By Karen Deschaine • December 08, 2010•Other Issues
Editor's Note: The National Women's Law Center has organized the efforts to Rally for Girls' Sports Day.
I have played sports my entire life. It probably started with gymnastics when I was very young and from there led to softball, soccer, track and field, swimming and diving, more gymnastics, sport parachuting and indoor soccer. I've played sports in recreational leagues, clubs, high school and college (both intramural and intercollegiate). Presently, while I still consider myself an athlete I don't have the time to play organized team sports.
So, why are sports, and team sports in particular, important for girls? In my opinion it is for all of the same reasons that they are important for boys.
I think the bottom line is this: the lessons you learn from team sports make you a better leader, a better follower, a better community member, a better friend, a better mother, a better spouse/partner, a better employee. Perhaps most obviously, but also most importantly, by playing team sports, girls (and boys) learn how to be a member of a team.
TEAM: Life in our society is a team effort. You're a team with your family, your kids' school PTA, your church, your husband/wife, your co-workers. As part of a team, things don't always go your way and you have to sometimes make compromises. You have to sometimes let others take the spotlight. You have to know what strengths you bring to the team. You have be aware of others' strengths and know when to call on them. You have to conform to some group norms. You have to care about winning. You have to realize that you can't win on your own. You have to rely on other people and accept that others are relying on you. You have to be a good loser.
LEADERSHIP: Success in most professions (particularly in the legal profession) requires leadership. Being a part of a team teaches you leadership, both as a follower and as a leader. Some of the best leadership lessons in life are those that you get when you have to be part of a team with a bad leader. Some of the other best leadership lessons in life come from the first few times that you are tagged to be the leader. Team sports offer more opporunities for leadership and followership than anything else I can think of for young people. Also the sports-related leadership opportunities that young people can get come with limited consequences (relative to profession leadership opportunities later in life).
General Douglas MacArthur famously said "On the fields of friendly strife are sown the seeds that on other days and other fields will bear the fruits of victory." He was, of course, talking about the skills that West Point Cadets learn on the playing field translating into leadership skills they will take to the battlefield. In World War II, General of the Army George Marshall is quoted as saying "I want an officer for a secret and dangerous mission. I want a West Point football player." His message was that he needed somebody that he could rely on, somebody that wanted to win, somebody that wasn't afraid of a challenge, a leader.
Why do I bring up these two quotes by Army generals? (Other than the fact that I think they are great quotes that are right on point today.) Two reasons: (1) There is no reason why these positions should or actually do apply to only men going into combat. The message applies equally to girls and women. Team sports will teach girls things that will set them up for success later in life, whether they are officers in the Army or whether they are doctors, accountants, teachers, lawyers or CEOs. (2) This weekend is the Army-Navy football game and I am, of course, rooting for Army and couldn't pass up on the chance to get that into a Ms. JD blog post somehow.
One final thought, and I'll wrap up. My cousin's ex-wife won't let their 2d grade girl play soccer for fear that her legs will get too muscular. Seriously, ladies that makes me want to either scream or cry, I can't decide. Women, let your girls play sports. Let your girls get muscular legs. Give them all of the opportunities that we are giving to our sons. It's never too early to start.
Go Army, Beat Navy!