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To Keep Girls in Sports, We Need Higher Coaches. Here’s How Nike Is Helping

There’s no arguing that it’s an exciting time for girls’s sports.

Earlier this yr, the FIFA Women’s World Cup saw record-breaking attendance numbers—and a record-breaking variety of goals scored. The popularity of each the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) and National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) appear to be reaching a fever pitch. Ultrarunner Courtney Dauwalter had even non-runners watching in awe via social media as she won three iconic 100-plus mile races in only 10 weeks this summer. And just a couple of weeks ago, the University of Nebraska volleyball team played a match in a football stadium and filled it to the brim, setting the world record for attendance at a women’s sporting event.

But to be someone who cares about women’s sports is to be continuously celebrating these victories while lamenting how far we still must go. WNBA and NWSL players, as an illustration, still make a fraction of the salaries their NBA and MLS counterparts bring home, and women’s sports stories make up only 4 percent of media coverage. But what’s perhaps most alarming is that girls still drop out of sports at double the speed of boys by age 14, based on the Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF). Those girls aren’t just missing out on the fun of sport, or the prospect for faculty scholarships or a profession as an athlete; playing sports can be related to raised body image and self-confidence, higher levels of family satisfaction, higher health outcomes and life skills like teamwork and leadership, WSF reports.

Some of essentially the most common barriers to sports for ladies are obvious: The lack of opportunities, social stigma, fewer role models. But one which you could not guess? The dearth of fine coaches—and specifically coaches who’ve been specifically trained to maintain girls in the sport.

“A coach could make or break you, especially for girls,” says Mariana Lopa, the managing director of Girls Got Game, a Filipino nonprofit that goals to empower young women through sport by surrounding them with powerful female coaches and role models. I met Lopa on a recent visit to Manila with Nike, as a part of their work to extend girls’ access to sports—each by providing them with more spaces to play, and higher coaches to facilitate that play.

The Philippines has a fervor for basketball, to say the least, and yet, there isn’t a skilled women’s league, and at neighborhood courts where local stars are born, women and girls are sometimes either implicitly or explicitly unwelcome, or forced out.

“There are so many courts within the Philippines—problem is, everyone likes to play basketball,” says Lopa. “So to get time on the court, my experience was that I needed to be there right after lunch, or else the boys would arrive after school, and also you get eased out.” Other players I spoke to said it’s common for women and girls to reach on the courts on the first light simply to get some playing time in.

Nike’s answer to this problem? The Courtyard, an epic, colourful space in one among Manila’s most vibrant neighborhoods featuring two and a half courts made from recycled Nike sneakers. The Courtyard is home to a program called Her Hoops, dedicated time where only women and girls are allowed on the court. “For Nike to create The Courtyard and have specific hours for ladies is large, because no one can interrupt our playing time,” says Lopa. Nike can be working with Girls Got Game to run free basketball camps for ladies of all ages on the Courtyard, because you’ll be able to give girls free reign of the court, but without supportive coaches to foster their skills and love of the sport, they’ll still be left at a drawback.

Her Hoops at The Courtyard in Manila. Photo: Nike

Of course, it isn’t just within the Philippines that girls deserve more from their coaches: Nike’s recently-published Coaching Girls Guide, created in partnership with the Center for Healing and Justice Through Sport, lays out guidelines intended to maintain girls playing sports, and has already been used to coach greater than 17,000 coaches worldwide. Here’s what I learned about coaching girls from the guide and from my time at The Courtyard.

It’s key to know *why* girls need what they need from their coaches

When we are saying that girls need something different from their coaches, we run the danger of perpetuating dangerous stereotypes about girls and sport, like that they aren’t as naturally gifted as boys, so that they need more help, or that they’re in some way delicate or overly-sensitive, and have to be coddled.

These stereotypes are usually not true. But, the proven fact that they still exist speaks to why so many ladies drop out of sports in the primary place. Even coaches with the perfect intentions may by accident send the mistaken message. What girls actually need are coaches who actively resist these ideas by specializing in girls’ talents and skills, and showing them how physically and mentally strong they honestly are.

When coaches are intentional about modeling that girls belong in sport just as much as boys, they’ll make a strong impact, especially on young players who haven’t yet digested as much stigma. “With these girls, it’s fresh—they haven’t any preconceived notions of what basketball is,” says L.A. Mumar, coach of one among the Philippines’ top women’s college basketball programs at Ateneo de Manila University. “They think, that is normal, I can play ball.”

Girls bring their full selves to sport

Because girls aren’t at all times supported of their love of sports in the best way that boys are, personal connections between coaches and players are all-the-more necessary, Nike points out in its guide. Lopa says that, in her experience, this looks like understanding that girls often bring their whole selves to practice. “When you’ve gotten a coach that has a superb enough relationship to the player, they’ll say, Hey, I do know you’re going through this, but can I even have your attention for 40 minutes?” she says. “And then after 40 minutes, let’s discuss it.”

Girls cheering at a Nike coaching girls event in Manila
Photo: Nike

Language matters

“Without intending to, we’re all chargeable for perpetuating a culture of masculinity in sport through language,” reads Nike’s Coaching Girls Guide. It could seem obvious or unimportant, but even referring to women as “guys” can feel unwelcoming. (One study cited by Nike found that in a classroom where teachers called all the scholars “guys,” girls were significantly less more likely to raise their hands because they thought the teacher wasn’t talking to them.) Name-dropping women’s skilled teams and role models across the gender spectrum can be key, based on Nike.

“It makes girls feel more comfortable,” says Lopa, who usually uses Nike’s guide to coach Girls Got Game coaches. “It makes them feel like, oh, this program is specifically for me. And I’m gonna keep wanting to return.”

The stakes are different for ladies

In the United States, girls who love sports can dream of a profession in a professional league just like the WNBA or the NWSL. Yet even then, they’re unlikely to make enough money for it to be their full-time job. In many countries just like the Philippines, even that’s not an option. “It’s really easy for ladies to quit because there’s nothing to look ahead to,” says Lopa. “It’s really easy to say—I’m done, I’m just going to review.”

With athletes who cannot dream of becoming the subsequent Lebron James in the best way that boys can, girls’ coaches must work twice as hard to maintain girls playing—and to reveal the numerous advantages of staying in sports that don’t have anything to do with someday making it as a professional.

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