Girls in the Game Supports Every Girl by Maggie Arthur

Today, March 31, is Transgender Day of Visibility. Girls in the Game is showing our support of the trans community by sharing how we recently drafted, developed and determined our organization’s policy on including transgender athletes.

Last spring the Girl Scouts of America received an abundance of media attention for returning a $100,000 donation – enough money to provide free programming for 500 girls. The anonymous donor attached the caveat that the money could not be used to support transgender girl scouts. In order to recoup the cash, the Girl Scouts of America made an Indiegogo campaign, and in one month they raised $338,282.

The Girl Scouts’ incredible feat inspired myself and others at Girls in the Game to take a look at our stance on transgender athletes. With some research, I realized that we were one of many organizations serving young girls who simply failed to address gender non-conforming participants. My fellow coaches and I began to petition for a policy asserting our belief that, like the Girl Scouts, our community is made stronger by including all girls.

One way we work together to make change at Girls in the Game is in the form of small committees. Our committees consist of coaches, coordinators and development staff who collaborate to addresses a specific aspect of the organization such as the After School curriculum or Girls in the Game’s policies and procedures. Over the past few months, the groups have been able to revitalize curriculum, refine best practices training for new coaches and amend organization-wide policies. Ultimately, all of our work is to ensure that we are doing everything we can to aid our participants in finding their voice, discovering their strength and leading with confidence.

As a member of the Policies and Procedures Committee, I volunteered for the task of writing the actual policy. I felt it should be clear and concise in addressing two major points: first, Girls in the Game exists to empower all girls to grow into athletes and leaders. Second, in order to develop the confidence to grow, girls must feel supported and safe. Ultimately, I was surprised at how easy the words came to me once I realized this policy simply reinforces our already-established goal of reaching as many girls as we possibly can. Once the rest of the committee reviewed the policy, Teen Programs Manager, Margaret Miles, brought it to the next team development meeting. After some simple edits, the policy was ready.

Girls in the Game prides itself on being a leading girls’ health and fitness organization. We believe that in order for girls to feel free to develop their confidence and leadership skills, Girls in the Game must provide an environment where they feel supported and safe. Therein, any student enrolled in programming who identifies and lives culturally as a girl can be sure that her personhood is valued and protected by Girls in the Game coaches, staff and participants.

I am excited to see the policy that I worked on, that I so strongly believe in, find its way (soon) onto our new website. Moreover, I am incredibly proud to be a part of an organization that not only supported my fellow coaches and myself in making such big moves, but also one that is actively working for LGBTQ youth acceptance and visibility in our community.

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Breaking Barriers by Jess Larson

Maybe it’s just me, but this past year seems to hold so many milestones in women’s sports: Rhonda Rousey, Holly Holm and the rise of women in the MMA, Serena Williams’ incredible achievements, the US Women’s National Team and the World Cup and so many more victories for women’s sports. Yet none of these moment could have happened without the bravery, determination and just plain stubbornness of the many women in history who fought for their place in the sports world.

So in honor of the end of March and Women’s History Month, we wanted to take a look back at some of the top barrier-breaking moments in the history of women’s sports.

Gertrude-Ederle1926 – Swimmer Gertrude Ederle competed in the 1924 Olympics with great success, but she is best remembered for her 1926 swim of the English Channel. Five men completed the 21-mile long swim before her, but Ederle made history, not just as the first woman to accomplish this feat, but also by beating the previous time by two hours! Her record time across the English Channel remained untouched until 1950.

jmitchell1931 – Jackie Mitchell started pitching at the young age of 5 with the help of her next door neighbor, Dazzy Vance who went on to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers. She played with women’s teams until she signed with the Chattanooga Lookouts in 1931. During an exhibition game against the New York Yankees, Mitchell was called in from the bench to pitch part way through the game; she proceeded to strike out both Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in front of a cheering crowd. In response to this victory by a woman, the Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis voided Mitchell’s contract with the Lookouts. Despite this setback, she was always remembered as “The Girl Who Struck Out Babe Ruth.”

babe-didrikson-zaharias-granger1949 – Mildred Babe Didrikson was the very definition of an all-around athlete. She played basketball, as well as competed in the 1932 Olympics in track and field where she medaled in three events. Didrikson then turned her attention to golf, where she had great success both as an amateur and pro golfer. In 1949, Didrikson established the Ladies Professional Golf Association in order to boost the number of opportunities for women in golf..

Althea Gibson Kissing Trophy Cup1956 – Like many other athletes in this era, Althea Gibson was a multi-sport barrier breaker. She began her professional sports career in tennis, where she faced rampant discrimination and segregation. After finally being admitted to the major tournaments, she went on to become the first black player to compete at Wimbledon and continued to dominate on the court. Her crowning achievement came in 1956, when she won the French Open. Gibson went on to become the first black woman to compete on a pro golf tour, but she was best remembered for paving the way in tennis.

wilma_rudolph1960 – Wilma Rudolph battled polio as a young girl, and as a result, had to wear a leg brace. Physical therapy led not only to the removal of the leg brace, but to a full recovery and her career as a track and field star. Rudolph first competed in the 1956 Olympics at the young age of 16; then, in 1960 she became the first American woman to win three gold medals at a single Olympic games, rocketing her to fame.

download1984 – Joan Benoit made history when she became the first winner of the women’s marathon at the 1984 Olympics. Benoit was already a very successful marathon runner, having won the Boston Marathon twice before her Olympic victory. But in 1984, when the Olympics first introduced the women’s marathon as an official event, Benoit was only 17 days out from knee surgery. Despite this setback, she won the marathon and became the face of women’s distance running for the next several decades. If you want to learn more about Joan Benoit, you can read our previous blog post on an event that she spoke at this past year!

download1987 – Jackie Joyner-Kersee was an incredible track and field athlete, known for dominating at multiple events, including the heptathlon and long jump. She had a long career, participating in 4 separate Olympic Games, where she won 3 Gold, 1 Silver and 1 bronze medal. In recognition of her prowess, Sports Illustrated feature her on one of their 1987 covers. She was the first woman to make the cover, and the title simply read “Super Woman”.

Who are your favorite historical female athletes? We were only able to scratch the surface for this blog post; there are many more moments in women’s sports history that still reverberate today. We’d love to hear about the incredible athletes and barrier-breakers that are inspiring you! And happy Women’s History Month!

Addison Osta Smith | 100 Girls on the Infield

Today, we’re re-blogging another post from our friends over at Girls on the Infield and their awesome 100 Girls in the Infield Initiative. This story of #girlpower comes straight from the Girls in the Game hometown of Chicago!

screen-shot-2016-02-25-at-10-26-52-amName: Addison Osta Smith, @jrchefaddison

Addison Osta Smith captured our hearts from Episode 1 of MasterChef Junior’s fourth season and as the competition progressed, she proved herself to be the best junior home chef in America! As the first female (and youngest) winner of the show’s four seasons, Addison was not only a fiery personality in the kitchen, but a valuable teammate, strong leader and an inspiration to young home chefs everywhere!

5 Reasons Addison is Awesome

  1. Addison was joined in the finale by Avery Kyle, from Baton Rouge, La. and the pair were the first ever all female finale in the show’s history! At the beginning of the finale episode, Addison said, “This is the battle of the A’s…this is the battle of the nine-year-olds…this is the battle of the girls.”
  2. Addison won more challenges than any other competitor throughout the season.
  3. Thanks to Addison, there was no shortage of girl power on this season. From the beginning of the competition, Addison knew she had the chops to win, telling Gordon Ramsay, “I can go to the finale and then from there I’m going to win.”
  4. With her $100,000 prize money, Addison plans to open her own bakery, called Batter Up Bakery, combining her love for cooking and her love for baseball.
  5. After she won, Addison shared a heart-felt thank you on her Instagram page: “I can’t begin to thank all of my family & friends enough for their support and love. I am so grateful for this amazing experience, the friends I’ve made and everything I’ve learned. Anyone can cook, if you put your heart into it and give it everything you’ve got! Huge thank you to three extraordinary teachers @gordongram@grahamelliot @christinatosi and a big thank you to the whole #masterchefjuniorfamily!!!!!!”

Get to know more about Addison on her official MasterChef Junior page.

For further reading, check out the previous Girls in the Game blog post from one of our After School coaches about the influence of MasterChef Junior on our girls’ discussions about health, food and wellness!

The Choice Is Yours by Jess Larson

Recently, a TED Talk by Reshma Saujani, the founder of Girls Who Code, has been making the rounds at Girls in the Game and beyond. One of our After School Coordinators shared it with the staff, and we posted it to our Facebook page. I’ve seen it discussed on my own personal social media, and this past weekend, one of the hosts of our Teen Leadership Summit recommended it to our teens.

bf912f2eb8038864614e0ae78c957ffabb064039_2880x1620So what’s the hot topic causing all of this buzz? Saujani spoke about why we  teach girls bravery instead of perfectionism. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s definitely work a watch. According to Saujani, “Most girls are taught to avoid risk and failure. They’re taught to smile pretty, play it safe, get all A’s. Boys, on the other hand are taught to play rough, swing high, crawl to the top of the monkey bars and just jump off, head first….We’re raising our girls to be perfect, and we’re raising our boys to be brave.”

To illustrate her point, Saujani describes the process of teaching girls computer coding; in coding, even one wrong character can ruin an entire code. Frequently, Girls Who Code instructors find their students staring in frustration at completely blank computer screens; these girls tell the instructor that they don’t know what to do or where to start. What makes this interesting is the moment the instructor hits the undo button, they find multiple attempts to write code on the screen.  These girls would rather show their instructor a blank screen than a code that isn’t perfect. The message has been embedded in girls; perfectionism or nothing at all.

We see this all the time at Girls in the Game, especially when it comes time to introduce a new sport that the girls have not played previously. As our coaches begin instruction on the basics of yoga or lacrosse there tends to be a lot of hesitation and hiding in the back of the line or against a wall.  No one wants to be the first to try scooping the ball with the lacrosse stick. When coaches ask what’s wrong, almost every time the response is that the girl doesn’t know how to play that sport. There it is again; the choice between nothing or perfectionism.

Could this be one of the reasons that girls consistently out-perform boys in school, both in elementary, high school and college, yet are still struggling for gender equality in career fields like STEM or politics? A girl can utilize  perfectionism in her school work as a resource, but there is no place for the perfect or nothing attitude within career fields such as STEM or politics. To succeed in life you have to be prepared to make mistakes and struggle through processes to learn, grow and contribute. This requires bravery; you must be brave to attempt something new or challenging in the face of failure.

I can see how this desire for perfect instead of bravery played out in my own life. All throughout my childhood, I was fascinated by the outdoors. I had a rock collection, caught tadpoles to watch them grow into frogs,  enjoyed transplanting various plants and one time, dug up a coyote skeleton, much to the distress of my mother when I proudly brought my findings home in a plastic grocery bag. All arrows pointed to my interest in biology, but for some reason during high school I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t good at science. My Advanced Placement Chemistry class was the most difficult class I had ever taken. I was generally a straight A student, but I worked harder for a B in that class than in any other class I had ever taken. Those struggles, the hard-won B in chemistry and my lack of experience, helped me decide that science wasn’t my thing, and I re-focused my collegiate academics on the liberal arts.

IMG_0624.JPGAs an adult I was hiking in Pennsylvania with a friend one weekend, describing the plant and animal life to her as we went, when she asked me why in the world I hadn’t gone into Biology or the sciences. Her question stopped me in my tracks. Suddenly, I realized my belief that I wasn’t good enough at science was patently untrue. I was good at biology; I studied it as a hobby in my free time almost every day. But the experience of struggling for a B in chemistry class, of studying and studying only to get the problems wrong on the test had kicked my fear of failure into high gear. If I couldn’t get every problem right, then clearly, I was bad at science, perfect or nothing.

Bravery is one of Girls in the Game’s essential values; “We strive for courage. Recognizing the value in taking risks, we are gritty, brave and resourceful, resulting in better outcomes and successes.” As such, teaching bravery to our girls is a frequent topic of discussion at Girls in the Game, but it took Reshma Saujani’s talk to help me make the connection between perfectionism and bravery. When I attend programming, I see bold, beautiful and determined girls who will grow into courageous young women. But none of these qualities can flourish if society is teaching them that they need to be perfect in everything they do.

IMG_3137Watch Saujani’s talk, reflect on your own life and where perfectionism might have choked out bravery. Think about experiences you had when you moved away from a risk and toward what you deemed to be safer ground. What did that look like? Did you miss an opportunity to do something great? To experience something new? No more. It’s time to try that dance, sing a new song, ask your question, run a race, book that trip or try a new sport. It’s time to choose bravery. You aren’t alone, we are here, right behind you cheering you on just like we do with our girls.

Coach by Mary Banker

“Coach KB! Coach KB!” I heard several girls yell while my co-worker, KB, and I were visiting classrooms today at Randolph Elementary School. I watched the girls come to life when she walked in the room; you could feel their excitement and love for their coach and their anticipation of the next time they got to spend time with her.

There are three professions that use the title of the profession as the way to address the person in that role; Doctor, Judge and Coach. I remember the first time I heard this was at the Hall of Fame Dinner for the USA Track and Field Coaches Association. A woman accepting her husband’s induction into USATF Hall of Fame said there was no other title he would have ever wanted to wear and that he took great honor in being a coach.

Some people think that Girls in the Game coaches just show up with dodgeballs or basketballs to play sports with the girls, but when you take a deeper look you see something much greater with an even deeper impact.

Coach1I have the great opportunity to coach collegiate track and field. It’s funny because in high school, my least favorite sport was track. I loved basketball, I loved being a hitter in volleyball and during my honor roll study hall I would go to the batting cages with our softball coach and some of his players. When I got to college I decided I wasn’t going to play basketball, and so I did what any normal person would do and walked on the track team. I quickly learned that this wasn’t just any track team. At U.W. Oshkosh track and field was respected, a team sport, and the coach was very well known.

There were times I wanted to quit. In fact I remember one workout in particular, a ladder of 200-300-500-300-200 where I barely hung on to finish. Meanwhile my teammates seemed to complete the workout effortlessly. This was the day my veteran teammate pointed out the national championship banners; I remember seeing banners from the last three consecutive years amongst many others. She told me I was running against individual national champions and All-Americans. Then she encouraged me to stick with it.

Outside of the workouts we met in a classroom every Monday for a team meeting with our head coach Deb.  Each member of the team would share their personal record or PRs from the weekend if they had hit one. Then Deb would do a short lesson covering mental focus, work ethic or team dynamics. One meeting Deb covered academics after grades came out. She announced everyone on the honor roll and had them stand, followed by the Dean’s list, then 4.0 students. I was one of three that didn’t stand up after my first semester. *I remember wanting to be someone who stood up next time and decided I would be.

Looking back now I realize how I lacked the wisdom to know how much of an impact my coach made on me, how her lessons taught me more than to just be a good athlete. I didn’t fully comprehend how being a part of this team and having a coach who truly understood what mattered would directly affect my life after collegiate sports. She is one of the most winningest coaches in track and field, and yet she never jeopardized her student athletes’ academics for success. She taught me the value of simplicity, discipline, focus, work ethic, pride and humility. I have carried those same lessons into my management style, coaching, teaching, family and friendships.

Coach2As I look around the Girls in the Game offices and spend time amongst our coaches and programming staff I am filled with admiration. While our curriculum is designed specifically with girls’ emotional, mental and health needs in mind, every single day I see coaches spread out through the offices taking the time to individualize the curriculum for their specific site and group of girls. They get it. They understand the privilege of their position, and they do not take it lightly.

Coaches impact student athletes’ lives on a daily basis over the course of several years. Think about any time an athlete gets in trouble in college, the first question is; ‘Where was the coach during this incident?’ To this day I’ve never heard anyone ask where the student’s English adviser was during the incident or how did the Calculus professor not know where their student was at such and such time. The bottom line, a coach has an inside influence that others rarely get.

Coach3Being a coach is an honor. I have been honored to hold that title for seven collegiate seasons. There was a stint in my career that I didn’t coach, and to say that I missed it is an understatement. Most people say you are not your job, but in my case that statement is inaccurate. I have a coach’s heart; I love to guide, mentor and sharpen others and then watch them grow and experience success. The first time I heard Coach again was at Girls in the Game. My heart almost exploded! All these girls were yelling Coach Mary! Coach Mary! It was music to my ears.

At Girls in the Game everyone who works with the girls is a Coach. We make sure our volunteers are ready to wear the title alongside us. Being a coach makes a person the front porch in to the lives of the girls. There is a sense of trust, respect and closeness that does not come with other titles. Coach implies team, leadership, fun, sport, a sense of togetherness.

This is also an honor that I hope you will experience one day with us at Girls in the Game. If you haven’t had a chance to serve girls as a coach and would like to volunteer please email Jess Larson at

*After that meeting I was on Dean’s List the rest of my academic career barely ever dipping below a 3.8 GPA, in addition I became a two time All-American in the heptathlon and 4×400 relay.

What Do We Want for Girls?

Over the past couple of months the Girls in the Game staff and board has been working on our strategic plan for the next three years. When we first started this process, we assumed that our mission, vision and values were fine as they were; why mess with a good thing? Yet when we took a closer look, we realized that our mission statement was, to be honest, a bit clinical and uninspiring. It didn’t really get at the heart of what we are working for every day.

Girls in the Game provides and promotes sports and fitness opportunities, nutrition and health education, and leadership development to enhance the overall health and well-being of girls.

It was a true statement, but Girls in the Game does so much more than this! So we set out to update our mission, vision and values. This has involved a lot of round table discussions, word association exercises and Post-It notes, as you can see below!

At Girls in the Game, it seems like we are constantly evaluating ourselves. We evaluate each of our programs for effectiveness and to see if our participants can still relate to the topics we teach. We evaluate our girls for how they change and grow through our programs. As a Development Team, we assess the effectiveness of each of our events, and we carefully track our numbers on social media. But through this process, I become ever more aware of how vital it is to occasionally take a step back, catch our breath and look at the bigger picture.

IMG_2627What do we want for girls? It seems to always come back to this essential question. This question is a part of the training that every coach goes through, a question that every single intern or staff-member engages with. And it’s always a touchstone in our conversations on the bigger picture.

So what did Girls in the Game come up with after hours of discussion and several pads of Post-It notes? I think it’s pretty inspiring!

Our Mission: At Girls in the Game, every girl finds her voice, discovers her strength and leads with confidence through fun and active leadership, sports, and health programs.

Our Vision: Girls in the Game empowers all girls to be game-changers.


We nurture the whole girl. Our programs encourage physical and emotional health and promote active minds, bodies and hearts.

We believe in the power of girls. Our safe, girl-only space creates an openness for girls to grow and discover their strength and leadership.

We value teamwork. Through partnerships and relationships, we will create stronger, healthier communities and a positive, cooperative environment.

We strive for courage. Recognizing the value in taking risks, we are gritty, brave and resourceful, resulting in better outcomes and successes.

We celebrate diversity. We are stronger as a whole team than we are as individuals and we recognize the unique contributions of all.

We aim for quality. We are thoughtful stewards, results-oriented and data driven. Above all, we work with an ongoing awareness of the needs of girls and are tireless in our efforts to meet them.

We are vital. We boldly embrace change, respond to the needs of girls and are passionately driven towards excellence in everything we do.

This is what we value at Girls in the Game. And they’re not just for staff; these are also the things that we strive to incorporate and teach in programming to all of our girls. This is our answer to the question, What do we want for girls?

And it’s been so inspiring! At first, honestly, I thought this process would be boring; but when I read our new mission, vision and values I feel excited to come to work each day! It reminds me of how important my to-do list really is, even if that list just includes updating our Twitter account and data-entry from our recent gala!

So if you’re feeling a bit stuck in the rut during this season when it seems like we’re just waiting for the spring to come (at least here in Chicago!), it can help to take a step back. When you give yourself some room to breathe, it’s so much easier to see the bigger picture. That was all it took for me to remember that at the end of the day, my goal is for girls to find their voices, discover their strengths and lead with confidence! And that’s something I can definitely get on board with!