For some parents, as soon as their children are born, they start thinking of buying the first lacrosse stick, tap shoes, soccer cleats, or ski boots. Dreams of recitals, scholarships and trophies swirl about in their heads.
But, how soon is too soon? What if your daughter doesn’t like the sport you’ve been dreaming about? How do you help to get her involved?
We turned to three Baltimore women athletes — who all are now on the faculty at Garrison Forest School — to get a better understanding of what makes a successful female athlete, and what we can do as parents to help our daughters enter the wide world of athletics in a fun and balanced way.
Meet Our Experts
Liza Blue, a GFS alumna, had a successful college career playing Lacrosse for UVA and is now the Assistant Director of External Programs & Campus Use. She coaches field hockey and lacrosse for their middle school and high school teams.
Heather Malone-Wolf is the school’s Director of Dance and has danced with the Dance Theatre of Harlem, North Carolina Dance Theatre, the Oakland Ballet and the Nashville Ballet, among many others. She graduated from Baltimore School for the Arts and is the co-founder of the Independent Dance Network for independent schools.
Leigh Hall played field hockey and lacrosse for four years at the University of Pennsylvania and was inducted into the Greater Baltimore Chapter of the U. S. Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 2005, among many other accolades. Also a GFS alumna, Leigh now teaches physical education at Garrison Forest.
Conversations with Our Daughters: How to Raise an Athlete
Choose a Program That Will Interest Your Daughter.
Choices, choices, choices. Where do you even start? Our experts suggest listening to your daughter, gageing her interests, and allowing her to engage in multiple for-fun teams or activities at a young age. Keep things fun and pressure free.
Most importantly, the program you choose should be a caring environment for your child.
“Sit and observe before signing up,” shared Heather. “A great program will have a leader that interacts and encourages ALL of their players or students, not just their stars. A great leader is equitable, because they know that you never know where your next star will be.”
Model Healthy Living.
When speaking with all three of our experts, one thing was clearly a leading factor to their athletic success: they all had families that were supportive and nurturing, and they lived healthy, active lifestyles.
In addition to belonging to teams and individual sports and arts, they played with their family members for fun. Some went skiing as a family, met friends at sporting events on the weekends or went swimming, horseback riding or playing tennis with mom in their spare time.
Whatever the case, they didn’t always see sports as a competition, they saw it as a healthy way to interact and connect with others.
In other words, skip the criticism on the car ride home.
Coaches and teachers are trained to work with your daughter. They will give her tips and pointers, constructive criticism, and encouragement.
“A lot of times, players dread the car ride home. Well intentioned parents will offer critiques and point out what she can do better, when she already has these things running through her head,” said Liza. “Instead of pointing out what she could’ve done better, step back and see the big picture. Trust the program and the coaches to do the critiquing. Listen to your daughter.”
Support her. Encourage positive self talk. Give her a voice to go to her coach if she needs help.
Be Aware. Burnout is Real.
Finding the right balance is key. Specializing in one sport at an early age isn’t always necessary. (Misty Copeland didn’t start taking ballet classes until middle school, right?)
Experiencing different sports through the year can benefit your child in many ways. It will help keep their interests peaked, make connections with many different friends and coaches, and decrease the likelihood of repetitive movement induced sports injuries.
“Make sure that you make space for down time,” recommended Heather. “Burnout is real. Make sure your daughter has time to spend time with family and friends, time to relax and rest. Love for any sport can die quickly because of oversaturation. Make sure you help her find the balance she needs.”
Inevitably, There Will Be Obstacles.
“Successful athletes need to be prepared to fail and then try again,” said Leigh.
It is important to teach your daughter that when she makes a commitment, she needs to see it through. Why? Because so many lessons are learned when finishing a season that is challenging or frustrating, shared Leigh. “You never know what positive lessons will be learned when you don’t quit.”
But once the season is over, re-evaluate. Sit down with your daughter and take a look at the big picture: what matters to your daughter? What does she enjoy? It’s ok to try something new.
Help Her Fit Comfortably In Her Own Skin.
“Never tell a girl that this is who she has to be or that she has to fit a certain stereotype,” said Heather.
“Of course we have our foundations in sports. We have to have certain skill sets that we need to acquire, but girls can be pigeon-holed according to how they are supposed to look, how they are supposed to act, and how they have to be. It’s our job as adults to identify the big picture- to help each girl see who she is, and know that that’s okay.”
Every athlete on a team has something unique to bring to the table, and your daughter’s coach will know what that is. But they need parents’ help to reassure their girls.
“Help her to feel comfortable in her own skin and to walk with confidence. The rest will fall into place,” said Heather.
Start the Conversation: Learn More
Our experts recommend the following resources to help encourage your daughter to live a healthy, athletic lifestyle…
The Body Image Workbook for Teens by Julia V. Taylor
Developing Better Athletes, Better People by Jim Thompson
Games Girls Play: Understanding and Guiding Young Female Athlete by Caroline Silby and Shelley Smith
Don’t miss our Women’s History Month social collaboration with Garrison Forest School! Check out our Facebook and Instagram to see what American heroines inspire their third graders.
About Our Sponsor
Editor’s Note: Links to suggested reading are Amazon affiliate links. If you click on them, (cool) progeny may receive a small advertising revenue. All photos are by Laura Black.