Nike has always been a huge supporter of women in sports. From the July release of the Swoosh Fly line, to constructing the Made to Play Coaching Girls Guide – Nike has been fully committed to making sure women athletes are represented and nurtured in sports. Caitlin Morris, Nike’s GM of Social and Community Impact, moderated a panel with four notable women to discuss their origins in sports and who helped them navigate the process from youth up to the pros.
Women are still inexplicably facing an uphill battle in sports. The fact that they aren’t fully embraced, even at the pro level, lends to the issues that lead to a decrease in participation. By age 14, girls drop out of sports at twice the rate as boys, and Nike created the Coaching Girls Guide to remedy this. The ladies on the panel gave some firsthand accounts of what makes a good coach and how some of their coaches were able to keep them inspired.
One topic all the ladies spoke on, was having a great role model. A’ja Wilson highlighted Dawn Staley as a source of stability for her. Those formative years at South Carolina under Staley’s tutelage prepared her for the pros, she said. Wilson emphasized that even more than the contribution of basketball knowledge, it was Staley’s motherly influence on her that had the most pivotal impact. Caring beyond the court (or field) and creating a genuine connection with players, is one of the most important ways to maintain girls being actively engaged in sports. Giving them a sense of belonging, especially at the youth level, is vital to their growth and development.
Another obstacle for women in sports, is the fact that while they are allowed to play sports, they are not allowed to truly be athletes at an equal spectrum. Women can’t show passion. Women can’t have bravado. Oftentimes, they are drastically constrained. Sophia Smith talked about her experience training with boys, in her younger days playing soccer. Girls competing amongst boys are often treated like novelties. They are rarely encouraged to compete and challenge their male counterparts. It’s taught that it’s cool to let girls participate, but it becomes detrimental when they are relegated to having a “just happy to be here” attitude.
Sophia’s coaches did just the opposite. When they saw she was reserved on the field, they pulled her to the side and told her to stop holding back. She said she walked in knowing she was better than every boy that was on the field. But she did not feel totally comfortable showing her dominance because of how she might be perceived. Imagine the negative impact it would have had on Sophia, if her coaches allowed her to continue to not give it her all? That push was what propelled her to eventually fulfill her professional dreams.
Another hindrance to girls excelling in sports, is people simply believing they cannot achieve greatness at the same level as boys. In turn, they’re treated as an atmospheric aspect, and not competitors. Society has to stop treating girls participating in sports like checking off a box and instead, fully embrace them as part of the athletic community. They make the most sacrifices and receive the least recognition. Skylar Diggins-Smith played an entire WNBA season while pregnant. And she not only played, but performed at an all WNBA-level. That feat should have been front page news on every magazine and featured on every sports show. But yet, it was buried underneath what outfits people wore into the arena.
By the time a woman has reached the pro level, they have persevered far beyond what you can imagine. It is up to coaches to nurture them, while they are young. If we can keep girls excited about sports when the participation pool is at its’ largest, then we will see more of them remain active, as well as they progress, as they get older. It is a constant battle but Nike is fully committed to the process.
The apparel giant has been active in elevating women in sports, at every level. They’ve also recently released a line of sportswear geared specifically towards pregnant and postpartum women. Nike is really extending their support full circle and it’s not stopping anytime soon. When people stop looking at women athletes as visitors in sports and start viewing them as residents, they’ll finally realize what we already know. Women athletes are exemplary, and their journey is no less than that.