This month we enter the 40th anniversary year of the enactment of Title IX legislation, which ensures equal access to both boys and girls in federally-funded educational programs and activities, and I find myself thinking about what greater sports participation has meant for women, our daughters, sisters and sports as we know it. The numbers are impressive: girls’ high school varsity sports participation has increased from 1 in 27 in 1972 to 2 in 5 girls in 2006, as a result of Title IX. But I think we all know that the value of sports extends far beyond the playing field.
On and off the field, athletics and sports experiences help shape women and girls’ lives and attitudes in a positive way. Sports participation teaches valuable life skills like teamwork and leadership. It also builds the self-esteem and confidence that are essential for thriving in today’s competitive world. In fact, Women’s Sports Foundation research demonstrates that girls who participate in sports and physical activity are more likely than inactive girls to stay in school, get better grades, graduate from high school and go to college. Another study found that 4 of 5 executive businesswomen played sports growing up, attributing the lessons they learned playing sports as a key to their success.
What used to be “I want to be like Mike” has turned into “I want to be like Candace Parker, Michelle Wie or Gretchen Bleiler.” Inequalities still exist and we have more work to do, but girls now have many more women to model themselves after – Title IX has made this a reality and our legacy.
This month, I was honored to participate in the send off for the Women’s World Cup team to Germany. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recalled the moment where Brandi Chastain lined up for the penalty kick and scored the winning goal to take the cup home for America. That IS the spirit of women’s sports that lives in every woman, girl and athlete.
From building life-long friendships to learning how to cope with success and challenges, there are many ways participating in competitive sports and getting active can be an influential part of our lives. What one life lesson would you pass on to a daughter, sister or friend about what you learned through sports?