By Vado Porro • December 08, 2010•Writers in Residence
Editor's Note: The National Women's Law Center has organized the efforts to Rally for Girls' Sports Day.
What did I win by playing sports? I didn’t play sports until I turned eighteen, so I won some different things than people who played sports growing up. When I left for college, I decided to play ice-hockey, and joined the team at the University of Maryland. Maryland is a state that still doesn’t see a ton of women’s ice hockey, so I had a fairly unique opportunity to learn the sport in a supportive environment. This experience was immensely valuable and I won a lot.
I won positive body image. As a high school student, I constantly stressed about my weight and worried about gaining weight, how to lose weight, and felt very tense about my weight. After seven years playing sports, I don’t worry as much about how much I weigh. I worry about whether I’m in good enough shape to play an entire game of hockey on the “big” ice. Whether I’ll be able to run that half marathon that I signed up for. I started appreciating my body for what it can do, not how it looks. Once I made that shift, I started to feel fit and powerful.
I won friends. When I joined the team, I joined a group of women who were nothing like me. We didn’t have very much in common, but we became friends anyway. I found that I could be friends with people I found interesting, and who found me interesting. In making friends this way, I realized that I was a person worth being friends with. This helped me in law school, because I managed to avoid a lot of the popularity issues that some of my friends struggled with. I knew that I could give everyone a chance and they would give me a chance in return. I also knew that I was beneath no-one, and that no-one was beneath me.
I won self-esteem. I was a typical nerd in elementary school, middle school, and high school. I was pretty used to being teased and bullied by the time I got to college. My own sense of self-worth was pretty low, and I wasn’t even a particularly good hockey player. Nonetheless, every time I got on the ice and did something positive - which was pretty much never scoring a goal - I felt better about myself. My team bucked me up with positive reinforcement and constructive criticism. I started to feel like I was an important person who could make things happen. I don't think I would ever have survived law school if I didn't have such a strong foundation.
I won the ability to work with others. In hockey, and in many other sports, you get personal points just for passing the puck to another person so they can score. It’s called an assist, and it’s a key part of learning to play as a team. Assists count as much towards your stats as goals, and a dirty little secret that I’ve learned is that they feel just as good. It didn't matter if I scored, it mattered if we scored. Sports give us the ability to revel in the success of others, regardless of the glory we get for ourselves, which helped me a lot in law school as I worked with teams for mock trials and moot court.
I won the ability to speak up for myself and others. I spent a significant amount of time, as a rookie, as a bench warmer. In certain situations, this made me extremely resentful - as a junior with three years of playing experience, I was seeing four shifts a game. I was, after all, an asset to the team, capable of doing more than relieving our starters for a mere thirty seconds. I finally started to ask for, and organize other members of the team to ask for, more playing time. I picked my battles and in games that were already won or lost, asked the coach if we could all have equal playing time. Now, in the local women’s league that I play in, whenever the coach asks if we should bench certain players or roll lines, I’m the first person to vote for rolling lines (playing everyone equally), even if it means we will lose. I think it's more important that everybody have fun and play than we always win - because after all, it is just a game.
I won the ability to improve myself. I have won nothing from sports if it is not the ability to practice. My freshman year, I asked one of the senior star players how she managed to lift and shoot the puck into the net. She said, “just keep practicing, you’ll get it eventually.” It took me four years, but the first time I managed to successfully lift the puck, I was amazed. I carried this over to law school and applied the discipline I used from practice to study hard and graduate at the top of my class.
All of these things, as well as others, have helped me realize how important it is to have girls play sports. The girls I knew who played sports growing up were happier and more well adjusted than I was, they adapted easier to tough situations and they didn’t spend nearly as much time worrying. I know that I will encourage my children to play sports, in the hopes that they will learn these lessons early on in life.