This week’s blog post inspiration is brought to you by sweaty, sunny, 95 degree, summer soccer camps. That’s right, over three weeks of West Michigan’s youngest soccer stars kicking & running (and sometimes screaming) up and down the pitch.
The thing that has always intrigued me about girls in sports is watching their attitudes, the way they interact with each other and how they carry themselves. As someone who never really thought much about being nervous to be aggressive or not getting after it in sports despite being young or on the smaller side or (gasp!) a girl, it crushes me to see girls being timid and shy; not having confidence in themselves or not wanting to take a chance because they don’t feel like they can, or that they can’t compete with boys, or kids who are older or bigger than them. The question that just replays over and over in my mind as I watch this happening is… “Who told you you couldn’t compete? Who told you it mattered if you were younger, or smaller, or a girl?” I just want to run up to them and shake them and tell them to cut that crap out, that they are so much stronger and better than what they know and that they need to believe that…and then give them a big hug and then push them forward on their way.
Allow me to give you a few examples.
Scenario #1: GVSU Girls Soccer Camp. Week #1 of camps. I’m literally over the moon to be back on campus at my alma matter, helping at an all girls camp filled with girls ages 8 to 18. There’s nothing more electric (or terrifying, depending on who you are:) than being at a camp of 500+ girls who are dreaming of someday playing on that same field as a collegiate athlete, or simply there trying to get a little bit better, enjoying the opportunity to play with their friends for a week.
I had the youngest group of the whole camp, the little ones… a squad of 8,9,& 10 year olds who, in my opinion, were also the most fun. They were little spitfires, with high amounts of energy (likely because of the 45 lbs of Sour Patch Kids they’d eat before each training session), who giggled at everything I said and asked the same questions 7 times in a row over and over. I adored them. For being such a young group, they were actually quite talented, so when it came to game time, I was pretty disappointed after our first performance. We were in a pool with kids on teams ranging from 9-12. Because my girls were an actual team from a local club in the area who wanted to stick together, they didn’t have any older girls on their team. After the 3-0 loss in our first game, the girls ran off the field their heads hanging super low.
“How come we have to play the older girls?”
“Why are they so much bigger than us?”
“We’re too small to go up against them.”
“We probably won’t win any games if we have to play teams like that.”
Excuse me, what?! What happened to the little fiery girls I just trained with 2 hours ago? The girls who were so eager to show off their skills and teach me the new moves they had made up themselves? Who were asking smart questions about soccer strategy and couldn’t wait to play in the tournament games?
I calmly called the girls in asked them to sit down. I asked them to look right at me and to pay attention closely. As they all sat squirmy and silent I asked,”Who told you couldn’t compete with girls who were older than you? When did you start believing that you’d lose if you played girls who were bigger than you?” I think this was the only time the entire week that none of them had anything to say. They just stared back at me with sad blank expressions. I told them that if they believed those things, the outcome would be the same every.single.time.
I asked them what they thought would happen if they believed in their talents and played to their strengths. If they thought they could give the “older and bigger girls” a run for their money. I told them I believed. I told them that they should, too.
It’d be cool camp story to tell you guys that after my brilliant speech (ha, as brilliant as a speech to a group of littles can be) that we went on to dominate and win every game after that.
But the next game was better and we competed a little more. The next game was even better, and the next, and the next. We didn’t win any games actually….but the girls played together, they fought ruthlessly for balls that anybody on the outside looking in knew they probably wouldn’t win (but they fought and believed they could!) and sure enough, they gave those older girls a run for their money. In our last game in the toilet bowl of the tournament we went into overtime and forced the game into penalty kicks. We lost in PKs, but the girls were ecstatic. They couldn’t stop talking about how they slide tackled balls away from girls “twice their size” and how they split defenders “at least five times.”
It was a victory for them. Their entire mindset had changed. They changed their belief about what they were capable of, which changed their experience that week. They had shown that they had the heart and grit to compete. And they did.
Now, let’s not confuse this story with a “everyone needs a medal and pat on the back” mentality. This isn’t that. This is about the narrative that we tell our kids, our students, our players, the ones that are soaking up everything we are saying and the ones we are making the biggest impression on. What story are you telling them about who they are and what they are capable of? It’s good to be realistic obviously, but I truly feel that people fall into the role that you write for them.
Scenario #2: I’m coaching a middle school and high school coed camp and I’m with a group of middle school gals that I coached during the spring season at CCMS. These wild at heart, carefree, competitive, confident, hilarious, talented players that I knew from our spring season are literally standing during drills and games, or jogging around aimlessly like they don’t have a clue what’s going on. They’re mixed in with a guys group and keep asking me if they can just have their own group without the guys…because “they’re not good enough to play with the boys.”
Again…excuse me, what?! These are girls that are talented enough to make some of these guys look very silly on the soccer field. Where did this mindset come from? What happened to the strong, confident women I coached all season? Clearly, someone along the way made it ok for them to fall into this role. Now, I get it, these are middle school girls and sometimes things are hard and awkward (because, #middleschool), but are they really that hard and awkward that you’re pretending like you’re a damsel in distress who simply cannot bear the thought of competing against a middle school boy that you’re clearly better than?
UGH. The competitive woman in me just dies a little bit every time I see that happen.
This concept obviously spills over into life. It’s not just about sports. This 100% applies to our life story and the stories of others. I’m thankful for parents who poured into me and showed me what an attitude of fearlessness and love and hard work looked like, regardless of my circumstances.
We have to keep speaking positive life into kids. Heck, not just kids, but to everyone. Social media and the internet have aided in our struggle with self worth and confidence and so we fall into life roles and routines we feel we are “good enough” for and do things the way we believe we are supposed to because somewhere along the line someone or something told us it was the “right way.”
But I ask you (and I need to ask myself these questions often as well), who told you that weren’t strong enough, beautiful enough, smart enough, worthy enough? At what point did that become the story you started telling yourself? We become what we believe about ourselves, guys. Be careful who you surround yourself with, these are the people who help frame your realities. When we’re just kids, we can’t always help who is around us, which makes the roles of coaches, teachers, role models and parents even more important. But it’s not just about us, be careful about the story your helping to form for the people around you too. Everyday, when you interact with others, you’re helping people form opinions about themselves, who they are, what they should think and feel and become. You’re making a difference in their lives. The question is…what is that difference?
“If you see something beautiful in someone, speak it.”