How Being Athletic Totally Changed 11 Women's Lives

Illustrated by Elysia Berman.
Far too often when girls are involved in sports, they feel isolated, made fun of, or like they just don’t belong. Many of us have heard the words "boyish," "butch," and "manly" associated with girls or women who play sports. They’re words used to alienate those who aren’t typically "girly." By age 14, girls are dropping out of sports at two times the rate of boys — and while name-calling and bullying aren't the only reasons girls drop out, they can really sting.
When girls do stay active, the benefits are clear: They are more confident, have better grades, and are less likely to get pregnant as teens. The perks of staying in sports don’t end there, though. Many of us who played sports made friends, learned how to work as a team, and figured out how to get back up when we fell — all things that come in handy later in life.
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This is why the new campaign #GirlsAre is so important. Led by the Alliance For A Healthier Generation and the Clinton Foundation, the nationwide movement is meant to "empower girls and women to move and celebrate their athleticism." Supporters are encouraged to sign the pledge to celebrate "sporty" girls and write notes to their younger selves that include what #GirlsAre to them. How the hashtag is completed is left to the individual to decide.
In honor of today’s launch of the campaign, we collected 11 things we got out of playing sports, and what we wish we had known when we were still playing.
1 of 12
Illustrated by Elysia Berman.
Nia Phillips

Sport: Basketball

"I was 10 years old, and there was this really dope girl who joined our team. She was super good at basketball and even had sweet dance moves, and I had none of those skills. I wanted to be just like her. Sixteen years later, we're still best friends <3. She became a coach. And I stuck to the arts."

If you could tell your younger self one thing: "Sports are where you build your badass-ness. It won't matter in the long run how many games you won or if you went pro, but rather how hard you worked and how hard you pushed yourself. Excellent means the extra work!"
2 of 12
Illustrated by Elysia Berman.
Kaitlin

Sport: Swimming

"I owe a lot of my life experience to swimming — developing self-confidence and appreciating and loving my body, knowing how to motivate myself and others, being proud of accomplishments you work hard for, managing my time (by balancing school, work, friends and swimming) and gratitude, just to name a few. Aside from what I learned in the sport, I made my most treasured friendships with people that I now travel the world with, stand by them at their weddings, etc."

If you could tell your younger self one thing: "It's not about the competition. Be grateful for all the other aspects that this sport is contributing to your life."
3 of 12
Illustrated by Elysia Berman.
Anna

Sport: None

"I never did sports — I saw myself as a very wimpy kid, and dealt with it by acting like I was too cool for it. (In reality, I was just terrified of being bad at anything.) I have so many regrets about that! I discovered a love for fitness in my 20s and have reaped so many benefits: stress reduction, better sleep, more confidence. There's also just something so personally satisfying about trying something that seems scary and realizing you're perfectly capable of it."

If you could tell your younger self one thing: "Don't be afraid to try! You don't have to be the best at everything — in fact, it's really good for you to experience mediocrity or, yes, even failure. Give athletics a shot, and you may surprise yourself."
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4 of 12
Illustrated by Elysia Berman.
Sloan

Sport: Soccer

"Something you learn over and over again is you're a lot stronger than you think you are. If you can ignore your own thoughts and doubts, you can do anything!"

If you could tell your younger self one thing: "Do as many crunches as possible — your older self will thank you ;)"
5 of 12
Illustrated by Elysia Berman.
Sarah

Sport: Dance

"I played a lot of sports growing up — tennis, soccer, basketball, swimming, softball, dance. I have one of those fathers who loved being coach of the team, so learning a new sport and joining a new team was not only a way for me to meet peers and gain knowledge and appreciation, but also spend time with my dad. Dance was always in the background as my year-round activity; and at one point, I told my mom that it wasn't for me. I wanted to focus on other sports that my friends were playing instead, even if I didn't like it as much as dance class. While she made sure to ask me a few times if I was sure, I stuck to it... only to tell her two years later that I wanted back in. I found that each sport I played helped me learn lessons about life and think about my experiences differently, whether it be how to be a team leader, how to be a team player, and general strategy. With dance, I felt like I connected more with my body and my mind through artistic movement. I was able to enjoy dancing by myself but really appreciated doing group numbers where I was pushing my mind and body to do things I didn't think possible along with my peers. I wasn't confined to an age group as other sport teams sometimes are, so I was able to work with men and women of different colors, ages, religions, etc. and come together to express a beautiful piece of art. While I no longer actively take dance classes, the determination, discipline, strategy, and openness I gained through dance led me to who I am as a young woman today."

If you could tell your younger self one thing: "Your ability to learn how to get along with others, strategize together, and have a fun time doing so are just as valuable, if not more, than learning the rules of the game itself."
6 of 12
Illustrated by Elysia Berman.
Kayla Isaacs

Sport: Cheerleading, Track, Cross Country

"Cross-country can feel like a tremendously individual sport, yet runners are still able to connect and form a community, with not only teammates but also with complete strangers. During early morning Saturday practices in the park, every runner, strangers or not, would say "good morning" to each other. In that moment, when you're exhausted, out of breath, and pushing your body, it doesn't matter who you are or how good you are — everyone is united. With each early morning wave, head nod, and smile, you feel that bond, and it reminds you that when you feel alone, you're not, and when you feel like you're too tired to keep pushing, you can. That connection and force of strength is a feeling I'll always remember and is something I keep drawing back on, even after my official days of running have ended."

If you could tell your younger self one thing: "You'll meet teammates who become best friends; you'll notice that physical strength turns into mental strength; and you'll learn how to be a team player, but also a leader, how to motivate yourself and others, and that there's always new skills to learn in everything that you do."
7 of 12
Illustrated by Elysia Berman.
Kim

Sport: Lacrosse, Volleyball, Basketball

"Playing on the boys basketball team, I finally got the ball and scored on the wrong basket. It was my only point of the season."

If you could tell your younger self one thing: "Don't quit. If you love the sport, and don't make the team, try out next year!"
8 of 12
Illustrated by Elysia Berman.
Sara

Sport: Gymnastics, Ice Skating, Soccer, Basketball & Track and Field

"I will never forget the friends I made and all the memories we shared when traveling to different meets/games and the support system we had together. Aside from that, the strength each sport instilled in me to always stay driven, motivated, and to constantly push myself will stick with me for the rest of my life, and has helped me grow in many other, non-athletic-related aspects."

If you could tell your younger self one thing: "If you have an off practice/game day don't beat yourself up about it, you're still a strong and determined young woman — be proud of that, and let that carry you further."
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9 of 12
Illustrated by Elysia Berman.
Michaela

Sport: Tennis

"My brother and sister both played tennis, and our coach had day-long camps in the summer. We would hang out with his kids, go out to lunch, and listen to the most amazing music (he let us listen to rap and R&B when we were a bit too young). I just remember living for those summers when a big group of us would spend all day together training, eating, and laughing."

If you could tell your younger self one thing: "Put less pressure on yourself and appreciate every moment."
10 of 12
Illustrated by Elysia Berman.
Katy

Sport: Field Hockey and Lacrosse

"The bond and camaraderie that comes from playing team sports is unsurpassable, and the learnings acquired still translates into my business life today. Also, in state final championships, being the 'underdog' team behind by multiple goals at halftime and coming back to WIN in the second half taught me that you need to keep your head in the game ALWAYS and not to be distracted by success or failure. These were always the most rewarding and memorable wins! That mindset led my teams to win state championships two years in a row in field hockey and one for lacrosse."

If you could tell your younger self one thing: "Find the sports you love, the ones that drive your soul, and stick with them as long as you're having FUN! And don't be let down by not making a team or not being the best (I've never considered myself a 'dancer,' and in my adult life, I realize it's because I was cut from the dance team in 7th grade – so I had this perpetual belief that I couldn't dance. But in reality, I'm an awesome dancer and now I'm finding it to be my newfound passion!)"
11 of 12
Illustrated by Elysia Berman.
Samantha

Sport: Dance (jazz, ballet, modern, hip hop, musical theatre, contemporary)

"In 8th grade, my dance teacher always used to say that you left everything at the door and started fresh when you came into the dance studio. I always thought of it as a sacred space where I just wanted to be my best, hardest working, most creative and collaborative self. I definitely still apply that principle to different areas of my life today."

If you could tell your younger self one thing: "There are life lessons to be learned from dance... wisdom to be soaked up about who you are and how you think, as well as how you relate to/collaborate with/inspire/critique/lead/follow others. It's a powerful thing that's not to be missed!"
12 of 12
Illustrated by Elysia Berman.
Visit www.girlsare.org to sign the pledge celebrating girls' athleticism and write a note to your younger self.
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