2019 State of girls

Women’s sports are having a moment right now. The US Women’s National Soccer Team captured the country’s attention as they dominated on the world stage. And it’s not just soccer –female athletes in tennis, basketball and many other sports are finally getting some long-overdue recognition. Let’s hope it lasts.

But what does that mean for Girls in the Game and the girls we serve?

Unfortunately, not much. At least not yet. While it’s true that girls can’t be what they can’t see, and being exposed to strong, confident female athletes is important, it’s not the only thing they need. For many girls, especially girls of color from low socioeconomic backgrounds, access to quality, safe sports programs remains out of reach.

A girl can dream of being the next Megan Rapinoe but if she doesn’t have a soccer team to join and a field to play on, her dream will remain just that – a dream.  

At Girls in the Game, our mission remains the same. We want every girl to have the opportunity to discover her voice and confidence. We want every girl to have the opportunity to try new sports and experience the joy and pride that comes from being active and part of a team. As we embark on our 25th anniversary year, we remain focused on the best way to achieve that mission.

We know that the best results come from long-term involvement in our programs. We want girls to get involved when they are young and keep them involved as they grow up. Like many other girls sports programs, we’ve historically lost participants when they reach middle school. We wanted to change that. We sought input from middle schoolers and found that they did not want to be treated like young kids. They were growing up and they rightfully felt their program offerings should reflect that. They also wanted to use their voices (which we loved!). So, we listened to them. We revamped our middle school curriculum and program design so that it’s more focused on leadership and it gives participants a lot of choice in what sports they play and topics they discuss.

We still have a long way to go but so far, it’s working. Last year, middle school participation increased. This year, we’ll continue to focus on the middle school program while striving to transition 8th graders into our high school-aged program.

We also want to perfect our game plan. That means taking a close look at our training and our curriculum so that our programs are not only set up for high impact results but are led by competent, engaging and well-trained coaches who can serve as role models for girls.

Recognizing that many of the communities we work in struggle with poverty and violence, it’s important for us to consider the impact this can have on kids.

Sixty-two percent of children living in poverty have personally experienced one or more traumatic events.

Unfortunately, these numbers don’t even account for the impact of community trauma that surrounds kids growing up in the most economically depressed communities.

Building confidence in kids, caring relationships with adult role models, physical activity and consistent programs create a healing environment for kids who have experienced trauma. This is good news for programs like ours who already offer this to kids and we’re taking it a step farther by working with experts to ensure our curriculum and program design operates with a trauma-informed lens and that our coaches receiving training on how to deliver programming in a way that is healing, rather than triggering for kids who may have experienced trauma.

Last year was the third year of our current strategic plan which was focused on reaching girls who need our programs the most, expanding partnerships for a stronger impact, finding our voice as leaders in girl-only sport-based youth development programs, and strengthening our infrastructure so that we can grow efficiently and effectively.

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Whew. That’s a lot. And while we’ve made huge strides in all of those areas, we recognize that there is still work to be done. This year we’re revisiting the plan so that we can move forward with a strong focus and clear goals.

We hope the world continues to celebrate female athletes and that they continue to get the attention they deserve. And while these strong, powerful athletes use their voices to fight for equal treatment, we’ll continue to focus on empowering the next generation to do the same.

Written by Meghan Morgan, Executive Director at Girls in the Game