On Borrowed Time by Mary Banker

On Borrowed Time by Mary Banker

There are certain professions in this world that allow you the opportunity to bring someone into your care. These are areas of service and leadership, respect and trust. This type of relationship cannot be forced, it has to flow with perfect balance in perfect time.

I remember qualifying to nationals in the 60 meter hurdles my senior year of college. I was excited to go and to compete at such a high level. The day that we arrived at the meet we found out our fastest 400 meter runner had a stress fracture on her foot. She couldn’t run in the relay. There were two women left to be alternates; one of them was me. I remember my coach coming over to me and asking me to get some hand-offs in while we did our pre-meet warm up the day before competition started.

The next day I competed in the 60 meter hurdles and then ran in the 4×400 relay. My coach looked at me and said; “Mary you’re the senior and I know you will leave it all on the track for your teammates so you’re taking the spot in the relay”. I was nervous; I wasn’t just replacing a leg of the relay, I was replacing our fastest woman on the relay.

We warmed up as a team, we came out in our sweats, and the officials lined us up. The gun sounded and it felt like a lifetime before it was my turn to run. The moment I grabbed the baton from my teammate it was on. There would be nothing left in me when I passed the baton off. After the first 200 I started to pass several women and handed off the baton first in our heat the next two women ran, we made it to finals which meant we were competing to become All-Americans! After the prelims were over my coach approached all of us and smiled at me. She turned her watch and said; “You ran the fastest time, looks like I made the right choice”. **I was elated because I got my teammates where they deserved to be, in a position to become All-Americans. I would have never run that race, that relay or possibly that time had my coach not seen in me what I hadn’t seen in myself. She knew before I did.

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Working on our “arm bar”

Every time a girl walks through the doors of the gymnasium, the classroom or our office we have been given this sacred space of care. The time is valuable and the girls themselves priceless. Filled with energy and laughter, smiles and charisma, curiousness, words, fear, excitement, an inability to sit still or listen; they are filled with love and adoration for their coaches. As an organization we know our role within this delicate job of working with the girls. No matter if it is a challenging day or a blissful day, a day they all listen or none of them listen, they are placed in our care and the clock ticks.

I had one season to coach the senior 400 meter hurdler. He worked harder than anyone on the team, was coachable, consistent, accountable, a good teammate and a captain who lead by example. Each workout had intention behind it, hurdle drills to sharpen movements, block drills to correct any rhythm issues to the first hurdle. Some workouts Ryan had to earn his next repetition by doing the one before perfectly, the pressure was on but with intention, to mimic the race day pressure. He did everything right and fell short of qualifying for nationals at his last meet. At the end of his race I went to slap his hand as we always did, but instead he put his arms out and hugged me. He thanked me for being ‘one heck of a coach’. A moment I’ll remember for a long time.

Next year he will be going to the Peace Corps to serve in Africa. I know for a fact he will be one of the best volunteers they will ever have; he will be reliable, consistent, a good teammate, and a leader. During his life Ryan will always find people following him and as a coach that means we respected and honored our role. We set expectations, we pushed him. It was a delicate balance of praise and correction, of wanting more but always knowing when he had given it all. The perfect timing of respect, trust and care.

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Batting stance!

During our Teen Squad events I find myself standing back listening in admiration and pride. When I get to participate as a coach during after school or summer camp I play and laugh and have fun inside an environment that has been created by coaches that respect their role and honor the girls left in their care. I watch the managers of our programs and our coaches work in such beautiful harmony. We know what is in front of us, girls who are ready to grow and learn, and then we must let them go.

There is one final piece to this perfect puzzle. The piece of release, the piece where you have to let go, the piece when the perfect time and the perfect balance have been satisfied. This is when girls become women, athletes become servant leaders in other countries and I became a coach. Girls in the Game is a place where we find ourselves in the profession of taking girls into our care, never holding on too long but never letting go too early. If you want to get involved email us at; jlarson@girlsinthegame.org

**This 4×400 relay team became All-Americans at the indoor national meet and I remained on the relay team all of outdoor season as the anchor leg.

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This Girl Can by Jess Larson

This past week, while reading an article out of the UK about how marketers struggle to advertise to women in regards to sports, exercise and physical fitness, they referenced a fantastic campaign put out last year by Sport England called “This Girl Can”. I hadn’t seen their video before, and watching it at my desk, I broke out in a huge smile at the message they were sending; I actually watched it several times throughout the week as motivation!

I loved everything about this video, from its brutally honest and unashamed portrayal of real women’s bodies to its feistiness. This video jarred me out of my sport-for-exercise mental rut and reminded me that at their core, sports are FUN, even for us grown-ups.

It was the adult women’s version of what Girls in the Game teaches our girls during programming every day. And it fought all the negative media stereotypes that girls and women face. Girls in the Game is an all-girl organization because there is a big gap in participation in sports for girls, especially in urban areas. We firmly believe that this is not only due to a lack of opportunities in money-strapped schools and communities, but also due to the stereotypes and pressures that marketing places on girls. There are so many lies that our girls hear from the TV, social media, commercials and ads they consume every day.

  • Sports are for boys; girls aren’t good at sports
  • Exercise and physical activity are to lose weight and achieve an idea body type (get that “thigh gap” and post about it on social media)
  • You should look sexy while playing sports; sweat is unattractive!
  • Sports are just for naturally athletic girls; if you don’t have talent, don’t play

Written out like this, these lies seem blatant, obvious. Who actually says anything like this? But in reality, marketing campaigns across the world blast these messages loud and clear. According to the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport, women and girls make up 40% of participants in sports, but only receive 4% of the media coverage (sports are for boys; girls aren’t good at sports). And how many of the exercise commercials aimed at women are about losing weight with perfectly fit models selling the product? If we actually see women doing physical activity, they are svelte, sleek, perfectly toned body types glistening beautifully in the sun as they achieve all of their exercise or sport goals

Just type “female athlete” into Google Images and you will see a whole lot of women in sports bras or bikinis with perfectly toned bodies. There are a handful of real-life female athletes that pop up as well, but the majority of the images are the pop culture idea of what a female athlete should look like (the vast majority of them being white). Because of this type of marketing, so many girls and women feel shame when it comes to sports or exercising. As the original article I read put it, “Despite its rising stock, marketers are yet to fully grasp how to empower women to exercise without feeling bad about their bodies.”

What was so unusual about the “This Girl Can” video was that I saw myself in it, breathing hard as I fit in a run in between getting home from work and dinner. Or myself struggling to get back into sports after life throws my normal health habits for a loop. This video celebrated sport and exercise; it didn’t shame.

At Girls in the Game, we tell girls that an athlete is anyone who plays a sport or participates in physical activity. All girls can be athletes, whether they’re playing basketball or doing yoga by themselves; being an athlete is not based upon your skill level or natural athletic ability. It’s based upon doing, going out and playing. And, we tell them that exercising and playing sports is just plain FUN! We do everything we can to remove that sense of shame that seems to taint girls’ sports. Just take it from one of our Teen Squad members. They lead workshops for our younger participants, and when she was asked what she wants girls to feel as a result of these workshops, she answered, “I want girls to be confident about themselves. I want them to feel no type of shame while they are playing others.”

Let’s be honest, media and marketing are slow to change. We might not be able to demand they change their messaging overnight. But we can like, share and repost those fantastic images that celebrate women and girls as they play sports. And we can help the girls in our lives begin to work through the myriad messages of shame and blame they receive when it comes to sports, or anything, really. Giving them the tools necessary to analyze the media they take in the first step to thinking of themselves as athletes. This girl can!

The Opposite Result by Mary Banker

If you follow our blog regularly, you’ve probably noticed that we’ve been on a brief hiatus. This was due to our move to new office space in Douglas Park. Thank you for your patience during the transition; we are settling in and ready to get back to blogging!

Although it may not seem like it, summer is fast approaching which means summer camp is right around the corner. We started interviews for our junior counselors this week, and I was lucky enough to spend some time with the applicants. Anytime I go to a leader to leader interview with our teen program, I have the teen squad girls practice introducing themselves and shaking hands. Monday before each group went in for their interview there was about 20 minutes for them to fill out paperwork, talk and, of course, we worked on our handshakes and introductions.

First of all let me tell you how impressive these teens were. They took my hand, made eye contact, told me their names with confidence and listened to me when I shared mine. They were open to practicing and learning, and I found it eased their nerves a bit before they went in to be interviewed for the amazing position of junior counselor. At the end of the evening a mother came in to wait for her daughter to finish her interview, and she had brought her younger daughter with as well. As we sat there I asked the younger daughter if she was part of our After School Program, and she told me she wasn’t but that she loved participating in our summer camp. She went on to explain that she is part of the debate team and stayed after school four days a week to practice with the team.

Her eyes lit up when she started to share more about her experience with the debate team, but what really struck me about her experience was this:

“I thought it may be hard to get all my homework done because of how many hours I was spending at debate practice during the week. My friends told me the same thing, they thought they wouldn’t be able to do both. What I actually learned is that it made it easier, and I get better grades now than I did when I wasn’t part of the team.”

!I stared at her as my face exploded with a smile. She got it, at the young age of 14 she understood what many adults do not understand. It’s what a lot of people in academia do not understand, and it’s something that I fight against within collegiate athletics. Being part of a team actually strengthens a young person’s academics. This is statistically proven, but many people believe the opposite; they believe it is better to focus solely on academics to improve grades. When you are part of something greater than yourself, when you have less free time, when you have goals and structure, when you learn something new and have to work at it failing sometimes and succeeding other times, this is when you grow as a person. This is when you set new standards for yourself and this is when a person meets greatness.

Data and research have backed this idea time and again. According to a 2012 study by University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton College of Business, girls who play high school sports are 20% more likely to graduate and 20% more likely to attend college. Similar research from the Women’s Sports Foundation and their Her Life Depends On It III report published in 2015 found that participation in sports and physical activity not only benefited girls positively in their academics, but in their physical, social and psychological health as well! Study after study finds that academics and sports participation tend to have a mutually beneficial relationship in athletes’ lives.

WAA BanquetI have been blessed to be part of a team for most of my life as both an athlete and now a coach. I recently sat at the end of the year banquet presented by the **Women’s Athletic Association (WAA) at the University of Chicago. I have always loved this end of the year event. It creates a feeling of finality and accomplishment for the year and offers a time to celebrate and congratulate each other on a job well done. I watched as each team was presented with their awards and listened to each coach talk about their season as well as their team’s athletic and academic performances from the year. In addition there were several acts where athletes shared their talents; some danced, some sang and one got the entire room singing along with her as she strummed on her guitar and shared her beautiful voice with us.

Award after award drove the point home. The women in this room echoed the very message the girl in our office communicated to me. Sports and extracurricular activities do the opposite of what one might expect when it comes to grades and academic success or a participant’s social life. They help build successful young people with the discipline, grit and determination to succeed in all aspects of life.

But what happens when there is nowhere to plug in or a safe place to play? So many girls miss out on the health, emotional and academic benefits of sports. Girls in the Game bridges that gap by providing a place for girls to participate, to be part of something more, a team, a community. We emphasize healthy relationships, nutrition, fitness and sports. We can’t build this bridge alone, we need you. Here are all the ways to get involved: follow us on social media, become a volunteer coach, connect us to your company, donate, guest blog, and use your voice to advocate for girls. We can all do more together.

**WAA The Women’s Athletic Association (WAA) was founded by Gertrude Dudley, Director of the Women’s Gymnasium and the Department of Women’s Athletics at The University of Chicago in 1904. The WAA remains the nation’s longest-running collegiate organization for supporting women’s athletics. In 1916 the University opened Ida Noyes Hall, designed as a clubhouse for women’s athletics and sociability. Although intercollegiate competition was not allowed between women’s teams until the 1960s, Dudley and the WAA invited local colleges to participate in unofficial “Play Days” on the Midway during the 1920s.

**Emily Hunt, photographed above, is a student athlete at University of Chicago, she is a swimmer, has been elected the new president of WAA for next year and interns for us at Girls in the Game. We are proud of her and are happy to have her on staff working with us.