If this is only the 33rd National Day for Girls and Women in Sport, then I was only 11 the first year of its inception, the very same year, incidentally, I renounced Catholicism (thanks again Mom and Dad for letting me make the decision) for not being allowed to play CYO basketball at Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church. The boys could play hoops, but the girls’ option was cheerleading only. Hardly an equal exchange. But Father, let’s call him Father Dan to protect his best intentions, Father Dan didn’t seem to understand that I wanted people cheering for me on the sidelines and not the other way around. This is in no way a criticism of cheerleading as a sport. I honor those athletes as much as any other team or individual sport, but this was about my choice and the one Father Dan suggested to me wasn’t a choice at all.
Play like a girl. This is a compliment now, when it was formerly an insult. If it’s not where you live, turn it into one. That’s the power of language. Insert other nouns like soccer, basketball, tennis, football, lacrosse, softball, music, or any multitude of words following the verb “play.”
Run like a girl. Try and catch me. (Insert other verbs like ski, shred, bike, swim, swing, kick, fish, shoot, talk, dance, cheerlead, jump, flip, craft, paint, listen, act, etc. to meet your individual prowess)
You “got girled.” Girls got game. Girls. Girls. Girls. Girl power. Go, girl, go.
Someone recently commented to me that I like being a hero, and it’s true- I do. However, it not being a hero like coming to someone’s rescue kind of hero though; it’s more like helping someone to feel their own power. I love a good Wonder Woman power stance; I teach it to my students, both boys and girls. That sometimes the power pose is needed when we need to create some confidence where we are lacking. The power pose tricks our body into feeling stronger, more powerful, until, guess what? We are in fact stronger and more powerful.
Here’s the thing, I learned my first power pose playing basketball. I learned how to box out, even though I wasn’t very tall– 5’8″ at my tallest in high school- very few could mess with me during a foul shot back in the day. Coach Raycraft used to say, “What you lack in height, you need to make up for in hustle” or something like that. It’s been a long time since I played for Coach Raycraft, and I didn’t even love hoops that much. Yet, and there is a big yet, I’m so glad for what I learned on the court. And pretty much everything my soccer coach, Laurie Rothhaus has helped me every day of my life, on and off fields, and in and out of classrooms.
I gave my niece Ella my U12 travel soccer sweatshirt from when I was 11, an astounding 33 years ago and the material is still going strong. My name is on the back, and she loves it because, well, we had the same last name once. My 7 year old. She loves to see her name on things too– timing sheets, soccer rosters, Valentines’ Day lists of classmates, and mostly the back of sport shirts. And that makes me happy–the having pride in her name. Not because I was an athlete– or work hard to remain an athlete in whatever shape or form that takes– but because those skills transfer into her continued confidence as a future grown up girl who becomes someone’s colleague, or boss, or mother, or good friend.
Everyone needs to have a defensive stance– it’s like listening and being ready and flexible and resilient when life gets crappy, which it inevitably does from time to time. Everyone needs to know what to do on offense, even if they are not the one with the ball, or on the line ready to jump in, or at the starting gate yet. What is the next move? Where is the best place to support a teammate? Thank you to everyone who empowers the girls of the world, who coaches them, who drives them to practice, who cheers them on from the sidelines, and imagines the force they grow into.
One of my childhood, high school and college heroes was soccer standout Mia Hamm who once said, “My coach said I run like a girl, and I said if he ran a little faster, he could too.”