In almost any town today, it’s not uncommon to find children playing baseball in fields, dribbling a basketball down the sidewalk, or kicking a soccer ball around their yards. Children – all children – are encouraged to play sports from a very early age – some leagues accepting participants as early as three years old. For a small fee, and sometimes none at all, you too can experience the quintessential American dream – cheering your child on as he/she prepares, competes, and finally, wins.
Dreams of victory aside, what may come as a surprise, then, is the number of these tiny athletes who stop following the dream to achieve. Compared with their male counterparts, female athletes who decide to turn their passion for sport into a profession for life are paid far less. (For instance, the WNBA pays its top women players a jaw-dropping 60 times less than the NBA’s top men!) Most professional women athletes around the world also receive very little notoriety compared to men.
Daunting facts such as these, coupled with the realization that, though women have been pro athletes since the early 1900s, paid teams and leagues are still quite uncommon, may deter young girls from making the decision to stick with something they once loved. A shame, considering that thousands of young girls excel at these activities and site them as self-esteem builders and life skill instillers.
“It’s not always about the sport,” remarked Angela Taylor, President and General Manager of the city’s WNBA team, the Atlanta Dream. “It’s about the life skills, the work ethic, the relationships.”
Taylor, part of a panel recently presented at The Commerce Club, Atlanta, by the Club’s Women in Leadership (WIL) Committee, joined fellow panelists in presenting to members and guests about The Role of Sports in Women’s Professional and Social Lives.
The sold-out event, moderated by Charlie Cobb, Athletic Director, Georgia State University, and sponsored by Georgia Tech along with the Galloway School, encouraged attendees to take a deep dive into how sports shapes young women, how it affects their careers, and how it impacts their adult lives.
Continuing, Taylor commented, “Sports was that thing that really affected my life in a myriad of ways. I learned to become a businesswoman in and through sports. They taught me what it was to be a professional.”
Echoing the sentiment, Jennifer Bush, a representative from the WIL Committee, expressed that it wasn’t until adulthood, not until she watched her own daughter’s sports practices, that the realization that sports could become more than just a hobby was had.
“I watched the coach bring the players together as a team and a lightbulb went off – this is where we learn what it is we do in business!”
The rest of the panelists, Kiesha Brown (Assistant Athletic Director, The Galloway School), Anna Fuhr (All American member, Varsity Women’s Tennis Team, Emory University), Dr. Jennifer Gerz-Escandon, (Director, National Scholarships and Fellowships, Georgia State University Honors College), and Alina Lee (8th highest ranked female junior golfer in the U.S. at age 14, now an attorney with Morris Manning), couldn’t agree more.
All referenced the two main components of athletics, camaraderie and competition, as defining forces that helped shape the type of women they became and are still becoming. Confidence, teamwork (“a sisterhood that I wasn’t getting from my biological family”), and an outstanding work ethic were all instilled at a very young age and greatly affected the women as they entered the work force.
Certainly, at any point in life, whether later in adulthood or childhood, there is no right or wrong time to take up a sport; what is important is that it enhances that life, not diminishes.
Fuhr, still a student at Emory University, explained it thus. “Being able to compete, to work for something, and then to see that work come to life and to interact with friends – that’s what makes playing a sport fun.”
A word not readily associated with winning is precisely – and somewhat surprisingly – the one thing the panel emphasized to parents as being of greatest importance.
“Encourage kids to explore! Whether it’s dance, music, or sports. Don’t force them to specialize. It’s important that parents expose them to different things so that they can see what they like,” shared Taylor. “It’s easy to tell [the child] what they did wrong. Tell them what they did right! Be their parent. They already have a coach. And, unfortunately, I have seen a lot of parents force their kids to play sports.”
Concurred Fuhr, “You have to let the child be a kid. Whatever that is. Tell them to find an outlet – whatever is fun to [them]. Go to the movies. Have a boyfriend. It’s hard. But then it makes [the child] better when they come back to the sport.”
Should they come back, should they choose to pursue the sport set before them, parental tips and guidelines were then shared with event attendees which would allow them to help their child/children maximize their success.
“Kids should be able to explore. It’s important to let kids develop. Encourage kids to finish what they start. There is something to taking that lesson into life,” shared Gerz.
Life lessons. Being part of something bigger than oneself. Setting – and then achieveing – goals. All of these things were discussed as being huge influencers on how these phenomenal women navigate the waters of their day-to-day routines.
Once the exception but increasingly the rule, these athletes and others like them (i.e., Billie Jean King whose “Battle of the Sexes” win landed her a spot on LIFE’s 1990 “100 Most Important Americans of the 20th Century” list) are working to continue to close the gap between men and women.
Certainly something to celebrate, in 2013 the only sports that “men but not women play professionally in the United States were football, baseball, and ice hockey” (Wikipedia.com). Still, the fact that there are these frontiers that haven’t been crossed, glass ceilings that haven’t been broken, show there is still much work to be done.
In acknowledging this, in confiding about her go-get-em attitude toward competing with “the boys,” Taylor shared that, once again, it was because of early life influences, her interaction with sports, which most greatly affected her.
“If there is an opportunity for a young boy, there has to be an opportunity for a young girl. I was not treated as less than because I was a girl.”
THE COMMERCE CLUB SEEKS TO DEVELOP NOT ONLY ITS FEMALE LEADERS, BUT MALE LEADERS AS WELL!
For more information about how to become involved with this initiative or how to become a Member, please contact the Club at 404.222.0191.
“Developing the Leaders of Today and Tomorrow for the City of Atlanta”