The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, November 19, 1999


Two authors' advice how to start and keep girls in sports

Many Carlisle residents were out on the evening of November 2. Most were at the Town Meeting. Some, however, drove to Concord and attended a presentation by Jean Zimmerman and Gil Reavill, authors of Raising Our Athletic Daughters, subtitled How Sports Can Build Self-Esteem and Save Girls' Lives. About 50 people attended the event, sponsored by the Concord Bookshop. Men constituted about one-fifth of the audience.

I was one of those Carlisleans who forsook town politics to ask the authors a question or two. I have a preschool daughter. Recreational athletics have always been an important part of my life. When I grew up, there just weren't many competitive team sports for women. Today's girls have a wider range of choices. Soccer is a well-established activity, and girls compete in sports previously only offered for boys, such as ice hockey, wrestling, boxing, and extreme sports.

Female athlete takes the field

Zimmerman and Reavill pointed to players Rebecca Lobo (basketball), Mia Hamm (soccer), and Gabrielle Reece (volleyball) as excellent role models for girls in competitive team sports. Nonetheless, the authors also came equipped with sobering statistics from national studies.

Today, girls are at a significantly higher risk than boys for suffering depressive symptoms. Girls tend to lose their self-confidence as they mature, in contrast to boys who gain self-confidence as they grow older. However, girls who play sports frequently avoid the physical, psychological and social pitfalls of modern adolescence, such as drug and alcohol abuse, early pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease, self-mutilation, depression and suicide. Nonetheless, most girls drop out of sports as adolescentsa time when athletics can help them the most. Those girls who do stay with sports to the elite level often suffer from eating disorders. Something is still not right with the sports equation for girls.

Zimmerman and Reavill took a closer look at these issues in their book. They collected lots of anecdotal evidence to try to explain the tendency for girls to drop sports. They concluded that parents must support participation early and continue with that support through adolescence. The authors noted that if a girl has not participated in sports by the age of ten, then there is only a one-in-ten chance she would be active athletically by the age of 25. The health benefits from remaining physically active are well documented.

Considering local scenarios

About ten mothers from Carlisle attended the presentation in Concord. Chris DeBruzzi, a ten-year Carlisle resident with four children (two daughters) said the talk confirmed a lot of her suspicions about girls in sports.

"I liked when he [Reavill] said 'Competition is good; part of the fun is competition,'" recalled DeBruzzi. "I liked when she [Zimmerman] said that 'part of the importance of sports for girls is for them to know it's okay to take risks.'"

Single-sex teams

In response to a question about whether it's appropriate to separate young teams by sex, Zimmerman responded, "That's a tough issue. Coed sports do have advantages of shared camaraderie, competition, and enhanced self-esteem. Nonetheless, many preschool girls are already at a disadvantage. They don't have the same physical abilities as boys."

The authors explained that, as early as the first grade, girls are already one year behind boys in terms of simple skills, such as throwing an overhand ball or kicking a ball. While it's common to see fathers throwing and kicking around balls with their sons, it's less common to see fathers and daughters, and it's even rarer to see mothers doing the same with their daughters. I know that I rarely do...and now plan to make the time in the future.

1999 The Carlisle Mosquito