As a young girl, I never imagined that my participation in sports would have such a profound impact on my adult life. Participating in sports from a young age — especially for girls — can open doors years down the line in ways you probably didn’t imagine when you were dribbling a ball down the basketball court. Aside from the adrenaline rush that comes with charging down the soccer field or sprinting around the final lap of a track — heart beating out of your chest — there’s so much to be said for the camaraderie. The high fives and team hugs that make a young woman excited about being a part of something bigger than herself are also the building blocks for success in your career and beyond.
I should know. Growing up dribbling the soccer ball down the field with the wind blowing through my hair, I felt empowered. Traveling up and down the Northeast for tournaments with my team, I looked forward to things like brand new shin guards and ponytail braiding pasta parties. I think about the bonds I made as a young athlete, and see it translate into my desire for deep relationships as an adult. It’s why I’ve made a career out of the intersection of sport and connection, bringing my experience with soccer to the forefront of how I relate with my interviewees as a podcast host and freelance journalist.
It’s that type of connection that Athleta Girl — as a supporter of National Girls & Women in Sports Day, which recognizes that the strength and character women gain through sports are the same tools they need to become strong leaders — really values. This year, Athleta Girl has created an Equal Play Tee to help further champion the message of National Girls & Women in Sports Day, and to inspire more girls to chase their sporting dreams and strive for an equal playing field.
We connected with five women who believe that their time playing youth sports helped to build strength, resilience, and friendships that will last a lifetime. Here are their stories:
Growing up in Westchester, New York, Lucy Meyer reflects on her time playing ice hockey as one of transformation. The now-recruiter will never forget the game-winning goal she made during a shoot-out, her name being called from the stands, and the coach that rarely gave praise tapping her on the back to congratulate her. Upon being selected captain, she learned the importance of showing up even when it felt hard. “I had to give 150 percent each and every day,” she says. “It’s something I carry with me to this day.”
The biggest lesson she learned from sports: “Nothing is unattainable. If you want it badly enough, no one will motivate you more than yourself. I’m a hustler and will always be, my successes thus far, have come from my work ethic and passions. I believe many of those qualities were instilled in me through youth athletics and being not only a team player, but motivated to contribute to something larger than myself.”
First she tackled the basketball court, then Allyson Felix put her quick feet to the test on the track. At the young age of 15, the now nine-time Olympic medalist became the California state champion in both the 200m and 400m. She reflects on the stress she felt while dealing with failure, and highlights the importance of learning from the hardest losses “Sports have taught me so much — everything from work ethic to time management, dealing with failure and defeat and being able to learn lessons from them,” she told SheKnows in September. “These lessons, they didn’t just apply to sports, but that apply to life.”
The biggest lesson she learned from sports: “I truly feel like sports have changed my life, really helped me find my group of people and done a lot for my confidence. I understand the importance in all that, especially starting with young girls — sports can make a difference in their lives at a really young age and hopefully they can take that into other areas of their lives in the future.”
From the moment Leslie Green joined a YMCA volleyball league with some of her elementary school girlfriends, she was hooked. Playing through her teen years, she thinks often about what happened when she was approached to play for a travel team in a different area of town. “I wasn’t sure if my parents would be OK with the longer drive, so I hesitated to give a firm answer. Because of my indecision, they ended up offering the spot to another player, which was heartbreaking. I was so angry, but what was done was done. I had to learn to move on and find another option. Now when opportunities arise, I say yes, and figure out details later.”
The biggest lesson she learned from sports: “The importance of being a good teammate. When you can see the bigger picture for your team it will make you less selfish, more focused, and able to work harder to help everyone get there. On a volleyball team, it’s impossible to do something by yourself, which for someone who likes to be in control, that can be scary. You have to learn to trust that everyone else on the team is going to do their job, and do it well, too. The importance of teamwork translated perfectly into the workplace. You’re never going to love every single person you work with, but it’s your job to do what you do best, trust your team, and help the collective unit reach their goals.”
Just shy of six feet tall at age 15, Sally Creamer was destined for sports with some sort of advantage to height. Without much muscle, she dreaded the idea of being pushed around on the basketball court, so she leaned into volleyball instead. Playing for a competitive club team, she spent a good part of her high school years traveling around the country, and after making it to the Junior Olympics three years in a row, the college recruiters came calling. “I spoke to a lot of different universities about attending on scholarship, and it felt like an accumulation of all my hard work, sweat and tears being rewarded.” Creamer eventually played college ball at both Division I and III schools before transitioning into a career in sports public relations. “I felt I was still able to keep ‘sport’ a part of me, and that element has continued throughout my entire career.”
The biggest lesson she learned from sports: “I can’t imagine a childhood without sports. Volleyball taught me so much about working hard to achieve success, working hard and not achieving success (and the heartbreak that follows to make you work even harder to get back out there and win the next time), making friends (while still being competitive with each other), getting along with people you may not love (for the sake of a greater good).”
Gymnastics, softball, field hockey, basketball, lacrosse: for Dani Sturtz, growing up meant having the opportunity to try any sport. Earning the nickname “Scrappy” from her coaches, the New York native thrived off of the relationships and empowerment she found in the game — regardless of equipment. After getting cut from the softball team in high school, she leaned into field hockey and became captain her senior year.
The biggest lesson she learned from sports: “We had traveled upstate for a game with my lacrosse team. One of the girls on my team got caught sneaking out of her room, so the next day as we were driving home, our coach made a detour to where he went to college. We were wondering what we were doing there, and then we saw a humongous hill. He made us all run 10 hill repeats for [our teammate’s] mistake. I remember many of us complaining that it wasn’t fair because we didn’t do anything wrong. He responded, ‘You are a team and what you do affects everyone. Let this serve as a reminder to think about the rest of your teammates before you make bad decisions.’ It was a good lesson that I take with me everywhere I go.”
This post was created by SheKnows for Athleta Girl.