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.


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