What I “Won” From Playing Sports

8 12 2010

My first tennis trophy

As part of the National Women’s Law Center’s Blog to Rally for Girls’ Sports Day, I was asked to answer the question, “What did you win by playing sports?”

I would not be writing this blog if it weren’t for sports. I have “won” in nearly every way possible because of sports, I have:

1) a career in the study of sport/physical activity (referred to in academia as Kinesiology), which started with coaching women’s tennis at the NCAA D-III level.

2) a healthy body in which I can still be physically active (knock on wood!).

3) lifelong friends, amazing students and athletes, and influential mentors.

4) developed psychological, physical, social, and emotional skills which have helped me successfully navigate life (so far!).

5) expanded my personal and professional identity in ways that (on most days) I can be proud.

My most memorable tennis trophy

6) cultivated my voice in hopes of making a difference in the lives of others in and through sport.

There is not one part of my life that has not been shaped by sports.

I am in a unique group of women sandwiched between the generation older than me (grateful women who were the first to benefit from the passage of Title IX and knew of the days where opportunities to play sports were to be relished and enjoyed) and the generations younger than me (which includes some entitled girls who have taken those opportunities for granted and never knew how bad it used to be).

In my current role as Associate Director for the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport at the University of Minnesota, I am keenly aware of the many positive outcomes of Title IX. Yet, this landmark federal legislation remains fragile and under attack.

Many argue that “we no longer need Title IX” due to the tremendous gains for girls and women in sport (and other) contexts. This simply is not true. In the briefing paper produced by the NWLC it states,

Since Title IX was enacted in 1972, girls have made great strides in athletics.1 But
even today, the law’s work is not done. Girls make up half of all high school students
nationwide but only 41 percent of all high school athletes, which means that schools
provide girls with 1.3 million fewer opportunities to play sports as compared to boys…even for those opportunities the schools do provide, girls’ teams often do not receive equal benefits and services. For example, female athletes are frequently assigned to inferior facilities and disadvantageous times to play. Although national data on the treatment of girls’ sports are not available at the high school level (unlike for colleges, which are required by federal law to report gender equity in athletics data every year), the available data and reports demonstrate the pervasiveness of discrimination against girls in high school sports programs
.

While I have won in so many ways playing sports (trophies included), I now have a responsibility to ensure that girls and women into the future will continue to win.


Advertisements




Study links sport participation and opportunity for girls

2 08 2010

A study by Betsey Stevenson, the author of the research and an assistant professor of business and public policy at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, reveals data that indicates playing sports leads to greater educational and employment opportunities for girls. To read the report click here.





espnW, cheerleading, violence, Nike, Title IX…so many things to share!

22 07 2010

Sorry if I’ve been blogging less lately, there are to many things going on to take the time to blog! That said, I wanted to share with you some information you might find interesting.

1. A key Title IX ruling was recently passed down that has implications for girls and women in sport. In essence the judge ruled that cheerleading can not count towards compliance with Title IX.

2. Look for more changes regarding the way in which the NCAA calculates and oversees their Academic Progress Rates (APR). New data analysis reveals that current standards may be weaker than originally intended.

3. On the youth sport news front, The UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre commissioned and released a new report on PROTECTING CHILDREN FROM VIOLENCE IN SPORT: A review with a focus on industrialized countries. The report focuses on the fact that “it has become evident that sport is not always a safe space for children, and that the same types of violence and abuse sometimes found in families and communities can also occur in sport and play programmes. Child athletes are rarely consulted about their sporting experiences, and awareness of and education on child protection issues among sport teachers, coaches and other stakeholders is too often lacking. Overall, appropriate structures and policies need to be developed for preventing, reporting and responding appropriately to violence in children’s sport” (p.vii)

New espnW logo

4. I have two related bits I’ve recently been involved with regarding big sport brands wanting to create social change. What they also have in common is both initiatives have women in charge. You can imagine I’m a bit skeptical on both, but I’m currently cautiously optimistic on both fronts.

The first is the new ESPN  initiative to capture more female consumers–it is called espnW. (the “W” stands for Women). Its launch has gotten a little media buzz. I will keep you posted as I’ve been in communication with the folks at ESPN who are spearheading this new initiative. They are lead by a very sharp woman and her small staff and I believe the resources ESPN has dedicated demonstrates a desire to get this right (unlike Sports Illustrated for Women, which was a miserable failure). So far the process seems on target as they are asking key stakeholders to join the conversation and provide insight.   Added NOTE (7/28/10): Read the MinnPost article titled “Media critic and women’s sports advocate Mary Jo Kane is about to step into the belly of the ESPN beast”

The second initiative is a project of the Nike Social Innovation team, also lead by two sharp women. Nike wants to use current sport science research to help leverage their resources and brand to promote and sustain physical activity in the US and UK. I was asked to be part of a multidisciplinary think tank facilitated by ShiftN (a really cool company) earlier in the month where we examined a research-based systems model of the correlates, barriers and potential outcomes of physical activity.

I am excited and honored to be a part of both these initiatives, however I am both happy and concerned that women are at the helm of these new, risky initiatives. I’ve written in an earlier post about the research on the glass cliff and I wonder if this is what is operating in the background in these instances where two big brands are taking risks.

While the glass ceiling is metaphor commonly used to describe the often subtle and unseen social-structural gendered barriers that prevent women from reaching the highest echelons of corporate leadership.

The glass cliff is a similar metaphor used to describe the phenomenon of women’s appointments to precarious leadership positions. The glass cliff illuminates the stress experienced by women who have made it through the glass ceiling (i.e., Head Coaches, CEOs, Presidents of WNBA teams) and find themselves in a more vulnerable and precarious position than their male counterparts. Women on the glass cliff often fight an uphill battle for success, without the support, information and resources needed to effectively execute the job.

Researchers have recently uncovered that when organizations are in crisis and have a high risk for failure, women are more often appointed to positions of leadership. Two explanations are offered: 1) women are perceived as particularly well-suited to manage the crisis, or 2) women are appointed to glass cliff positions because those who appoint them want to protect men (or expose women).

I hope I’m wrong, because the women I’ve met and talked to in charge of these initiatives are movers and shakers I want to see succeed in their visions.





Thoughts on Women, Aging and Physical Activity

22 04 2010

This week The Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport put on its Distinguished Lecture Series featuring author and speaker Mariah Burton Nelson (MBN). As the Associate Director of The Tucker Center, I get first hand exposure to the topic and speakers each fall and spring, which is a wonderful benefit of my position. I’d like to share my thoughts from the event and the breakfast panel this morning.

My work is focused mostly on the youth end of the developmental trajectory.  I am certainly aging, but I don’t study aging or aging populations, so this is a topic I know very little about. I learned a great deal and MBN challenged me to think about reclaiming and reframing aging in new ways. We are ALL aging. It is a process of life and something everyone has in common. Most would like to stay suspended in youthful animation and try many things to achieve that goal, but the fact remains we are aging. We can’t control that we are aging, but we can control how we think about aging and we can do certain things that will improve our quality of life while we age.

I laughed when MBN explained that being  “Grown Up” according to the AARP was anyone between age 40-65 years of age.  She challenged the audience to think about the language we use to talk about aging and how to reclaim and reframe aging. I didn’t know that peak cognitive functioning for women occurs in their 60’s! (for men, their 50’s).

When I turned 40, it was very strange that all of a sudden I was thinking of myself as “old”. Why?….40 isn’t old! Where did these thoughts come? I decided to claim being 40 and embrace getting “older”…what was the alternative anyway? So since my epiphany, every time I catch myself thinking about how “old” I am, I replace it with something resembling SNL’s Stuart Smalley affirmations…. “I’m young, healthy, active and I feel great!” In fact optimism and a positive attitude have been shown to improve quality of life as one ages, so perhaps I’m onto something. We will all die and MBN stated that older people (those 80+ years old) are not afraid do die, they are afraid of how they will die. An audience member reiterated that aging is about loss and that life is a series of losses. My take home: We can only control how we react to our losses and how we react in part, will affect our quality of life, including mental and physical health.

Another strategy for maintaining health and quality of life is MOVING!  MBN cited that researchers have found physical inactivity is a better predictor of death than smoking!! The take home message…MOVE! Move in any way you can and in any way you enjoy. Women over 50 did not have the benefit of Title IX (which thank goodness this week Obama has gotten rid of the survey method for proving “interest”) so some do not enjoy physical activity, didn’t have the opportunity to plays sports, or just don’t know how to move in ways that are enjoyable and subsequently their health suffers as they age. Did you know there are National Senior Games? It is never too late to learn how to move or new ways to move when the former ways aren’t feasible perhaps due to injury or impairments. In fact while I was sitting here I got a Facebook message from some women I know who are playing in a 50+ women’s hockey tournament!

Take home messages: move, stay positive, seek social support, and embrace whatever age you are!





Title IX Turns 37!

23 06 2009

Title IX is a federal law passed in 1972 that requires gender equity for boys and girls in every educational program that receives federal funding. Many argue it is one of the most influential laws in recent history. In the realm of sport it has resulted in an explosion of sport participation for girls at all levels including youth interscholastic, and intercollegiate. In 1972 1 in 27 girls played high school sport, today that number is around 1 in 2.5! The Director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport at the University of Minnesota, Dr. Mary Jo Kane, is often quoted, “In one generation we’ve gone from girls hoping there was a team, to girls hoping they’d make the team.”

On June 23, 2009 as Title IX turns 37, we can celebrate the many gains made in all educational contexts for girls but we all need to commit to ensuring the law remains viable for the next 37 years and more!

Here are two of my favorite websites I turn to for information on Title IX:
Title IX
The National Women’s Law Center





Equal Pay Day…not for female youth sport coaches!

29 04 2009

fair-payThe following information is taken from the National Women’s Law Center’s Campaign for Fair Pay. April 28, Equal Pay Day, marks the day in 2009 when the average woman’s wages will finally catch up with those paid to the average man in 2008. In the United States, women are paid only 78¢ on average for every dollar paid to men. More than 45 years ago, President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act into law, making it illegal for employers to pay unequal wages to men and women who perform substantially equal work. The following year, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was enacted, making it illegal to discriminate, including in compensation, on the basis of sex, race, color, religion, and national origin. At the time of the Equal Pay Act’s passage in 1963, women were paid merely 59 cents to every dollar earned by men. Although enforcement of the Equal Pay Act and Title VII has helped to narrow the wage gap, significant disparities remain and must be addressed.

In Minnesota, my home state, in 2007 on average, women in Minnesota working full-time, year-round earned only 77% of what men working full-time, year-round earned — one percentage point below the nationwide average of 78%.

Since I’ve been writing about youth sport coaches in the last week, just a little data about this group as it pertains to being paid….or in this case, NOT being paid. In study being conducted by one of my graduate students, male youth sport coaches are twice as likely to be paid than their female counterparts in Minnesota youth soccer clubs. She didn’t collect how much pay disparity exists, which I think would be an interesting follow up study! I’ll share more of these research findings when we finish the full analysis.