Sports for Girls

Yesterday (8 March) was International Women’s Day. The day has taken on a variety of different meanings. It’s a day to give flowers to wives and mothers in the former Soviet Union, for example. It’s also a great opportunity to draw attention to the significant challenges faced by women in society.

Sports are one way to equip young women with the skills they’ll need to compete with future male counterparts on an even playing ground. Here are a few key points, many based on this document:

1. Young women face tremendous pressure over their appearances. Anorexia is a disaster that is growing in scope without being addressed. The global cosmetics industry had an estimated turnover of USD 170 Billion, with remarkable growth for an industry that should be stable (for context, that’s more output than the entire American agricultural sector). Sports helps young women see that a healthy lifestyle and a healthy body image are preferable to being “supermodel skinny”.

2. 80% of female Fortune 500 CEOs reported being “tomboys” when they were younger, according to the white paper linked above. The team skills young people develop while playing sports are essential for future leadership roles. I think this is especially true for women, who are easily (and unfairly) labeled ‘bossy’ or worse.

3. “Self-confidence is a false idol”, as one of my grad school professors told me. Planning instruction around the idea of promoting confidence is foolish; instead, students should acquire confidence hand-in-hand with competence. For some students, academic competence is a hard-fought battle, and playing sports might provide a route to competence/confidence in an alternate field. As our school’s activities director puts it, extracurriculars are the “other half of education”.

My feelings about school athletics are mixed. On one hand, I worry that they detract from the our educational goals. On the other, I see that they provide certain non-academic benefits to the students. In the particular case of young women, I think the benefits from casual athletics make it a worthy part of our educational goals.

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