenly imply that they are not leaders right here, right now.

Our girls are not waiting and preparing for a cataclysmic “moment” when they will suddenly evolve into a LEADER like they’ve been bitten by a radioactive leadership spider; when we take the time to think about it, we all know that’s not how leadership works. Or adulthood, for that matter. As a working, independent professional who’s been out of college for several years now, some days I still feel like I’m “playing dress-up” in the adult world.

Leadership is a muscle like any other; you have to practice. Girls need the chance to flex their leadership skills in the real world among their peers and in their communities. They cannot be “future leaders” if they are not practicing all along the way.

Pershing Workshop
Teen-led workshop!

But when it comes time to give girls real opportunities to practice their leadership skills, things can get a bit dicey. Our programming might not go very smoothly; when a 10-year-old leads stretching, sometimes it turns into a gymnastics tumbling contest instead. Or when a Teen Squad member leads a dance for younger participants, it takes much longer for the teen to gain their attention and get the activity going. When girls ask questions and help lead discussion, they might bring up topics the coaches are not prepared to cover in a group setting in a noisy gym, like violence in the city of Chicago.

And these are the moments when I have to take a deep breath and tell my inner perfectionist to take a hike. No, programming will not always go smoothly. We might have to skip half the topics we planned to cover in the session. But when we give our girls the space to be leaders among their peers, to practice those leadership skills, those moments are more valuable than any topic we could have covered if we had stayed on schedule.

Here is just such a moment from one of our Teen Squad members:

To me, the most rewarding feeling of forming a part of Teen Squad’s family (cause we are one ^_^) is being able to inspire younger girls into healthy habits and healthy relationships. Being able to have an impact on younger girls truly inspires me to become a better example to future generations.

Recently I was engaged in a workshop for elementary girls where I was given the opportunity of leading an activity that teaches the importance of “sharing” within healthy relationships. I became overwhelmed in a positive manner by this chance. It made me realize that us, as Teen Squad members, cause a great impact on younger girls, but that we as well carry a great responsibility on our shoulders by teaching them important life key concepts.

So there you have it. There are no future leaders at Girls in the Game. But there are plenty of leaders, here and now, flexing their leadership muscles through our programming. And, let me tell you, it’s an incredible thing to witness.Crown_FY14_3

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