Updated: Apr 17, 2020
Sports are a big part of life in our house. I work in collegiate athletics but beyond that, we watch a ton of sports both live in-person and cheering our teams on from the living room. It’s ingrained into the girl’s life and they just don’t know anything different. It’s a lifestyle we have chosen.
At least one time every week I get asked what sports I played when I was a kid. And every time I just laugh and run through the list for them. I remember swim lessons, soccer, t-ball, gymnastics, basketball, middle school track, volleyball, softball practices before school, travel team basketball and dance of every kind. If we had it in my hometown, I tried it. I was fortunate in that I was able to try anything and everything I wanted as a kid. Why? Because I could. Because my parents felt that sports were not just a way to keep an active kid engaged but to teach me the skills I would use for life. They were right. I know exactly what participation in sports taught me. I never was a collegiate or pro athlete but my parents still proudly display my rec-league trophies on the shelf.
Each week when I list off all the things I did for fun as a kid and we watch gymnastics on the SEC Network on Saturday mornings, my girls carry go about their business pretending to compete in their own made-up Olympics. They have no idea that at one point in time, none of those doors were open to girls like them. There were no team sports at local recreation departments or middle schools and certainly no women’s sports to watch on television. February 6 marks the annual celebration of the achievements of women in sports. National Girls and Women in Sports Day not only recognizes many talented females but also celebrates the progress women continue to make on and off the field. I will forever be thankful to my parents for getting me involved in sports early in my life. I am also grateful that there are people working to ensure that my girls have even better opportunities, experiences and exposure to athletics. Individual or team. For fun or for competition. They will learn life skills through sports.
I remember watching Olympians and collegiate champions on TV. I absolutely had the Mary Lou Retton red, white and blue leotard and the Air Jordan basketball shoes. I watched videos of Jennie Finch to learn how to pitch and more Tennessee Lady Vols basketball games than I can count.
Now there is a new generation of role models in sports. They are more than the game, they are social activists. They use their platforms to inspire and teach. Here is my list of twelve names in sports that I want my daughters to know now.
Simone Biles She has her own floor move named the “Biles” because of her record-shattering performances as an elite gymnast. She is undefeated in the all-around competition since 2013. Beyond the field of competition, she has shared the very personal story of her childhood and the adoption of her and her younger sister by her biological grandparents early on in her life. She makes no secret about the impact of that experience on her life and her dedication to her sport.
Misty Copeland Even if you don’t know who she is, it is very likely you have seen some amazing shots of her in one of the recent Under Armour clothing campaigns. She is the first African-American principal dancer for the American Ballet Theatre. That’s breaking a very rigid 75-year tradition! She’s considered a ballet prodigy but also struggled through childhood in poverty to make her dreams a reality and has changed the face of ballet.
Allyson Felix The most decorated woman track and field star in US Olympic history, Allyson Felix has made no secret about her faith as a success factor. She has been a very private person, shying away from the media and training inside of an apparent bubble for so many years. She speaks about her faith, disciplined training regimen and overcoming adversity.
Laura Gentile Named to this year's Forbes list of the Most Powerful Women in US Sports, Laura Gentile is the Senior Vice President of Marketing at ESPN. Not a professional athlete but she created the gold standard for sharing and developing content specific to women’s sports. ESPNW debuted in 2010 and has become one of the top resources for women in sports. She has stated that her goal is to provide the best coverage for women’s sports.
Bethany Hamilton A victim of a shark attack in 2003 left her without her left arm but that didn’t stop her from doing what she loves, surfing professionally. She has become an advocate for young girls and women with limb loss, motivating them to become unstoppable through her non-profit Friends of Bethany.
Mia Hamm Following her collegiate soccer career at the University of North Carolina, Mia Hamm went on to become the face of the first women’s professional soccer league. At age 15 she was the youngest ever to play on the US National Team and still ranks third in total goals scored in women’s international soccer history. The rise of girls playing soccer in the US can be largely contributed to the attention Mia Hamm helped the sport earn. There would be no Abby Wambach, Carly Lloyd, or Megan
jerseys on the market without Mia Hamm.
Becky Hammon Retired following 16 seasons as a player in the WNBA to become the first female full-time assistant coach in the NBA. She joined the staff of the San Antonio Spurs in 2014 which was the first full-time hire of a female in any of the major US men’s professional sports leagues. She continues to pursue her goals of becoming a head coach in the NBA despite the critics. She is proving every day that a woman can instruct, teach and coach a man to success at the highest level.
Billie Jean King One of the most famous and influential female athletes of all time, tennis superstar is also the founder of the Women’s Sports Foundation. Her mission is to create and support opportunities for every female to get involved in sports. Her organization has provided thousands of dollars in scholarships to deserving and talented females and continues to be a prominent resource for athletes, coaches and all supporters for the advancement of women in sports. She is as relevant now as she was in the 1973 Battle of the Sexes match.
Lisa Leslie Although she retired from professional basketball in 2009, she was one of the faces of the WNBA at its inception. She represented the USA in four Olympics, winning gold medals in each. She is also credit with the first dunk by a female and the first dunk recorded in a WNBA game, proving that women could do it too. During her playing career, Lisa Leslie was also regarded for her work as a model.
Danica Patrick Danica is a trailblazer for females in the sport of auto racing. She broke barriers and set records in Indycar and NASCAR, paving the way for other females and encouraging sponsors to back females in the motorsports industry. She credits the involvement of her entire family in the sport when she was young with her abilities to succeed on the track. For better or for worse she will always be the face of racing.
Aly Raisman A two-time Olympic gymnast with six medals, Aly Raisman has played a major role in uncovering the hidden and disturbing truths behind the world of USA Gymnastics. She took her place in court and in front of millions, shared her story of sexual abuse and encouraged over 140 others to come forward and share their stories. She has taken the position as a role model and an advocate for educating the young female population about the warning signs of abuse.
Serena Williams Arguably the most decorated athlete in US history, male or female. She earned 23 Grand Slam titles and continues to win, even following the birth of her daughter in 2018. Serena is an advocate for all things girl power and supports the efforts of the African-American community and preaches body-positivity messaging on her platforms. Being strong is beautiful. February 6, 2019, marks the 33rd Annual National Girls & Women in Sports Day (NGWSD). A celebration that has empowered women and girls to get moving, reap the benefits of physical activity and push past their limits both in sports and in life. The confidence, strength, and character gained through sports and physical activity are the very tools girls need to become strong leaders, in their own lives and in the world.
Even if you do not have an athletic bone in your body please join me in celebrating the opportunities ahead for your daughter. If she expresses an interest, take the time to teach her to be grateful for these opportunities. Our girls need to know who is fighting for them so they can continue to push for equality on the field, in the classroom and in their careers.
What role have sports played in your life?