By Kacee Bree Jensen

Last week my son’s flag football team lost in a landslide to an all-girls team. Is it bad that I was secretly rooting for the girls? Now if my five-year-old daughter asks me to play flag football in the future, I don’t have to worry that she might be the only girl on the team.

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I’ve been involved in sports nearly my entire life both as an athlete and a coach. Growing up I played every sport, but softball and figure skating had my heart. I was a competitive figure skater from age 3 into adulthood, when I became a coach. I worked long, hard hours even as a child, and trained with some of the world’s best. Through my personal experiences as an athlete and coach I’ve come to realize the benefits of girls being involved in both individual and team sports. Sports empower girls in nine important aspects of life:

Self-esteem and identity

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Trying lots of different activities helps young girls with self-discovery. If soccer isn’t for them, maybe ribbon dancing is. When a girl finds her niche and passion, confidence, identity, and self-esteem come with that. Adolescence is an insecure, awkward time. To have something that brings them joy can help carry girls through the tough teen years.  

Drive and goal-setting

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Finishing what we start is a challenge for most of us, especially kids. When girls are a part of a sport, they learn to push through the tired or disappointing times, and they finish strong. Coaches help them set achievable goals and practical steps to achieve them. They learn that hard work and responsibility lead to accomplishing goals and eventually dreams. Adults go to seminars, read self-help books, and hire life coaches all in hopes of learning to do this. When girls are involved in sports, this ability becomes second nature.

Handling stress and pressure

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No matter what sport they choose, pressure and stress come along with it. Today’s teens are dealing with anxiety, challenging expectations, and more. Having the ability to cope is everything.  

Making friends and relating to different people

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Both in individual and team sports, athletes train with all kinds of personalities from all walks of life. They have to know how to speak to referees and coaches and know how to handle themselves professionally and with sportsmanship. They get lots of practice in understanding others that they will use throughout their lives.

Being bold & taking risks

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Simply saying yes to trying something new takes guts. When you say yes over and over again, you learn to be bold in all aspects of your life. We’ve all heard the saying “the answer is always no if you don’t try.” This is the athlete's life. They try in team tryouts, when driving to the basket, and when doing triple pirouettes. They build up the ability to step out and try again. They cultivate the ability to push through the nerves to achieve.

Resilience & developing a thick skin

Girls face a lot of tough times. They can learn how to handle them in sports. Athletes fail over and over again, but over time they learn to dust it off and get back out there. They get injured, place second, and fail at a two-minute performance that they’ve been working for all year. It happens, but their passion gets them up again, and they learn how to be resilient.

Envisioning the future

Many girls have the talent to get a scholarship to college or even become a professional as adults. Even if they don’t go pro they can find careers within their athletic passions, and become a coach, physical therapist, sports medicine doctor, personal trainer, or one of the other many athletic professions that could come out of their years of training. When girls have a vision for the future, they are less likely to get lost in drugs and alcohol or become pregnant as a teen. They are also more likely to apply their work ethic to the classroom. They have an idea of where they are going and don’t want to get derailed.

Overall health

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Athletes are encouraged to have healthy habits to perform at their highest potential. As girls create healthy habits in their physical activity and eating, they are more likely to maintain them into adulthood. “Recent human studies have discovered that regular exercise in childhood and adolescence increases the odds of staying physically active and healthy during adulthood,” according to Psychology Today.

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A support system

Girls having each other's backs is a beautiful thing. Girls are often forced to compete against one another for few positions in the workplace as adults. When our girls learn to work as a team and encourage one another to be their best it creates healthy relationships and the ability to support others in their adult lives.

Here are a few ways to keep their involvement positive:

  1. Find what they love.
  2. Encourage, don’t push.
  3. Help them stay consistent.
  4. Make sure they have a positive coach.
  5. Let them know if their passions change, it’s OK.

As a high school athlete, I was always competitive with the boys. I felt like I had something to prove. All the baseball players wanted to see if I could hit their pitch or catch their throw. I found great satisfaction in proving the boys wrong. Throughout our girl's lives, they will experience these kinds of moments where they have to step up to the plate. When someone underestimates them, they will recognize the feeling, hold their heads high and with confidence, and hit it out of the park. The competitive edge, drive, resilience, ability to understand and work with others and so much more will carry them through their life’s journey on whatever path they choose. These are life skills that are invaluable and worth the countless carpools and snack duties.   

Kacee Bree Jensen is the founder of Let's Talk Teens, a place parents and teens can go to find resources and tools to navigate the modern world we are living in. Kacee is a youth advocate, speaker, contributor, parenting coach, and mom of four including a teen, who has spent the last 16 years helping families, schools, and communities across the country navigate the ups and downs of the teen years.