By Carolyn Spellings, PhD, CSPS Monitoring & Evaluation Coordinator
For the record, this is not something I would have normally done.
Spend almost $75 to take my 4 year-old-daughter to a sporting event she knows nothing about? No way. Too impractical.
Skip a family lunch with parents and siblings for a game? Really? That is so not like me. I love my family and making memories together.
Plus, my daughter doesn’t even really understand soccer. She doesn’t have a favorite player or position. She doesn’t know the rules of the game or what it means to be on a sports team. She doesn’t understand the concept of “country” or nationalism. In fact, at one point during the game we were cheering for all of her imaginary friends. So, why then? Why would I make such an impractical decision?
Because it was about showing her that women can be skilled enough in their craft to captivate an audience—male and female, young and old, seasoned and first-time fans. It was about exposing her to a world of possibilities and pointing her to successful women to look up to, role models. It was about letting her know that she can be whoever she wants to be because women have gone before her, blazing a path for her to follow. As research shows role models can foster resilience and generate a positive sense of self-worth among children and youth. And women who exemplify success in a particular field are key motivators for young girls to strive for similar levels of achievement.
Attending the SheBelieves Cup was also about laying the foundation for future discussions. It was about giving her a context one day to tell her the story of the 1996 U.S. Women’s Olympic Soccer Team and the way they forged a pathway for women’s soccer and fought wage discrimination within the U.S. Soccer Federation. It was about giving her a context to understand how successful female athletes all around the world are fighting injustice and giving back by investing in their communities. Women such as an Egyptian national basketball team player who turned in her sneakers to start a school for under-privileged children, a Jordanian badminton champion who strives to provide opportunities for play and physical activity for Syrian refugees, a mountaineer from Bangladesh who climbs the highest peaks to raise awareness for gender discrimination, a Danish Paralympic swimmer who creates sporting opportunities for children with disabilities, a Kenyan soccer official using her platform to provide women and girls a chance to learn a technical skill and a pathway to a better life, and many, many more.
Over the past year I have followed 17 of these women; interviewed them, emailed with them, and learned from them. Over the past year these women have mobilized more than 3,300 volunteers and coaches to use sport to empower women and girls. Approximately 2,000 people have participated in community development, sports-based programming organized and led by these women. What incredible stories. What incredible role models.
So, what do I say to my daughter if she asks why we attended the SheBelieves Cup? I say, if you work hard enough, you too may be able to play on that big soccer field one day. You too may have thousands of fans cheering your name. But even more importantly, regardless of your natural athletic talents and abilities, you can strive to make your community better, more equitable and inclusive for all.
You can work to provide educational and employment opportunities for those who would otherwise not have them. You can advocate for the right to play, the right for all to be heard, seen, and valued. You can do this because you have role models right in front of you. You are connected to hundreds of women all around the world who are using sport and physical activity to empower others—to make their communities better for all who live in them. You are connected to women who are committed to making a positive change in the world, regardless of the cost. And you are connected to the young girls all over the globe these women inspire.
It is my hope that our afternoon spent at the SheBelieves Cup will not only broaden my daughters’ expectations of what she can be, but also ignite a passion in her to begin to consider what she can do for others. How she can one day be a role model to the next generation of young girls.
And that is something I wouldn’t miss out on for the world.