In a world where the ideal of sexy is a ditzy blonde with big boobs, a small waist, and a round ass, it is a wonder that I managed to escape my teen years with my self-worth still intact. Aside from the positive influence from my family, there is one clear reason why I made it out relatively unscathed. This is not to say that I do not have insecurities about my body. I am human, and I have some of the same insecurities that other women do (my legs are big, my boobs aren’t the same size, my skin is far from perfect, etc.). But the reason I made it out alive is quite simple: sports.
Shortly after I could walk, I learned to ski. I became an athlete because it ran in the family. There is no time that I can remember before I identified as an athlete. Then it became my choice to be an athlete. I remember countless times that my parents said, “Molly, if at any time this isn’t fun for you anymore, or you don’t want to do this, tell us and you can stop.” I did not choose to stop. I chose to continue to be an athlete.
Here are the 8 reasons the world needs more female athletes.
More than once as a child, I was told that I as “hypercompetitive.” The teachers at my elementary school used to tell me that I needed to “take it easy” in gym class, and (my personal favorite) that “winning isn’t everything.” Competitiveness is not, contrary to popular belief, something that men innately have, and women lack. Competitiveness is a learned skill, just like reading, writing and throwing a baseball. There is nothing that makes me cringe more than watching young girls get brainwashed into thinking that competitiveness (like math), is a thing for boys. I recently ran into a girl at the gym, who was there with two of her guy friends. They dared her (after they had already done so) to jump up onto a box that came up to her knees. Her immediate reaction was, “No, I can’t do that. It’s too high.” My jaw hit the floor, and I had to walk away. She didn’t even want to try. The idea of competing with the guys was too much for her, because she might get hurt. Conversely, when I was put in that exact position a number of years ago (with a much larger box), my instinct was “Hell, yeah I can do that!” I proceeded to scrape all the skin off my calf, but at least I gave it a shot. My competitiveness is what drove me to try and get into one of my most prestigious schools in the world. It is also what drives me to want to win at everything I do, every day.
I think you would be hard-pressed to find an athlete who did not have to face some sort of adversity. At some point in every athlete’s career, he or she is faced with the following scenario: I’ve been (figuratively or literally) knocked on my ass. Do I get up and try again, or do I call it quits and walk away? Whether it’s being cut from a team, not getting accepted to the school of your choice, or injury, persevering through it is a necessary skill. I was cut from a team when I was 8 because I was a girl trying out for a boy’s team (yes, that was the actual reason the coach gave). I’ve seen my dream school slip through my fingers. I’ve been injured and had to make that very difficult decision to get up off my ass and start over. And I am a stronger person as a result.
If there is one skill that is most transferable from sports to life, it is leadership. There are few things as important as learning to lead, especially for girls who are taught that being quiet and reserved is more attractive to guys. Learning to be a leader, to command respect, and to motivate and support your teammates is a skill that more women need. If women are trained to be leaders through sports, more women might feel that they have the skills necessary to “sit at the big desk” in the real world.
This one is pretty obvious. As one of my best hockey coaches told us, “This is a game of failure; what matters is who bounces back and capitalizes on the other team’s failure.” This applies to both sports and life. Girls need to be taught that failure is not permanent, and that it can be overcome, but that it is NOT to be accepted as good enough. Giving up the walk-off run in the bottom of the 7th is not something that is fun, but a failure like that will make a pitcher better the next time she faces that situation. She will have a better plan, she won’t be nervous. and she will be better equipped to execute her pitch. Being able to deal with failure, assess how and why it happened, and ultimately make a plan as to how to succeed the next time is a skill we all need.
As our world becomes more and more specialized the ability to work as part of a team is pertinent to survival. Gone are the days of the one-woman show who knew how to efficiently run all aspects of her business. The ability to take on the role you are given, make it yours, and help those around you thrive in their respective roles is what teamwork is about. It is about making the pieces of the engine fit together so the gears move smoothly.
Being accountable to your team is one of the most humbling experiences in sports. Being able to accept responsibility for your role in both winning and losing is an invaluable thing to be able to do. It is easy to blame others for our failures. As part of a team, I am accountable to each of the other women in the room. If I decide that I want to go out and get black-out drunk and I happen to fall down the stairs and break my arm, I am accountable not only to my parents, but also to my coaches and most importantly to my teammates. I am more inclined to make good decisions when I know I will have to look my teammates in the eye and take responsibility for my actions.
Being an athlete has given me the confidence to be happy with who I am. It’s given me the confidence to admit my faults, the wherewithal recognize that I need to work on them, and the courage to actually make those changes. Being an athlete has given me the confidence to accept the fact that my body will never grace the cover of Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit edition; but it’s also helped me realize that I am more than how I look in pictures. It’s given me confidence to love the size and strength of my body (and accept the reality that I will never have a thigh gap).
There is no bond stronger than that between teammates (especially goalie partners). There is something magical that happens when you find someone who has the same goals, dreams, and desires that you do. I would not have some of my best friends if not for sports; the people who understand me because they are living with the same drive I am. These are the types of friendships girls need more of: ones that empower. They need more crazy goalie partners to skate with until they puke but who keep them focused and smiling all the while. They need more defensemen to sing with them on the ice to keep them laughing. They need more forwards who willingly block shots and then show off the bruise they get. They need more pitchers that they are willing to sacrifice a limb for. They need more (opposition) shortstops to compete with and find kindred spirits with.
Girls need sports. And the world needs more female athletes.