When I saw her sitting on the stage crying by herself, with her coach and the rest of the team in a huddle at the other end of the gym, I was breathless.
It was 10 years ago and my older daughter was in grade four. I had arrived 15 minutes early to pick her up from evening basketball practice and found her in distress.
The coach was talking to the team and facing me, but he hadn’t noticed me yet. When he finally 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. Well, she didn’t feel better, and clearly neither he nor the team manager had noticed until I showed up. That was unfortunate for my daughter, to say the least.
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 some conversation at home, it became evident that 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 on the school stage.
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 the fact was that his daughter was at the center of it.
What’s the word that describes that situation? “Awk-ward.”
Like the other girls, our daughter had signed up to play basketball because she wanted to have fun. But we could tell this wasn’t the place where it was going to happen, so we decided to cut our losses.
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 each of our kids did at least one physical activity. It didn’t matter what they did, as long as they did something. They could choose anything that interested them.
It just so happens that our daughter 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 she loved it. Then her interest switched to badminton. She played competitively for a while and still loves to play recreationally at university. That’s her in the picture above, clearly enjoying herself.
Despite some early bumps in the road, it has all been good. My daughter found a physical activity that she enjoys enough to make it part of her life. Along the way, she also learned some life lessons, developed her confidence, and built good habits for healthy active living.
She still cringes when she remembers her experience with the basketball team. But then she speaks fondly of the fun she had in gymnastics and badminton and the friends she made.
For my wife and me, our faith in the power of sport has been born out. It’s not always a perfectly smooth road, but maybe it doesn’t need to be. Both of our daughters have had positive and negative experiences, but they have still 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.