I am a soccer mom. Like soccer moms worldwide, I watched the Women’s World Cup with my daughter this summer and talked with her about how those women on the field were once youth soccer players just like her. Little girls with big dreams worked hard as they grew up and became young women living those dreams.
At thirteen, my own daughter’s dreams seem to be of the scientific sort. She wants to make the big discoveries and advance human knowledge. Her Women’s World Cup moment may be publishing her research in a major scientific journal or landing a coveted university faculty position. It will come if she believes in herself and works hard to get there. She is also thirteen, so her dream may change.
Whatever path her life takes, participation in sports will prepare her for success.
Taco Mac was our viewing venue of choice for the Women’s World Cup games this summer, and almost every game found us there ensconced at a table and ready for a raucous evening. We were never disappointed as everyone in the room hung on to every play and cheered or groaned depending on what was happening on the field.
As I watched my daughter watch the games, I could not help thinking that those young women on the field were once young girls sitting right where she was sitting watching a U.S. women’s national team lead by the likes of Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain as they won Olympic gold in 1996 or the Women’s World Cup in 1999. Their parents once sat where I sit on Saturday mornings in the fall and spring watching girls play their hearts out on the soccer pitch.
It was a Circle of Life moment and got me thinking about women’s sports and the benefits to the girls who grow up playing them.
I am a beneficiary of the legacy of women’s sports. I played basketball through my freshman year of college, and I ran track and cross-country in high school. I attribute much of my adult success to my early participation in sports. I learned teamwork and leadership from my coaches and teammates, and the life lessons from being part of a team were priceless. I learned resilience and perseverance in the face of exhaustion, injury, and defeat. I learned to set goals and work hard to achieve them, and I learned how to face challenges and meet successes with grace.
I want my daughter to learn these things. We were completely caught up in Women’s World Cup fever this summer. We read news articles about the USWNT and followed the players on Twitter. We learned about the goals they set and about their decisions to work harder than anyone else was working. We learned how their loss in the World Cup Finals to Japan four years earlier was motivating team members to push themselves harder in hopes of a different outcome this time. We learned about the times they wanted to quit but decided to stick with it a little longer before giving up on the sport they loved.
Their stories are inspiring, and this is why women’s sports are so important. Coaches in gyms and on fields across Georgia are teaching our girls and young women the skills they need in life to succeed. Somewhere a tiny gymnast has fallen off a balance beam, plucked up her courage, and climbed back on it to try again. Somewhere a softball team has fallen short in a tournament, and the players have vowed to work harder and try again. Somewhere a basketball player has decided she wants a college scholarship and is putting in extra time at the gym to make that happen. Somewhere a swimmer has Olympic dreams and is putting in the extra laps at practice to get her there.
U.S. women’s national team member and Georgia’s own Kelley O’Hara told People Magazine, “For me it’s just about that self-confidence and finding what you love and just chasing after it with reckless abandon and never letting anyone tell you that you can’t do something. If you have a goal and you set your mind to it, you can absolutely achieve it.”
The number of young athletes who will become Olympians or play on the World Cup stage is small, but the number of young athletes who will become doctors, scientists, engineers, teachers, business executives, and leaders is enormous. The lessons they learn on the field, in the gym, or in the pool will be with them throughout their lives and careers. I encourage all girls and women to find a sport they love and play their hearts out.
USWNT coach, Jill Ellis, summed up the Women’s World Cup win nicely. When asked at the end of the championship game how she felt about winning the World Cup, she said, “I’m so happy for every little girl who dreams about this.”
The U.S. women’s national team taught us all about living our dreams and striving toward our goals this summer. I hope our daughters were listening.
Karla Jacobs is a member of the Georgia Commission on Women. She lives in Marietta with her husband, two kids, a dog, and some fish. She is looking forward to the upcoming fall soccer season and the sweaty uniforms, muddy cleats, and happy girl that come with it.