Up until high school, I was a competitive dancer. I had classes two or three nights a week. I spent every Saturday morning from 8am to noon in the dance studio. It may not have been considered a traditional “sport,” but it was definitely an athletic event to me. I worked out constantly, practiced regularly and competed for championships. I joined cheerleading and dance squads for school, but I also went to nationals every summer with my company. I would’ve considered myself a young athlete.
At the age of 15, I quit my sport. Apparently, I was just another statistic.
There’s a new initiative out to keep young women involved in athletics longer. The “Keep Her In The Game” campaign sounds like an awesome project. It centers around the fact that while participation in athletics is relatively equal between boys and girls at ages 6-9, by age 14 twice as many girls have dropped out of sports. It hopes to inspire young women to stick with sports longer. And it uses recognizable and successful female athletes such as Billy Jean King, Serena Williams, Hope Solo and Abby Wambach to do so.
After watching their first PSA on the subject, it’s obvious that “Keep Her In The Game” thinks that girls are leaving sports for make-up and high heels. Apparently, teens are like walking issues of Cosmo, complete with Brazilian blow-out hair and feather earrings. They blame that drop-out statistic on society’s pressure to focus on appearances.
While I’m sure that there is some strength to their argument, and I agree that young women face tremendous pressure in the beauty department, I think pretending this is all about boys and lip gloss is misleading. It misses a very real influence that I think girls are responding to – the pressure to succeed in school and find a good college.
I quit sports at age 15, but it had nothing to do with makeovers. I quit dancing so that I would have time to be my class president. I quit because I was in a gifted and talented program that stretched my time too thin. And I quit because professional athletics had never really seemed like a career option for me, so I wanted to focus on activities that would lead to a better job.
Girls are graduating from college at rates higher than their male peers. We’re all aware that we need a degree to survive in the workforce. And I think young women, especially if they aren’t at a level where scholarships will be awarded, quit sports to focus on extra-curriculars that seem to prepare them for life after school. I did business competitions and Future Problem Solvers of America.
Obviously as an adult, I realize the benefits you get from sports. Looking back, I know that I learned just as much about dedication and working with a team in dance as I did with student council. But at the time, I was focused on having a successful education, because that’s what I was told would help me later in life.
Maybe the initiative shouldn’t just focus on vilifying make-up and high heels. Maybe it shouldn’t assume that teenage girls are zombies. There are a lot of intelligent ladies out there who might be opting out of sports because, like me, they didn’t realize the benefits. They didn’t realize how it helped their future. I think getting some college admissions offices to talk about how great sports look on your applications could be more effective than assuming our girls are just mindless followers of cultural trends. Look beyond the professional athletes whose level very few will attain, find me a female CEO who will talk about her experience as an athlete, and you might have changed my mind back then.