Fiona's Blog: Good Girls No More – A Girl's Guide to the Game
There is nothing like being on an all-girls sports team in high school. Everyone knows that playing sports builds physical endurance and strength, but for girls, being on a sports team has a more lasting and empowering psychological impact. Here are some of the lessons from the game for everyone from the Olympian to the semi-professional couch potato.
1. It doesn’t matter if you think you’re a klutz on the field. Chances are, you’re better than you think. I played a lot of sports as a really little girl, but stopped most of them when I hit age 10. In middle school, I revisited soccer and softball, but was never very good. I can be a bit of a perfectionist and I am far from perfect at sports. Because of this, I quickly developed a love/hate relationship with athletics. On the one hand, I liked to be on a team, but on the other hand, I couldn’t quite shake off that disappointment that I wasn’t very good.
This year, when my school started its first girls varsity soccer team, I was convinced to join, because I was told most of the people going had very little experience with soccer. Still, I was apprehensive. What if I made a fool of myself? What if I couldn’t handle not being played? I promised myself I would put these questions out of my mind, and focus on having fun. As soon as I did this, I felt myself steadily improving.
I’ve always thought that everyone needs room to grow. I didn’t realize I was the one crowding myself. Since the beginning of the season, I feel I’ve improved a lot, which only makes playing more fun. Because I set my expectations low, I was easily able to exceed them.
2. Even if you’re as bad as you think you are, chances are you’ll still have fun if you learn to let go. After reading rule number 1, you may be thinking, “Okay, but I actually am as bad as I think I am.” Don’t worry, I know how you feel. While I think I’ve improved since soccer season began, I am in no way a great athlete. In fact, I think it’s debatable whether or not I’m even a good athlete. But, surprisingly, I don’t care. I don’t lie in my bed at night lamenting a pass I missed or wishing I could play more like a better player on our team. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I can like sports, while not being particularly good at them. I enjoy kicking the ball (when I manage to make contact with it), letting off steam after a long day and bonding on the bus with my team.
Just because I frequently trip over my own feet on the field does not mean I’m not a useful member of the team. Just because I’m clumsy in soccer, does not mean I’m clumsy in the rest of my life.
3. It’s relaxing to lose. I’ve written before that I think girls are afraid to fail; it’s scary and can have nasty repercussions. For example, failing a test can mean a letter sent home to parents or an angry talk from a teacher. Failing in a social situation can be embarrassing or lonely. On the soccer field, failing means losing, something my amateur team is always mentally prepared for.
We understand that we can’t win every game, and in this way, losing is sometimes relaxing. Many of us try to succeed at every opportunity during the school day; we hold our breath, hoping we won’t mess up something important. Sometimes, when we lose in soccer, I feel myself able to exhale. Playing sports is a fail-proof way to learn how to lose.
4. It’s exhilarating to win. In high school life, girls are often afraid to lose, but we’re also often afraid to celebrate our wins. Girls are encouraged to succeed, but not to brag. We’re supposed to accept our accomplishments while seeming modest. When we get a 100% on a test, we aren’t allowed to pump our fists in the air and let out a cheer. In soccer, we can celebrate as much as we want. When we win, we cheer for our team and there’s an amazing sense of camaraderie–something less common among high school girls than one might think. However, we are also cheering for ourselves. In this way, every high five and whoop is for all our successes: good grades, hard work, solid friendships. It all comes out in the game.
5. You can roar if you want to. In a soccer game, you can express yourself positively, as I mentioned before, by cheering on your teammates. You can also let out all your stress and pent up anger on the ball and the other team. While I’m not advocating for unnecessary violence against other players, a little nudging here and there doesn’t hurt. Girls rarely get to express their feelings through physical action, and intimidating the other team is part of the competition. I will never forget the day I heard one of my teammates roar (lioness-style) as she streaked up the field with the ball. The looks on the other girls’ faces was almost as priceless as the goal she helped us make.
6. You can get as dirty as you want. Athletes are not prim or proper. They look effortlessly cool, because they are so focused on the game. There’s no room for perfect hair and makeup in a soccer game. In fact, the more intact your hairdo, the less professional you look. Playing a sport in high school is a way to revisit those elementary school days of mud piles, sandboxes and finger paint. The more dirt on your uniform, the better you probably are.
6. The team is the best part. A sports team is a built-in group of friends. There isn’t time to start drama and there aren’t enough people to form cliques. Think about what would happen if the defenders decided they didn’t like the goalie? The team would lose all the time. My soccer team spans grades 9-12 with girls from diverse friend groups and backgrounds, but–as cheesy as it sounds–in the game, we make one team.
I learned my own lessons about sports, as I bounced from team to team, never considering myself an athlete and often feeling embarrassed. I’m no all-star, but I’m an authority when it comes to the most important aspects of the game. As the great Magic School Bus guru, Ms. Frizzle, always said, “take chances, make mistakes, and get messy!”
Fiona Lowenstein is a high school junior, Girls Leadership Institute alumna, and weekly guest blogger. Learn more about her work here.