The need for sports in the lives of teenage girls has been found to be more keen that ever. The topic of female leadership and sports arose spontaneously with a friend who had rowed throughout high school with the non-profit organization Row New York. My friend and I understood sports as having ignited a fire within us, something that drove us to success in academics. For Gaby, rowing had given her reasons to push the boundaries of her body. It had also made her understand that pushing the boundaries of her mind could also be just as satisfying.
In a recent article, Gillian Tett outlines the many examples of women in the "C-Suite," or the corporate boardroom, that have participated in sports in high school or college. In the survey administered to 20 women holding the title of "Chief" of a company or corporation, 19 had played a sport in high school or college, while 10 still practiced a sport.
Tett claims that the extensive and aggressive participation in sports of women like Condoleezza Rice (figure skating), Hillary Clinton (baseball) and even Sherryl Sandberg (aerobics instructor) plays a role in their success.
The author convincingly uses survey data to argue that sports have helped these and the other C-suite women that were surveyed accomplish as much as they have today. Out of the 20 women participating in the survey, 19 played a sport at a high level in high school, while 10 still participate in some form of sport today.
Though the author acknowledges that participating in a sport creates a sense of discipline and teamwork, skills needed to climb the corporate ladder and ensure the completion of projects, another interesting point of reasoning emerges:
"Girls who play a sport at school learn at a young age that it is acceptable to compete aggressively. They also discover that success does not depend on looking good and that it can be acceptable to take pleasure in winning. That might seem an obvious point, at least to an adult man. But it is not so self-evident to young girls who are exposed to modern Hollywood teen – or tweenie – culture."
Being aggressive on the field turns out to be one of the key experiences that can develop assertive women in the boardroom. I recall the speech of my coach whenever we prepare for a tough match: "This is your turf, and no one can come here and take this from you. Fight for every inch of ground, because it already belongs to you." The confidence entailed in such a process of claiming victory through competitiveness can ensure the success of many women in a world hinged between an agreeable demeanor and the use of aggressive growth tactics.
Allowing young women to play sports at a competitive level gives the sense of confidence that many young girls are lacking today. It is common knowledge that young women lose confidence in their bodies and have low self-esteem starting in their early tween years. The social pressures to not only look a certain way, but also present certain images of standard gender behaviors leads many to feel that competition is "un-ladylike."
There are many different ways to ensure that young women have confidence in their abilities to succeed. If the desire is to ensure a higher participation of women in the corporate boardroom, then increasing the funding for afterschool sports activities will ensure that not only privileged young women have access to confidence-boosting and self-affirming activities.