Play like a girl

Earlier this month I learned that 70-percent of kids are quitting sports by age 13. It’s a startling statistic but what I learned earlier this week is even more alarming. Of that original 70 percent, 47 percent are girls.

According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, by age 14, girls are dropping out of sports at twice the rate of boys. And according to a survey sponsored by Always, by age 17, more than half of the girls, 51 percent, will have quit sports. More than 1,000 girls ages of 16 to 24 participated.

In last week’s column, I delved into the idea that sports just aren’t “fun anymore.” But with girls there seems to be a different driving factor. According to the Always survey, seven out of 10 girls quit sports during puberty because they felt like they didn’t belong. Another 67 percent said they felt society doesn’t encourage girls to play sports.

Not sure if you’ve heard of the #LikeAGirl campaign by Always, but it is these numbers that led to its creation. In the last year, Always has published multiple videos with the hope of inspiring girls to stay in the game. That is definitely something I can rally around.

No one can deny the benefits of sports in the lives of youth. The health benefits are just the beginning. Sports have the ability to teach us skills that can be used throughout the rest of our lives. With girls participating in sports at a lower rate than boys, they are missing out.

Confidence is the No. 1 thing that comes to mind when I think of what sports can offer all kids, but especially girls who deal with dramatic drops in confidence levels around puberty. Confidence is vital as we grow up, leave home and enter the workforce. Confidence is what we need in order to know our worth. One fact that has come about in trying to understand the gender pay gap is that women oftentimes underestimate their self worth. We are willing to work for less and we ask for less than men wanting the same position with the same skill set.

Learning to compete is another skill that sports teach. Oftentimes, girls are pushed away from competitive atmospheres because they aren’t deemed “ladylike.” Without a positive competitive atmosphere, girls inadvertently learn to feel guilty when their success outshines someone else’s. Once again this doesn’t help in the professional world where women continue to be outnumbered by men. Men are taught that competition is good and take fun in competing with friends on a day-to-day basis. From a young age, males turn everything and anything into a competition, girls are taught the opposite. This puts women at a disadvantage when trying to compete for senior roles.

According to a global study by Ernst & Young and espnW, 61 percent of female executives said sports contributed to their career and success. To add to that, 94 percent of women in the C-suite played sports, 52 percent at the university level.

Sports can also teach girls about teamwork and how to overcome adversity. And yet, girls feel that these skills aren’t meant for them. In a different national Always-sponsored survey, of 1,800 people, 89 percent of girls ages 16-24 feel there is pressure to conform to the way a girl is supposed to feel and act.

Its 2016, it’s been 44 years since Title IX was passed. Girls today have more opportunities than girls of the 1960s and yet the social and cultural stigmas from then have persisted.

The only way things are going to change is by changing how we as a society view gender roles. We need to believe and act upon the idea that girls and boys have the same capabilities and we need to prepare both for success in the same way.

For access to the surveys mentioned in this column visit, https://www.womenssportsfoundation.org/home/support-us/do-you-know-the-factors-influencing-girls-participation-in-sports and http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20160628005793/en.

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I was a part of the Michigan State Women’s Rowing team my freshman year of college.

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What to do when ‘it’s not fun anymore’

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Kids playing little league baseball in Hawaii

Earlier this month I came across a column published by the Washington Post where the author explained her thoughts on a startling statistic. According to a poll from the National Alliance for Youth Sports, around 70 percent of kids in the United States stop playing organized sports by the age of 13. Along with its findings, NAYS stated the reason for this exodus having to do with the fact that “it’s just not fun anymore.”

In her column in the Washington Post, Julianna W. Miner shared her thoughts on why she believes this reasoning to be true: Sports aren’t designed to be fun anymore, our culture no longer supports older kids playing for the fun of it, there is a clear push for kids to specialize, there is a cost to being competitive, and “it’s just the age.”

I can agree that 13 is a weird age. We are at our most vulnerable and most influential. Even at the high school level it’s noticeable that our peers influence our decisions from whether to go to class, to take AP or honors level academic courses or try out for a sports team.

The idea of needing to specialize influenced almost all of Miner’s points. When I was in middle school and high school, the biggest reason for teammates quitting was the simple fact that they were burnt out. They weren’t playing for the love of the game anymore. The feeling of needing to specialize is crazy these days. Kids from a young age are taught that if they want to be the best soccer player in the world, then all their focus needs to be on soccer.

The need to specialize and be the best, when we can’t all be the best, creates a negative environment around sports. It’s an environment that we need to actively work to remove. Participating in other sports and other activities can be helpful. Basketball can teach soccer players better ball movement since it’s a smaller playing area. Track can teach athletes how to run properly as well as build speed and endurance. Dedication and practice can come in multiple ways, and sometimes getting involved in other activities can help people discover that they have been chasing the wrong passion.

The LeBron James’ and Lionel Messis of the world show us that if we dedicate our time and work hard that we have the potential to be the best. But at the same time they teach us that we need to love it. The love for whatever it is that we do is what makes all the work we put in worthwhile. Even if you don’t become the next Tom Brady, your love for football doesn’t change.

Where I feel Miner missed the mark are her thoughts on competition. Growing up I had one of those dads who was not about that participation trophy life. If he had to pay for it, I wasn’t getting one. I grew up when the idea of participation trophies came to life, and they are now in full swing.

I believe being awarded for participation is one of the reasons kids are quitting. They don’t understand the idea of competition. It’s not that things have gotten too competitive. We are setting athletes up for failure if we teach them from their first season that everyone gets rewarded.

If the kid who scored the most goals and the kid who scored no goals get the same reward at the end of the season, what is that teaching the kid who scored no goals about hard work? How are we preparing them for not making the school team? It’s these kids who are hanging up their jerseys when the going gets tough.

Sports not only offer the start of a healthy lifestyle, it provides kids with life skills. From day one participants learn teamwork and dedication. They experience success and see what got them there. They experience failure and learn that it will only make them stronger.

I’m not sure why 70 percent of 13-year-olds are saying so long to sports but we need to find a way to change it.

To read Miner’s column visit, washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2016/06/01/why-70-percent-of-kids-quit-sports-by-age-13.

Trying to understand what should be obvious

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Rock Springs High School senior guard Demetrius Davenport scored nine points for the Tigers in their season finale. Rock Springs High School is one of three high schools located in Sweetwater County in southwest Wyoming.

In my nine months of living in Wyoming, there has been more than one occasion where I’ve sat and tried to make sense of something. Usually it requires me asking a local, but that is completely understandable when you move somewhere new.

One thing I’ve always appreciated about sports is the fact that they are universal. There aren’t many differences from place to place besides maybe style of play, so one can only imagine my surprise when I experienced my first “I don’t understand sports moment.”

I’m going to call this time of year “all-star season.” The 2016 Shrine Bowl wrapped up Saturday, and the Wyoming vs. Montana All-Star basketball game was a few days prior. July’s lineup features the basketball and volleyball all-star games.

Why are these games being played at the onset of a new school year? Why are these games being played months after seasons were wrapped up?

I have always viewed all-star games as an athlete’s final opportunity or even extra opportunity to impress a college scout. That can’t happen when these athletes, all seniors, have already graduated and colleges across the country have already set next season’s rosters.

Regardless of the sport, an athlete’s junior year of high school is of the utmost importance. The summer prior to senior year provides the last opportunity to attend college camps. Yes, it’s not out of the ordinary for the opportunity to have a college career present itself in senior year, but you are lying to yourself if you think coaches haven’t had their ideal lineups on paper prior.

In terms of football, I understand weather is a big issue, but the ideal time to get these guys out there putting their full skills on display would be right after the season ends. They are still in football shape and a week after state finals should still be playable weather. I know these kids aren’t afraid of a little snow. Basketball and volleyball are completely different. Weather cannot be used as an excuse.

Looking into it, I understand that coming up with the rosters and coaching staffs take time, but four and eight months later, that is excessive. The best argument I can come up with for summer schedules is the need for these athletes to practice with their all-star teams, which means traveling. Summer is then the only time there is an ample amount of time and no school to work around.

I’ve read countless articles stating that Wyoming athletes have some of the hardest times getting recruited. There are multiple theories on why, but I think late all-star games are an influence. College coaches can arrange to attend an all-star game and see the cream of the crop, the best of the best, the kids from each class that have the highest chance of moving on to the next level.

If I sat on the Wyoming High School Activities Association board, I would try and find a way to move these games into the school year. From there send out invitations to college coaches at all levels and tell them to check it out. June and July are just too late. The goal should be to give Wyoming athletes every opportunity possible to earn a college scholarship if that is what they are striving for. Otherwise all-star games are just an opportunity to suit up one last time.