Girl Power

I hadn’t thought about my relationship to organized sports for decades until a couple years ago when I dropped Saint James off at his first winter training session. As he trotted off to join his team, I spotted a group of girls, maybe 16 years old, warming up. Some were¬†2 stretching, some were casually kicking balls back and forth. I wanted to watch Saint James, but my eyes kept straying to the girls, to their strong legs, their glossy hair tied up in all manner of ways. They were so loose in their bodies, so completely unaware of themselves. They were without guile, without self consciousness or worries. They were, in a word, happy. I know it sounds preposterous, but I know a happy girl when I see one. A few of them started to bust out a couple dance moves and then collapsed on each other laughing and my heart just about broke. That was me. That was my youth. That was the last time I felt like I really truly could do anything. I stood at the sidelines, my eyes darting between the tiny boys and the big girls, trying my hardest not to look like a perv, but I couldn’t drag myself away.

I realized something then that I didn’t know when I was a girl: that girls need sports more than boys. Boys will get their sports, no matter what. If there is a ball, any ball, they will pick it up, hold it in their palms. They will dribble it, kick it, balance it on their feet or index finger. If it’s tiny and bouncy they will zing it against the nearest wall and see what happens, inadvertently figuring out the physics of force and angles. They will run and jump, finding the best and fastest way to move their bodies through space. They will compete, keep score, triumph, spit on the ground in disgust. They will woop and puff their chests out. Their cheeks will burn with shame and they will have no choice but to prove themselves all over again. All manner of life lessons will be learned, just because boys and the lives we lead, are hardwired a certain way. On the other hand, but for the rare exception, girls don’t go nuts for hoops and nets, sticks, pucks and balls. It doesn’t take long for them to come away from the games on the blacktop and cluster in groups, wrapping themselves in words. They start to pay attention to pop culture and how they look. They start to sing, make up dances, read, jump rope and gossip. Without organized sports – the teams, the practices, the schedules – girls would move on to other things and lost would be the pounding hearts and throbbing lungs, the sisterhood and that feeling of total power: power over your body and the way you can and can choose to move it through the world.

I love girls’ athletics. As someone of the post Title IX era, I got to take sports for granted, I never had to fight for the right to play. Anything I wanted was available to me through my schools and I had the luxury of saying yes or no. But mostly I said yes. I played tennis, volleyball and lacrosse in high school and some of my best friends, my best memories are tied to being on those teams. In many ways, who I am and what I’ve done may stem from those years of competitive sports, and I wasn’t even that good. Here is an interesting article from the NY Times on this. Last year, when I wrote about hurting my knee in high school, I wrote about the feeling of invincibility that is borne of youth sports and I cannot think of a better reason for girls to play (or dance, or ski, or figure skate for that matter). Yes, it’s good for their health. Yes, it keeps them out of trouble. Yes, it looks good on college applications. But it’s the sisterhood of strength that makes it so damn worthwhile. When a girl competes, she’s not thinking about how her body looks, what her body can’t do. The mind/body connection is severed, for a bit, so that a girl can fly, fly away from self doubt, from glossy magazine photos and impossible standards, and just fly.

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