8 ways to keep your daughter from ever saying ‘I suck at sports’

When it comes to girls and sport there’s no doubt we have a lot to celebrate. But there’s also the disturbing reality that a lot of young girls still grow up thinking sports are not for them. Look at any activity or sticker book aimed at girls and you’ll note the very short list of what girls are supposed to like versus the longer list of physical activities that show up in the boy’s version.

I’ve noticed that at a certain age girls start to say “I suck at sports” because that’s the equivalent of saying “I’m as feminine as the pink-cushioned carriage I rode in on”.

Now, I may be a non-sporty mom, but I don’t want to hear my children saying they “suck” at anything; especially something like this that has such a big impact on their health, happiness, and success.

As parents, I believe there are things we can do to try to keep our kids feeling positive about being active and playing whatever sports they love no matter what societal or peer messages they come up against.

I’m no parenting expert. But here are some of my thoughts on how we can try to raise girls who don’t feel like they have to say, “I suck at sports”:

  1. Let her see you sweat. No matter what other influences our daughters have in their lives, we are the number one most important determinant of the values they will have and how they will see themselves. Show them it’s okay to be active, to sweat, to ruin your hair and makeup, and that it’s fun and healthy.
  2. Pay attention to her friends. Try to expose her to lots of different types of kids, with varying degrees of abilities and interests. Same breeds same. By spending time with people who bring different perspectives and experiences, their worlds expand. It’s hard to feel like you have to be one way when you see so many people around you doing their own thing.
  3. Build her self-esteem. We all want our daughters to feel great about themselves but sometimes it’s easy to unconsciously chip away at her self-esteem by taking over in an effort to speed things up or prevent mistakes. Encourage her when she’s expressing her individuality. Let her pick her own clothes even if they don’t match. Teach her to do things for herself. It will make things harder in the short term but she will feel amazing because you trusted her to do it herself. And she won’t get into the habit of turning to others to make decisions for her or feel like she’s not competent.
  4. Work on her movement skills. Make it clear that you believe that being able to move with confidence is one of the most beautifully feminine traits there is. And the great thing about movement skills is there is no girls’ stream or boys’ stream. Physical literacy is equally good for boys and girls; as gender neutral as the colour yellow.
  5. Get her moving and having success with moving as early as possible. She’ll feel so good about what she can do that she’ll be able to slough off the “I suck at sports” talk. This doesn’t mean putting her in formal sports lessons when she’s a toddler; it’s as easy as spending 15 minutes a day on fun activities that are appropriate for her skill level.
  6. Focus on healthy choices for a healthy body. Never talk about body image or diet (yours or hers). Talk to her about what her body can do as opposed to what it looks like.
  7. Talk with your daughter about the messages coming at her. In an age appropriate way, help her question the status quo. Make sure she knows that she can love fashion and football and it doesn’t make her any less feminine, loveable, or cool.
  8. Vote with your dollars. Support the products and stores that make it clear that they believe sports, science, math, dolls, dress-up, crafts, and everything else in this amazing world we live in are for everyone.

Any other ideas how we can help our girls feel that they aren’t limited to tutus and leotards (not that there’s anything wrong with tutus and leotards!)? I would love to hear them!

8 responses to “8 ways to keep your daughter from ever saying ‘I suck at sports’

  1. Totally agree, there so much to do out there, and girls can do whatever sports they wish, just encourage them.

  2. I think you missed a crucial way to keep girls interested in sports! Show them that sports are so much more than “ball sports”. I sucked at ball sports as a kid. I still do. It’s just a fact. But I don’t suck at sports! Once I realized that sports is SO much more than volleyball, baseball, basketball and soccer that we played in school gym class, I realized that I am athletic after all! I now compete in triathlons, rock climb, ski, wakeboard and teach fitness classes. I still have a phobia of throwing and catching but feel confident that there is so much more to living an athletic lifestyle and I will most certainly share this with my daughter.

    1. That’s a great comment, Allie. You’re correct in reminding us all that there are a wide variety of sports and physical activities that don’t require props. That said, being able to throw and catch is fundamental to having a good complement of movement skills. And there are fun games to help learn this skill you can get right here in our Activities section.

    2. I agree, Allie. Showing girls that there are a whole host of ways to be sporty aside from the few they may be exposed to at school is a great idea. Thanks so much for sharing!

    3. Yes, as well as the more stereotypically “feminine” activities that are so often devalued – dance, gymnastics, or yoga for example. Success at ball sports is put on such a pedestal, but there are a million ways to be active, fit, strong, and have the experience of a team environment.

    4. Very very true. All school pe is is ball sports. I sucked at ball sports too. Left school climb an have trained a variety of martial arts. An really throwing an catching may be listed as a fundamental skill, but I suspect that reflects to a degree the biases of people who wrote the test. A small minority of us are wired differently from birth, nothing wrong with that we just excell at other movement patterns. The joy of taking up martial arts at 16 an, after years of being shite at catching a ball, I found something that felt natural an I was OK at was indescribable. 16 years till I started feeling proud of my body, that it could do stuff too.

  3. Great advice!! Although I’m relatively sporty, our family originally struggled with encouraging our daughters to be active – we took the girls to watch other girls playing sports in our community: soccer, softball and hockey to help demonstrate that girls can play sports too and that it’s more about team camaraderie than how you perform. My two oldest daughters now both play soccer and hockey and thoroughly enjoy their sports though they were very scared and reluctant to try them at first.

    1. Thanks for the feedback, Janice, and the great suggestion for getting girls more comfortable with the idea of team sports! It’s encouraging to hear that it has worked out so well for your daughters.

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