Playing like a girl | For the Love of the Game
September 7, 2012 · Updated 9:16 AM
For young American males, playing sports is second nature.
Whether a casual soccer team or win-at-all-costs select baseball or basketball program, boys are taught the benefits of team sports from a young age and constantly reminded that life's challenges are more manageable after a dress rehearsal on the playing field.
But what about our girls?
While adolescent boys no doubt face unique challenges relating to body image, self-confidence and sexuality, they are also empowered by a society that continually offers up tools - like sports - to help cope with the stress of those most awkward years. For young women, who are constantly bombarded with norms of female beauty that are in reality an unhealthy portrayal, the formula is not so simple.
But with the help of sports and their own careers gaining empowerment through physical activity, Libby Ludlow and Jilyne Higgins are working to change that.
Ludlow, an Interlake High School graduate and former Olympian with the United States Ski Team and Higgins, a collegiate skier at Vermont and Eastside Catholic alum, are using sports as a tool to empower girls both on the field and off.
"Through participating in sports, you're constantly put into challenges," said Ludlow, who overcame a host of injuries to reach the 2006 Olympics. "When you're challenged, you gain evidence of what you're capable of and how awesome you are."
The program is called "Z-Girls," and it's about much more than running, kicking or catching.
Ludlow and Higgins began the program in 2011 and a host of other coaches help facilitate the camps, which have extended from Bellevue and the Eastside to Portland with a long-term vision for Z-Girls that includes a nationwide network of girls-only camps with collegiate athletes at the helm.
Unlike traditional sports camps where specific skills and philosophies for competitive play are the focus, sports are merely the vehicle for Ludlow and Higgins to teach lessons about creating and maintaining a healthy body image, positive self-talk and a reliable support network.
Higgins said she has been influenced by a study from the Women's Sports Foundation that determined by age 14, girls dropped out of sports at twice the rate of boys. Part of the mission of Z-Girls is to keep young ladies involved in sports long enough to reap the true benefits that come from being part of a team and achieving success in the face of obstacles.
"We wanted to put together a program that not only encouraged girls to get engaged in sports, but stay involved in them," she said.
While sports are an obvious choice for the athletically inclined and supremely talented, girls especially can be reluctant to join teams without an introduction to the basics. By combining skills from many sports into their camps, Z-Girls takes care of that as well. And the importance of the program's is no overstatement.
For Ludlow and Higgins, providing a positive message and community for girls is a way to expand their passion for sports and share in their own life-changing experiences. But for the girls who attend, the experience could be life-saving.
For the Love of the Game is a Reporter column by staff reporter Josh Suman. 425-453-5045 and firstname.lastname@example.org