Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the phrase “Be the woman you needed as a girl”. It’s made me reflect back on my own experiences with sports when I was younger, a lot of them not so great, and what I wish I’d known (or even heard) back then.
I unfortunately can’t go back and tell myself these things, but I can tell them to young girls (and women who might need to hear them) now. Here’s my top 5 lessons for girls in sports:
1. THERE IS NO ONE WAY FOR AN ATHLETE TO LOOK
As our friend Micaela on the herBody Podcast says: If you move your body, you are an athlete!
I grew up feeling incredibly self conscious about my body. To this day, I still have to be very mindful about the way I talk about my body and the things I tell myself. I was bullied a lot because of the way I looked: I was taller than every other kid until junior high and I was usually bigger than the other girls. I constantly wished I could change the way I looked.
While I loved sports, I still never truly felt like my body belonged. I thought to be a “true athlete” I had to look the part of being a slim build because that’s what I attributed being an athlete to. Now, I’ve learned the opposite is true: I embrace my “thunder thighs” because they allow me to lift 40 pounds of goalie gear off the ice every game, I love my “big” arms because of the strength in them, and I know my body is powerful and that is far more important than the way it looks.
An athlete doesn’t look like anything. An athlete moves her body, feels proud of the strength within her, and calls herself what she is: an athlete.
Listen to our episode on body image and female athletes on the her Soul Shot Podcast here!
2. THERE IS SO MUCH MORE TO SPORTS THAN PLAYING AT THE ELITE LEVEL
Much like the way I felt about my body in sports, I also hesitated to call myself a true athlete because I didn’t play a highly elite level of sports and it made me feel lesser. Not only was I not aware of the array of playing opportunities out there for me, I was also completely unaware that I could use my passion for sports in other areas of my life, including my career.
Playing (or working in) elite and pro sports is ONE option out of many, not the only option.
The sports world has so much to offer and there is so much more to the power of being in sports than making it to the top. For many, “making it” means meeting new people, enjoying themselves, feeling a part of something, being active, feeling proud and developing confidence, and simply living out your passions. That route in sports is just as important as any other.
Similarly, some may not have gotten the chance to play sports, can’t play, or choose not to play, but they’re involved in other ways. That doesn’t make them belong any less to sports.
Whatever your version of being involved in sports is, it’s right.
3. YOU BELONG IN SPORTS
Nobody owns sports. Nobody gets to tell you what you can and can’t do. Nobody gets to decide where you belong. You decide.
I loved sports and I played sports but while I knew in my heart it’s where I belonged, I didn’t always feel that way. I wasn’t always made to feel like I belonged.
I wish I’d been able to see more women in sports doing what they loved, at all levels and in all areas because I think I would’ve doubted myself less and I would’ve seen what was possible.
There is a place for you in sports, if you want it. And I’ll back you up all day, every day when you or someone else questions whether or not you belong in sports.
4. BELIEVE IN YOURSELF
I never believed I was enough—in sports and beyond. I constantly questioned myself and my place in the world. But through sports, I found myself. I found what I loved and I found a sense of identity that I hadn’t been able to find anywhere else.
Being a young woman is freakin’ hard. I get it. But girl, if you don’t believe in yourself, it’s only harder.
You don’t have to believe in dreams that feel impossible (though you can believe in those, too), but you do need to believe that you are you for a reason, that you are worthy, that you can adapt and overcome, that you deserve to be where you are, and that you are exactly who you’re meant to be. I spent so much time and energy fighting who I was because I didn’t believe I was good enough. Don’t waste anymore time—you are you and that’s who you’re meant to be.
Whether you have a bad game, doubt your abilities, worry for your future, or anything else, believe in yourself. Believe that you belong in the spaces that you want to be in. People are going to doubt you, don’t let one of those people be you.
5. THIS IS JUST THE BEGINNING
Growing up in a small town, I had NO idea the possibilities that were ahead of me in the sports world. From creating life-long friendships with teammates in rec league hockey, to carving my own path and starting a business to ensure other girls and women could take their shot in sports—there is so much more you have yet to experience and discover.
I used to feel like the games we lost and the celebrations we had after winning were a big deal, and maybe they were back then, but they were just the beginning of the true joys and hurt I’d experience in life. Those moments taught me how to win and lose in life, how to believe in myself, how to help others, and SO much more that I didn’t know I needed to succeed beyond high school.
Enjoy every little moment of sports now, but know that there is so much more beyond what you see.