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Teen Girls Sports Program Aims to Boost Self-Esteem - 2004-07-15

Many teenaged girls in the United States seem mesmerized by a popular culture that promotes beauty, wealth and celebrity as primary virtues. That's prompted a national campaign to help young girls boost their self-esteem, and to encourage them to engage in more active, healthful lifestyles. Here in the Washington area, Winners Lacrosse has organized a summer camp just for girls.

More than 40 girls between the ages of 9 and 14 attended the Winners Lacrosse camp, hoping to master the sport by the end of the week-long session.

"It's just fun to do. I hope when I grow up I'll be a lacrosse player," says eighth grader Jasmine. She also plays basketball and soccer. So it's been easy for her to pick up lacrosse, a Native American game that combines elements of those sports and hockey. She joins her friends on the field to practice the basics: throwing, catching and scooping the ball.

"It allows kids who are not usually exposed to lacrosse to have the opportunity to pick up the sport at a young age," explains Hana Watkins, the program's head counselor. She says the camp is not just about lacrosse rules. The girls also learn to be supportive and act with team spirit - skills that will serve them well in any other sport, as well as in life.

Winners Lacrosse summer camp is part of an initiative launched this year by the Women's Sports Foundation. Called GoGirlGo, its goal is to get one million inactive girls to participate in regular physical activity and keep another one million who already play sports on the right track.

"Actually, I think the GoGirlGo Initiative is awesome," says Winners Lacrosse executive director Edora Kerry. She says the GoGirlGo initiative includes an educational component, which is part of the summer camp.

When they are not playing lacrosse, the girls are engaged in interactive discussions. They talk about different athletic skills and sportsmanship.

"It has stories that girls can actually relate to. It has stories from people that are well known in the media, like Tamika Catchings, about her hearing aid. People that girls already look up to and realize that not only are they everyday people, but also face the same adversities that we face," explains Kerry. "There are girls in the field who might feel different maybe because they speak a different language or maybe because they are of different race, and they never knew that some women that play for the WNBA, used to have a hearing aid and used to get made fun of. And it's a program, like GoGirlGo, that brings people from that spotlight down to girls' level and gives them something that they can relate to."

To mark its 30th anniversary this year, the Women's Sports Foundation released a report on the benefits of physical activity for girls. According to Doreen Greenberg, educational consultant for the GoGirlGo initiative, it shows that the earlier girls get involved in sports the better, for their physical and mental health.

"What we found is that girls who participate in sports have reduced anxiety and stress, which all girls are faced with. They are able to handle it better," she explains. "Girls are likely, by the time they reach high school level, to get depressed, to get anxiety problems or have eating disorders. Girls who are involved in sports feel much better about their bodies because they're not focusing on their looks. They're focusing on what they do. Plus other physical problems like obesity, cancer, heart disease and osteoporosis. We're looking to prevent those."

Along with those health benefits, Edora Kerry says playing sports has a positive impact on girls' attitude in life.

"The respect, the sportsmanship... Once you can be respectful to other people, that goes beyond the team," she says. "That goes to adults, to people you don't know. You know how to deal with real life situations. You might have a conflict on the field but you learn how to handle that. You can apply that to anything you do later on down the line."

But the girls at the Winners Lacrosse summer camp aren't thinking about that. They're focused on playing, making new friends and dreaming.