Violence is a Public Health Issue by Elizabeth White

When doing our weekly “high and low” check-in, Alexa* shared her low: her uncle was shot over the weekend. No one in the room was shocked, instead the girls just nodded their heads. Especially at Girls in the Game’s teens programs, this topic isn’t uncommon. In fact, experiences with community violence are the norm, not the exception for our participants.

According to ABC News, Chicago “saw 3,550 shooting incidents and 762 murders last year, a grim total that works out to an average of more than two murders and nearly 10 shootings every single day.”

If one of our girls shared that her uncle had the flu, we would offer empathy, suggestions for care/treatment, and concern for transmission to the girl. We would believe it to be preventable and curable. Why then, don’t we approach violence in the same way? After all, violence is a social determinant of health; it is contagious and epidemic in nature.

The greatest predictor of violence is preceding cases of violence, as with other infectious diseases. Violence is an unconsciously learned behavior and requires public health interventions. These health approaches are multidisciplinary, collaborative, prevention-focused and evidence-based without moral judgment.

Slutkin (2016) paints a picture of violence through a public health framework:

“Like lead poisoning, violence impairs the ability of children to learn (23). Like people exposed to influenza spread influenza (24), violence causes more violence (25), expressing itself as outbreaks of retaliations and clusters of suicides. Like tobacco use, violence spreads through social networks (26), becoming increasingly acceptable and commonplace. Like the Ebola virus, violence generates fear, distrust, and panic (27)—stigmatizing communities where clusters of cases occur and limiting opportunities for communities to come together. Doctors, nurses and other health workers try as hard as possible to save the victims of violence. We all recognize the iconic image of a team of doctors and nurses desperately trying to save a patient who has been shot. But another essential role for the health and public health sectors, and other sectors is to help people and communities be safe in the first place—to minimize the negative impacts of violence related to trauma that contributes to the degradation of mental health and health overall (28).”

At Girls in the Game, we utilize a trauma-informed approach in our programming to contribute to this public health approach to violence. This means we focus on the strengths of our girls, we understand the impacts of trauma and operate under the assumption that all girls may have experienced trauma in their lives, and we are committed to encouraging a sense of empowerment and control for our girls.

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Members of Girls in the Game’s Teen Squad with positive media messages they want to see in the future.

One of Girls the Game’s driving values is: “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.” Not only are we responsive to our own data and outcomes from working with the girls, but we aim to utilize and advocate for evidence-based theories of practice. We aim to be a gamechanger in shifting norms away from moralistic judgments about those individuals and communities affected by violence and from the idea that we can simply stigmatize, punish, and arrest our way out of violence.

Our girls are in the middle of an epidemic, and Girls in the Game is proud to stand up to violence as a public health issue.

*Name changed

Resources & thank you

For more information and resources related to this topic, please visit:

A special thank you to Strengthening Chicago’s Youth ( for their training on this topic.


We Have to Keep Fighting by Beth Tumiel

Our Program Director, Beth Tumiel, will be in Pakistan in partnership with Women Win over the next week where she will be Advancing the Playing Field for Girls with other national organizations who use sports as a tool for girls’ empowerment and social change. She will be sharing her journey with us on our blog, and on our social media accounts (Follow us: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram). 

Last Friday we went to Aga Khan, a private University in Karachi. Being one of the only universities in Pakistan with an indoor sports center that includes a weightlifting room and pool, our host from Right to Play was excited to take us there. Most spaces that are available for sports in Pakistan are outside, causing yet another barrier to girls playing sports since temperatures can reach over 100 degrees in the summer. Aside from seeing the facilities, we were there to do a site visit with two medical students who play basketball on the university team, two administrators and four members of the national cricket team.

The first part of the day was a tour of the facilities and an orientation to the history of the university, which was founded by the Shia Ismaili Muslims, a religious minority group. When we asked about sports based scholarships, an administrator said, “We only have merit based scholarships here.” One of the basketball players immediately countered with, “for now.” When we toured the weight room, the same student said, “We’ll have more weights by next year.” These are women set on making change. They know what’s at stake if a change doesn’t happen. Opportunities for equality are lost. The other student told us that “discrimination disappears when playing sports.” She described that as soon as she steps onto the court with her male colleagues, even those who give her a tough time for playing, they are all just players.

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Beth in a selfie with the National Cricket Team in Karachi.

When the four cricket players joined us, the room changed dramatically. Leadership shifted from the basketball players to the cricket players. From one group of powerful young women to another. It was apparent how much the basketball players looked up to the cricket players: for paving a path to the celebration of Pakistani women in sports. For their strong dedication to a sport that was helping all women be accepted as players. For pushing the envelope because pushing the envelope meant improving things for everyone. I saw the power of girls being lived out in their conversation.

Our host led us all in a discussion to learn about the girls’ experiences. The young women talked about their challenges. About how people would “pass judgement on us about the way we dressed or looked.” About how they were discouraged from playing their sport by friends and family. About how they don’t get the same support from their local governments as the men’s teams do.

But they also talked about how they are making change, and how they are convincing people. One of them reminded us, “Because we are girls, we have to keep fighting.” After she started to get recognition, one girl’s father is now openly proud of her and attends all of her games. When another girl’s grandmother saw how happy it made her, she started asking her about the sport. Another girl said that “my parents don’t say anything anymore. I don’t know if it is giving up or support. Either way, it doesn’t matter.  I still get to play.”

At the end of the day, the girls from the National Cricket Team asked me to take a selfie. I was thrilled to do so because I had wanted to ask the same thing, but was afraid to speak up. These young women, they were not afraid to ask. I’ve got a lot to learn from them.

5 Steps to Trauma Sensitive Programming by Ericka Dawson

You may have recently heard some of the breaking research on the deep effects of PTSD among black women in Chicago. Here are some of the ways that Girls in the Game is working to ensure our programs are trauma-informed for our participants.

About two weeks ago I attended a training hosted by Up2Us Sports focused on Trauma-Sensitive Sports Practice. The training provided insight into the story of trauma and its effects on youth. The Up2Us facilitators did a great job at explaining how Trauma Sensitive Sports Practices can support youth and coaches in creating an environment that is conducive to building positive and healthy life skills and relationships.

The training was so informative that it caused me to review our own program practices to ensure we are properly responding to the needs of girls and coaches. Gladly, after only a few seconds, I came to the conclusion that Girls in the Game is right on target. Upon reflection I realized that our program structure has trauma sensitive practices already built in and that the Trauma Informed Theory guides our implementation practices. In fact, this theory is discussed thoroughly with our coaches during our two-day Best Practice training because we realize the impact of trauma and significance of integrating this knowledge into our policies and procedures.

We practice the 5-finger contract: safety, commitment, respect, teamwork and fun.

To deepen our understanding of trauma sensitive practices, during the Up2Us training we were given the following as a model for trauma sensitive programming:

  1. Transition – The time between when youth first arrive in the space to when coaches decide to start the official warm up activities
  2. Warm-up – The time between formal start of practice to when coaches begin structured activities.
  3. Play – The time period that encompasses drills, simulated game play and other structured activities facilitated by coaches
  4. Cool Down – The time between end of structured activities to the formal end of practice
  5. Transition –The time between the cool down to when players exit space

Again, while listening to the facilitators I began to get excited because I realized our program structure is in alignment with their recommendations. We teach our coaches the importance of each component above and how they help create an environment conducive to learning for our girls.

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Girls having fun at an After School program

I had an awesome opportunity to observe programming at one of our sites and was able to see our coaches implementing this model:

  1. They began with a transition game of tag, which gets the girls moving and allows them to release bottled energy from the school day
  2. The coaches stretched with the girls to warm-up before beginning the structured activities
  3. The coaches started the main activity, soccer. During this time, the girls reviewed the skills they learned from the previous session and the coaches also taught new skills
  4. After play, the coaches initiated a cool down, which consisted of multiple girls leading the group through various stretching routines
  5. Finally, the girls reviewed all the topics and skills they learned during the session, and the coaches presented Athlete of the Day to one of the girls who exhibited great leadership and listening skills during the session

Overall, I’m glad I attended the training; it was a reminder of how Girls in the Game continues to exceed industry standards while maintaining a focus on the needs of the girls we serve. As we continue to grow in the field of sports-based youth development, and “aim for quality” in all areas of programming, we do so with an ongoing awareness of the needs of girls.





Never Accept Artificial Limits by Beth Tumiel

Our Program Director, Beth Tumiel, will be in Pakistan in partnership with Women Win over the next two weeks where she will be Advancing the Playing Field for Girls with other national organizations who use sports as a tool for girls’ empowerment and social change. She will be sharing her journey with us on our blog, and on our social media accounts (Follow us: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram). 

On my long flight to Karachi, a man looked over at the book I was reading and said, “I’m in love with this leader. She is amazing.”

I had picked up a copy of Benazir Bhutto’s book Reconciliation to read for the flight, having been recommended by our sponsoring organization, Women Win. A refresher: Benazir Bhutto was the prime minister of Pakistan from 1988-1990 and 1993-1996 and the leader of the Pakistan People’s Party before her assassination in 2007. She was the first woman leader of a Muslim state, and a leader who advocated for democracy and people’s participation as a pillar of a free society.

She is indeed amazing and her story is inspiring. Her conviction and courage are best told in her own words. When she was dissuaded from parading down the street upon her return to Pakistan in 2007, she said “I knew that those who believed in democracy and my leadership were awaiting me in the streets of Karachi and that they had come from all over the country, spending their own money and taking time off of work, to show their support for my party and for our cause of freedom and human dignity. After what they were doing for me, I thought it was wrong to slip away behind their backs and skulk secretly home.”

By giving so much, leaving her three children and husband behind in Dubai, she made sure to honor what others were giving. THAT is true leadership.

Girls playing soccer with Women Win, an international organization working to empower girls through sports.

She attributes much of her success to being brought up “in a home of gender equality.” She says, “we were taught never to accept artificial limits on what we could be in life.”

Now, I will never be a Benazir Bhutto, and perhaps none of our coaches will be. But what we can do is make sure that we send that same messages to the girls we work with. “Never accept artificial limits on what we could be in life.” And then, maybe one day, someone sitting on a plane will say to themselves, or some traveler, about one of the girls in our program, “I’m in love with this leader. She is amazing.” That is what we should be working towards at Girls in the Game.


The Importance of Trying a Second Time by Kaylise Algrim

Working at a sports organization came as a bit of a surprise to me.

Like a few other people on the Girls in the Game staff, I was not involved in any kind of sports when I was younger. I had an opt-out attitude that came partially from a lack of killer instinct (which is not something I would discover until facing off with Jamaica about trade agreements in high school Model UN) and partially, from a discouragement at the outset about my own abilities.

Being small and a girl was not a condition anyone had a particular problem with, as far as I can remember, and I don’t recall ever being told to be stronger, louder, or more direct. When I said I wasn’t interested in sports, I meant it, but I was also afraid to try something that I couldn’t accomplish. The truth is, I always felt entirely acceptable as a girl who preferred books to sports. Why try something you can’t compete in and why rock the boat when things are working just as they are?

Kaylise kid
Kaylise as a young girl, playing with her dog.

Girls in the Game says if you’re good at something, that’s great! You should be proud of your skills and proud of what you can do. But when you’re at programming, the message is more specific: be courageous, collaborate, take up space. If you’re being safe, respectful, and kind, there is no way to fail.

In our society, girls are rewarded for being nice constantly. Directly and passively, we tell girls that it is entirely acceptable that they yield the floor. We rarely direct girls to be more assertive or tell them it is important they feel powerful in their bodies. Our programs at Girls in the Game allow girls a chance to try things they’ve never tried before, and then a chance to try them again. We talk about building resiliency, which boils down to something simple. Every girl deserves a chance to stumble without feeling innately incapable.

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Kaylise preparing for a Girls in the Game program.

I work with people who believe in the power of girls (That’s on the website, so you know we back it). It isn’t some intangible idea. Any time someone suggests a change in curriculum, a speaker, an activity, the same answer bounces back: What will work best for the girls? And with almost equal frequency: Why not ask the girls? Everyone believes that girls’ opinions matter, that their input is a valuable asset to the program we create, and that creating women who believe they deserve to be heard is good for everyone.

I spend a lot of time describing what we do to other people from behind a computer, and the gist is that we think girls are already capable and we’re just here to help them nurture the strength they already have. I’m proud of that. I’m proud of the diversity of our programs and proud to be part of this organization.

Sometimes, though, I want to share the most cliched reason I believe in Girls in the Game: I wish I had something like this when I was a girl. While I sometimes wonder what the younger version of myself would have thought if I told her she’d spend her later years talking about sports, I also know that I would like to tell her that she isn’t bad, she’s a beginner, and that she has so much room to grow. Maybe it wouldn’t make her more interested in being an athlete, but maybe she’d try. Maybe she’d try more than once.

Passing the Torch by Alecia Ivery

In February we hosted our Field of Dreams gala, which is always my favorite part of the year. Field of Dreams showcases our inspiring champions who have done amazing things for girls and women, and also allows our seniors in Teen Squad to speak about their experiences.

This year it was extra special for me because my sister, who has been in Teen Squad since her freshman year, was speaking at the event. Just like my sister, I was also in Teen Squad and spoke at Field of Dreams numerous times throughout my years as a participant.  I was inspired that she saw my experience in Girls in the Game and wanted to be a part of the program. However, I wasn’t the only alumna there. There were two other alumnae at the event watching their younger sisters as well!

Jalisa speaking at the Field of Dreams gala

It was emotional for me to see my sister and the other seniors speak about their time in Teen Squad. Being involved in Girls in the Game for 12 years, I have developed a connection with some of the teens that started as 8-year-old campers and are now on their way to college. It hit me how at Girls in the Game, whether you are in the same family or in the same program, you have the opportunity to develop these meaningful relationships and sisterly bonds with one other.

I have been able to pass the torch not only to my sister, but to all of the girls I have had the privilege to coach. At Girls in the Game, we constantly strive to produce high quality programs and evolve to meet the needs of the girls we serve so that these types of relationships can be built across the city. One way Girls in the Game has responded to our girls is by creating the Flagship Model structure for our programs.

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Three generations of sisters in Girls in the Game: Jacobed (Teen Squad alumna ’12), Elizabeth (Summer camper), Febe (Current Teen Squad Member ’17)

Our Flagship Model is designed to create a fluid transition from Girls in the Game elementary programming to our Teen Squad program and to deepen our impact in a targeted community for girls of all ages. At six of our after-school sites, we have both elementary (3rd-5th grade) and middle school (6th-8th) programs available. Over our 10-week season, the middle school girls serve as junior coaches for the elementary school girls and get an opportunity to lead programming.

As soon as the middle school girls enter the programming space, every elementary school participants’ eyes are glued to them, listening to every word and instruction given. The relationships these girls can forge, and the mentorships we can foster are vital to the success of our Flagship Model. Over time our coaches have seen how much both grade levels have enjoyed working together as they form relationships that go far beyond programming. And just like I passed the torch to my sister, our teens and middle school girls can pass the torch to our younger girls.