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Why you should encourage your teen girl to play a sport

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Young women are missing out on the enormous benefits associated with playing sports -- let's change that.

Did you know that teen girls are significantly more likely to drop out of sports than boys — and less likely to start playing them in the first place?

I didn’t. I can’t say that I was surprised to learn that, but what I was surprised to learn was just how much participation in sports can positively impact teenagers … and how the effects of that impact can last for years. Barbara Frinkel at Working Mother recently detailed the positive effects that participating in various sports have on teen girls, starting with this eye-opening data:

Teens who play sports not only do better in school, but also are more likely to have high self-esteem, stronger relationships and improved physical health. Consider these facts from the research on kids who participate in sports vs. those who don’t:

• 24 percent more likely to eat breakfast

• More than four times more likely to exercise every day

• 23 percent more likely to get seven hours of sleep

• 21 percent more likely to rate themselves successful in school

• 13 percent more likely to graduate from a four-year college

The only thing that didn’t take me by surprise was the fact that kids who play sports are significantly more likely to exercise every day. That one is pretty obvious. But it never would have occurred to me that kids who play sports are more likely to eat breakfast, get enough rest, feel successful in school, and be successful in life.

Of course, now that I see it written down it’s easy enough to connect the dots. Athletes take care of their bodies to perform well, and good food and good sleep are fundamental needs for our bodies. Athletes are also used to doing hard things, like pushing themselves through difficult and unpleasant moments to reach a greater goal — whether that goal is tangible or not. And they also spend years being committed enough to their sport to learn how to manage their time responsibly and efficiently, skills that are essential for college and adult life.

So why are fewer of our daughters playing sports than our sons? It pretty much boils down to gender stereotypes, particularly the notion that sports are for boys. Fewer sports are offered to girls, so they have less access and opportunity to play them. They also run the risk of being considered unfeminine if they play sports, and lots of girls don’t have the same family support as boys for just this reason.

Our girls shouldn’t have to miss out on the myriad of benefits that come from playing sports because of who they are, and it’s our job as parents, siblings, teachers, and even citizens to expand the opportunities available for teen girls. If your daughter’s school doesn’t offer sports, volunteer to start and coach the first team or join a city or rec league. If that’s not an option either, start hosting “soccer Saturdays” or “tennis Tuesdays” for your daughter and her friends.

Giving more girls access to sports doesn’t have to be a daunting prospect for any of us. Just give them a game to play and a place to play it, and we could change our daughters’ lives and their futures.

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