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Sports Benefit Girls In Many Ways

Career boost

The path to the boardroom may well go through the girl's locker room:

  • Sports help girls develop leadership skills, self-reliance and self-discipline. According to researchers at Catholic University, women who are athletes are more achievement oriented, independent, self-confident and inner-controlled." Nearly nine out of ten women executives in a recent survey by mutual fund giant Oppenheimer said sports helped them be more disciplined. Nearly seven out of ten said sports helped them to develop leadership skills that contributed to their professional success.
  • Sports enhance girls' ability to function as part of a team. Four out of five women executives in the Oppenheimer study said sports helped them to function better as part of a team.
  • Sports may provide a key to the executive washroom. Four out of five executive women in the Oppenheimer study played sports between junior high and college and still participate in some sort of physical activity, sports or exercise, two thirds of those at least three times a week. As Donna Lopiano, CEO of the Women's Sports Foundation, observes, "Sports is nothing more than organizing a group for high performance. And that's what businesses do."
  • Sports give girls the ability to speak sports vernacular: Surprisingly, the Oppenheimer study suggests that sports are used far less to exclude women from conversations and opportunities at work than previously believed: only one in five women executives surveyed said they were ever excluded from a business opportunity because they didn't participate in a particular sport. The study found that women were familiar if not comfortable with sports vernacular. "When it comes to sports talk, we got game," said one female executive. 

The bottom line is that while sports are not the magic potion they do help girls get through the trials of adolescence.

Benefits to society

In addition to the benefits girls get from playing sports, society itself clearly benefits from the spirit of co-operation women and girls bring to sports. A comprehensive survey of high school athletes by the non-profit Josephson Institute of Ethics found that girls are about twice as likely as boys to model good sportsmanship.

Girls in sports argue and communicate anger less than males: instead of being confrontational, when in-group disagreements arise, girls discuss things more rationally and constructively than males (this is something boys can be taught how to do). Team hugs and hand piles are overwhelmingly displays common to female athletes.

A great example of what women bring to sports that can teach and, hopefully, inspire everyone is the story of tae kwon do athlete Esther Kim. When her best friend of 13 years, Kay Poe, dislocated her knee before their match for a berth on the 2000 US Olympic team, Kim forfeited her match and trip to Sydney to Poe. She explained that she "couldn't bear to see myself accomplish my only dream by an unfair match. ... I knew it was the right decision. ... I've competed throughout my entire life, and through all the matches and all of the training, for the first time in my life, that day and every day, I feel like a champion."

Female athletes, such as the stars of current U.S. Women's World Cup soccer team, Hope Solo, Heather O'Reilly, and Abby Wambach, provide the best kind of athletic role models: real women, with husbands and lives, some of them pushing or in their 30's, that women - and men - can relate to; women at their best. They showed how an athlete can handle pressure - and winning and losing - with grace and class, and, just as importantly, how to be self-effacing and share the spotlight and not hog the glory for themselves, This is not to say that men don't display these characteristics; just that fewer men do.

1. Rosewater, Ann. "Learning to Play and Playing to Learn: Organized Sports and Educational Outcomes citing Yin, Z. and Moore, J. B. (2004) "Re-examining the role of interscholastic sports participation in education" Psychological Reports, 94 (3 pt. 2), 1147-1454; and Sabo, D. Melnick, M. & Vanfossen, B. (1989) "The Women's Sports Foundation Report: Minorities in Sport.

Revised October 31, 2011 Revised May 23, 2014

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