When I saw my grade four daughter sitting and crying by herself, and the rest of her team talking in a huddle at the other end of the gym, I was breathless.
I had arrived 15 minutes early to pick her up from evening basketball practice, otherwise I might never have known. The coach didn’t notice me at first. When he saw me, he suddenly looked concerned and jogged over to us.
“Are you okay?” he asked my daughter.
Apparently she had fallen down a few minutes before, so he had told her to go and sit down until she felt better. She still didn’t feel alright, and clearly neither he nor the team manager had thought to follow up until I showed up.
That was my older daughter’s experience with basketball. They were five weeks into the season, and she had been unenthusiastic about attending practices after the first two weeks. The fallout from this night clarified why.
After talking at home, it became evident there was a social clique that ran the team and our daughter wasn’t part of it. Her feelings of isolation were the real fuel behind her tears at practice.
Like the other girls, our daughter had signed up to play basketball to have fun, but we could see this wasn’t the place where it was going to happen.
It was a no-brainer for us. We agreed to withdraw her from the team. Sure, it might have been noble to talk with the coach about the clique and the need to address it, but we could see that his daughter was the center of it. And the team manager’s daughter was her second in command.
What’s the word that describes that situation? Awkward.
These were the early days of my kids exploring sports, but my wife and I were on the same page: we wanted to make sure our kids did at least one physical activity. It didn’t matter what they did, as long as they did something. So we encouraged our daughter to do something else that interested her.
It just so happens that she had already been doing gymnastics at a local club for a year and she loved it. It was fun, the instructors were kind and attentive, and she felt proud of her weekly accomplishments in learning to perform handstands, traversing the balance beam, and all the rest.
So she simply shifted her attention. She ended up doing gymnastics for three years and loved it. Then her interest switched to badminton. She played competitively for a while and was invited to the high performance program. That’s her in the picture above, playing in our garden, clearly enjoying herself.
There were some bumps in the road, but it has all been good. My daughter eventually found a physical activity that she enjoyed enough to make it part of her life. Along the way, she also learned some valuable life lessons about cliques and inclusion.
She still cringes when she remembers her experience with the basketball team. Then she remembers the fun she had in gymnastics and badminton and the friends she made.
For my wife and me, our faith in the value of sport stood firm. It’s not always a smooth road, but maybe it doesn’t need to be. Both daughters have had positive and negative experiences, but they have come away with improved confidence and belief in themselves.
October 11 is International Day of the Girl. It’s a perfect time to think about the things we can do at home to raise confident, strong, and vibrant daughters. I think quality sport and physical activity programs are a good place to start.
Take time to honor International Day of the Girl on Friday, October 11. Be sure to check out Because I am a Girl, as well as Fast and Female. If you are an educator, coach, or anyone interested in research and resources to advocate for girls in sport, check out the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity (CAAWS) and the Women’s Sports Foundation. And if you are a parent, have a look at Sara Smeaton’s 8 tips to encourage your girls in sports.