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Ford column: In praise of girls’ sports

Somehow, I think I may have given birth to an athlete.
The evidence is mounting that 10-year-old Nellie has athletic tendencies. She loves sports. She loves to compete. She loves to win.
These are relatively foreign concepts to me, her mother, who alternately cried and prayed her way through the softball season she was forced to participate in as a child.
The crying got me nowhere ó Fords do not quit, I learned. But the praying seemed to work. Only one ball found its way to right field that summer, and I skillfully avoided it.
While I exercise devotedly, an athlete I am not. So Nellie’s interest in sports has been an eye-opener for me.
After learning the ropes of competitive soccer for two years, we recently entered a chaotic, noisy new world filled with heat sheets, Sharpies, stopwatches, French fries, a ready bench, nervous children and harried parents called a “swim meet.”
Parents at this event directed me to write on my child’s arm. With a permanent marker. And they told me to let other children write on her back. With a permanent marker.
I may not be able to hit or catch, but I can follow directions like a champ.
So Nellie dove in for her first race with her events, heats and lanes scribbled around her forearm and “eat my bubbles” scrawled across her back.
Her determination and broad shoulders served her well, and she won two ribbons.
I watched, slightly amazed, as she prepared for each race by jumping up and down, slapping her thighs and pulling her goggles so tight that her eyebrows bulged like a Neanderthal.
Nellie says she loves sports because she can be with her friends.
Because competing makes her feel good about herself. Because she has fun.
Although I had no talent for athletics, I’m thrilled that Nellie does.
Girls who participate in sports are less likely to get pregnant or drop out of school. They’re less likely to smoke or abuse drugs and more likely to delay their first sexual experience.
After reading the statistics, I’m surprised that I wasn’t a pregnant, 16-year-old high school dropout addicted to cocaine and nicotine.
Perhaps band saved me.
Girls who play sports have more self-confidence and less depression.
They have a more positive body image.
“Look at this calf muscle!” Nellie exclaimed recently. “It’s huge!”
I hope the other calf is equally as impressive.
Girl athletes may cut their risk of breast cancer by 60 percent. They definitely cut their risk of osteoporosis, which afflicts generations of women who were not allowed or encouraged to participate in activities that establish bone mass.
Sports can help girls grow up to succeed in the workplace.
For centuries, boys and men have honed their skills on fields and courts. Teamwork, goal setting, the pursuit of excellence ó all lessons learned in the world of sport and critical to the world of work.Thanks to Title IX, which mandates equal athletic opportunities for boys and girls in public schools, girls have been learning these lessons too. Eighty percent of female executives at Fortune 500 companies say they played sports.
So I look at my daughter, with her cleats and goggles and game face, and ask where she got this competitive spirit.
“From Dad,” she says.
Emily Ford covers the N.C. Research Campus.

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