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?
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.
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.