“I see you running your heart out on the field and court, your braids bobbing, your face all kinds of determined to win. You love to play and win, and each time gives you a reason to stick with your sport. That’s your competitive heart—the desire to be the best. And I see your parents on the sidelines, pulling for you so hard, and sometimes the pressure that creates in a family. I know because I’m a mom of three girls who play sports, and I competed in NCAA Division I tennis. In honor of National Girls and Women in Sports Day, I have two important words for you.
It’s so wonderful to see you test yourself and fly as high as your wings will take you. When you’re passing, serving, swinging, catching, you’re doing a whole lot more for your entire self and the world. There’s a saying that women hold up half the sky. It means that you as a daughter, and your mom and sisters and all of us, are strong and powerful and significant. By competing, you are making yourself even stronger and better at holding up the sky for everyone, including dads, brothers, uncles, et al. Everyone benefits when you are your best you.
When you score more, kick further, jump higher, doesn’t it feel good? There’s something else going on too when you have those breakthroughs. You’re learning patience and grit. You’re learning to set a goal and keep going to get there. You can take this skill and become a better student, a more thoughtful friend, a well-rounded person, a great leader.
When adults like me and your parents see you play, we have a lot of feelings. Sometimes we see our younger selves, when we competed at your age, and we hear our parents all over again. We know how much all your hard work means. Sometimes it can be hard to know the line between encouragement and pressure. Sometimes we don’t say the right thing at the right time. No matter what the final score is, the best thing we can say is, “I loved watching you play.”
When something unfair happens, like a bad call, I love seeing you handle that with class. I know how hard that is when you feel emotional. Sportsmanship (why don’t we call it sportspersonship?) is inspiring. You may not realize how important your action today is for making decisions when you get out on your own. The more you do the right thing in sports, the more likely you are to live the same way: with character.
When you listen to your coach, ask questions to make sure you understand, and try your best, you are coachable. That matters even if you are not in the starting lineup. It’s especially important after you have made a mistake. Everyone is called on to perform in life, and the higher you want to go, the more coachable you have to be. To be the best you, you’ll need to take feedback from your teachers, your college professor, your boss, your partner. When you are listening to the person who can help you improve, and trying your best to reach your potential, you are preparing yourself to reach your goal—in sports, in school, in work, in life.
I am cheering that you win every time, but realistically, everyone deals with losing. No matter what the score, you win when you control your attitude, concentrate the best you can and do your very best. It’s only about you and your team, not about your coach and parents, who have all the support in the world for you. Because the courage, strength and character gained through sports participation are the very tools girls need to become the confident leaders of tomorrow, and we love the you that you are becoming.
Molly Fletcher competed for Michigan State’s women’s tennis team and is raising three daughters who play sports. She works to inspire and equip game changers to dream, live and grow fearlessly. A keynote speaker and author, Molly draws on her decades of experiences working with elite athletes and coaches as a sports agent, and applies them to the business world.
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