In honor of National Women and Girls in Sports Day, here are some photos of GRRRL Camp’s Founder as a little girl, and the story of how sports changed her life for the better.
As a little girl I was quiet and painfully shy. I had a few very close friends, and they were the only ones I wanted to interact with at school. When kids overheard me talking to them they would gasp and exclaim, “She speaks!” I didn’t want to answer questions when I wasn’t completely certain my answer was correct and I didn’t ever want to volunteer to help the teacher in front of the class when she needed an assistant. I mostly didn’t want anyone to even look at me. My mom told me to smile so I could make more friends, but I was a very serious kid.
By 5th grade I was dragged, kicking and screaming, to my first fastpitch softball practice. I knew nothing about the game, and I remember hearing a dad point out that his daughter was the “shortstop.” Having no idea that was the title of the position she was playing, I thought that was a nickname he’d invented just for her.
I learned the basic mechanics of a good throw, how to catch correctly, and how to field ground balls. Soon after, on our soggy springtime field, we were taught to slide. We took our shoes off so as not to stab anyone with our cleats, and were told to run as hard as we could, bend one leg under the and stick one leg out, and essentially throw ourselves along the ground, forwards, and towards the base. It was difficult to imagine how I was going to accomplish such a feat, and I soon discovered that the only way to do it was to completely trust yourself and to be unafraid. Once I let go of my fear, sliding became, and still is, one of my favorite things to do.
That first sliding lesson informed who I was and what I was willing to try for years to come. Once I figured out how to trust myself and push through any doubts I had because my team needed me, I suddenly had the skills to push through the same feelings for myself in many other settings. I started standing up for myself at school, raising my hand and asking more questions in class, and I got better at meeting people. Sports forced me to trust myself, whether it was stealing 2nd base or inventing a way to act like the team captain and get through a school presentation even when the original “play” didn’t work. Sports taught me that I could do one more rep, whether it was with a weight in my hand, or working through a difficult personal situation. I was able to set goals for myself and work towards them the same way I did on the field. I gained the confidence to try other sports and activities I knew nothing about, from team handball to basketball, golf, and many types of dance classes.
My sports experience also felt bigger than me in many ways. The community I was handed because of sports, from my teammates to the fantastic coaches I was lucky to have, to the girls I ended up coaching, knew how to come together and support each other during a game, or on the bus ride home while listening to a difficult situation one of our teammates was navigating in her personal life. If my confidence wavered in a high pressure situation, my high school softball coach always knew how to bring it right back by repeating, “Right person, right place.” I was the right person to bring in the winning run, and I was exactly where I needed to be to make it happen. I still repeat that to myself in my head when I’m stressed out as an adult, as I picture winning the (game) job interview, speech, or grant. Because of his great coaching example, being a coach and figuring out the perfect thing to say to a girl to help her find the confidence she needs on the field is an experience I value greatly.
I firmly believe that I would have grown into a very different person if I hadn’t played sports. Without the chance to be loud and muddy and sweaty and pumped up and fearless and pushed to my absolute, muscle-wobbling limits, I might be intimidated by those feelings now. Instead I embrace them, push through them, and celebrate the resulting victories, or sit down and analyze my “game” so I can do better next time.
Here are some awesome athletes’ stories, made by Nike “Voices.”