Home » Team of Experts Channel » Doreen Greenberg, Ph.D. » Role Models for Female Athletes » Importance of "Sheroes" for Young Female Athletes

Importance of "Sheroes" for Young Female Athletes

Family Support Is Critical For Female Athletes

Experts say many girls quit sports before they are teenagers due to lack of opportunities and social support. Nancy Lieberman was a gifted athlete. But she had to create her own opportunities. Yes, there are more opportunities for girls these days, but not enough. It was also tough for Nancy that other moms and dads would come to the basketball games to watch their kids play, but not hers. It took a long time for Leiberman's family to appreciate her talents and achievements. Instead of supporting her, they kept trying to talk her out of playing basketball. Fortunately, nothing would stop her from realizing her dreams of athletic success. Her coaches and her teams became her new "family."

Even now, more than two decades later, a girl like Leiberman-Cline is the exception, not the rule. Many young girls are likely to quit sports if their families, like Nancy's, don't support what they are doing. That's why is so important for a girl's family to support is particularly crucial if young female athletes are to have a positive sports experience; why it's so important that young girls know, from our reactions and words, that sweating and being agile, powerful, muscular and athletic are "feminine." The love and encouragement of family members can help a young girl enjoy the victories and accept the defeats. The family can, and should, be a part of a child's love affair with sports. Family members can take great pride in her accomplishments. They can provide a shoulder and a hug for the setbacks.

At the same time, the family needs to be careful to avoid putting extra stress on the young athlete, especially just after the game or competition is over. After all, sports are supposed to be fun. All kids need reinforcement and positive feedback about what they are doing.

Being Competitive: It's Okay For Girls, Too!

Nancy Leiberman-Cline had a powerful competitive drive that pushed her to succeed in spite of the obstacles in her way. Sports can teach healthy competitive and cooperative attitudes. The emphasis should be on the inner rewards of competition, such as learning how to make decisions, leadership training, meeting challenges, and working with others. Competitive sports can teach girls to be strategic, to plan ahead, to relax under stress, to concentrate and stay focused. Training for and competing in sports requires a commitment. From this commitment of time and effort, a young girl learns how to set goals, take responsibility and prepare for the challenges of life. She has the opportunity to learn how to accept failure and be a gracious winner while enjoying the thrill of success.

Boys have traditionally been rewarded and praised for their competitive spirit. Shouldn't girls also be allowed to experience the achievements, and the teamwork, and the glory? There are some hazards to placing a child in an overly competitive environment. It should be age-appropriate. It should be either stress-free, or the young person should be taught anxiety-reducing skills. There should be lots of positive feedback. There should be plenty of opportunity for team comradery, to allow girls to enjoy this important social aspect of sports. A lot of kids love sports. Some really love to win. It is important to help both girls and boys learn how to bounce back from losing, as well as how to enjoy the experience of winning in a healthy way. Above all, remember that it is just a game and that keeping it fun is the best way to help ensure that kids - girls and boys - keep playing sports.