Forty years ago, tennis legend Billie Jean King founded the Women’s Sports Foundation, and organization dedicated to advancing the lives of girls and women through sports and physical activity.
Forty years ago, I was one year old. It would have never occurred to me then that we would have needed such a foundation, or that we would need one still today. From my perspective at one, the world was not made up of men versus women, or us versus them. I went on to grow up in a sports-loving household, playing and watching with equal passion. So much of who I am today can be attributed to what I have learned either playing or watching sports.
And yet, forty years later, we still have a foundation dedicated to advancing the lives of girls and women through sports. The Women’s Sports Foundation aims to close the 1.4 million person participation gap in athletic opportunities for high school girls and collegiate women. They provide grants to amateur and professional athletes, and maintain a commitment to the health and future success of girls across the United States.
The foundation has gathered statistics from years of studies to confirm over and over again why physical activity and sport is vital to the health and wellbeing of all people. Consider this from their research for starters:
-Female high school athletes are more than 40% more likely to graduate from college within six years compared to female high school students who did not participate in sports.
-Girls who received the highest levels of physical education, or 70 to 300 minutes a week, scored consistently higher on the tests than those who spent less than 35 minutes a week.
-High school sports participation may help prevent the future onset of osteoporosis (loss of bone mass). Researchers even say exercise may be more important than calcium consumption for young women to ensure proper bone health as they get older.
-Families with children who participate in sports report higher levels of family satisfaction.
-Girls who participate in athletics report being more content with their lives than girls who do not participate in athletics. Half of all girls who participate in some kind of sport experience higher than average levels of self-esteem and less depression. Girls who participate in sports are more likely to experience academic success and graduate from high school than those who do not play sports.
-Sports participation is associated with less risk for body dissatisfaction and disordered eating among adolescent girls. It is also associated higher self-esteem.
-Young women who participated in sports were more likely to be engaged in volunteering, be registered to vote, feel comfortable making a public statement, follow the news and boycott than young women who had not participated in sports.
-Teenage female athletes are less likely to use marijuana, cocaine or “other” illicit drugs (such as LSD, PCP, speed or heroin), less likely to be suicidal, less likely to smoke and more likely to have positive body images than female non-athletes.
-Being both physically active and a team sports participant is associated with a lower prevalence of sexual risk-taking behaviors for teen girls. (Kulig, K., Brener, N. & McManus, T. (2003). “Sexual activity and substance use among adolescents by category of physical activity plus team sport participation.” Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.)
-Daily physical education in primary school appears to have a significant long-term positive effect on exercise habits in women. They are more active as they age.
And there is so much more where that came from.
We need to harness sport and physical activity as a way to empower girls across the nation to become healthy, empowered, successful leaders and role models. As parents we can be role models for our children of both genders when it comes to physical activity and sports. As communities we can encourage participation in sport and ensure that opportunities for girls to participate in sporting activities are (and continue to be) available. Another way to encourage this is for the media to continue to report on women’s sporting events, and for women reporters to continue to play a major role in reporting sports as a whole.
Last week, the NBC Sports Group, ESPN and FOX Sports collectively over $2 million to the Women’s Sports Foundation. This unprecedented joint effort makes a statement about the media’s continued role in empowering girls through sport. From covering female athletes to putting females in front of the camera and in the boardroom, sport will (hopefully) continue to shape the lives of girls and women.
To learn more, go to http://www.womenssportsfoundation.org