What I Want For My Daughter: To Be Empowered Through Sports
It is because of sports that I have harnessed the resiliency, determination, and adaptability, and the belief that nothing is impossible. As a mother, this is what I want for my daughter as well. In fact, as a human being, I want this for everyone's daughters and sons. But it is the young women who need the opportunities the sports offer so they are better equipped to be the leaders of tomorrow.
Disclaimer: We have two sons and a daughter. We aim to raise them as human beings, not girls or boys. We don't limit our daughter's sports experiences to "girl things" and sons' to "boy things". They get introduced to many different sports from an early age and they will get to chose their main sport when the time comes around age 15-16. Until then, they get to practice their skills in a variety of sports.
However, this blog post focuses on how being active in sports can empower girls. From a ten thousand feet perspective, women are often considered more passive participants in sports and face other kinds of challenges from their male counterparts. In some cultures, it is seen as inappropriate to let your girls participate in sports, and in some countries, female participation in sports is banned.
Yes, we can gag and flap our gums about how discriminating and sexist it is, but many industrialized, progressive countries have a lot of work to do to enable, empower and equip young girls to participate in sports, as much as they want.
Last week's events (without going into details) left me thinking about this. What role has being part of sports played in my life? What role has it played in my female friends' lives? Why is this so important to me?
First, sports have had a huge impact on my life. Without it, I am certain I would still be showing snow in North Finland. Not that there is anything wrong with it, in fact, I would love to shovel some snow right about now.
Second, it is important because I intimately know the power that being part of sports has in empowering women of ALL ages! I get goosebumps when I think back to the moment I was coaching moms from our school. A few of them were Muslim women, just incredible, amazing women, who told me they would not be running but walking. I said: "ok, that's fine. You may walk. But let me ask you a question. Why do you not run? " "Because I was told not to run, so I kind of never did," I said: "Well, you are here now, I am watching you, you are safe. You are here with other women. You Can Run. Try It, and Tell me how it feels."
And guess what.
These three women were the only ones who came every.single.time.no.matter.what. And they run! Oh boy, did they run?!
This Mother's Day, we were coming off from lockdown. Things were not normal. It was a pretty stressful time. Elearning. Dad working from home. I didn't go anywhere for a couple of months, not even the grocery store. There was no such thing as alone time.
The kids are wondering what to do for Mother's Day. My oldest suggest that we all run a marathon for mom. My heart was so full. THE BEST PRESENT EVER!
Below my daughter is showing you the tally marks for the marathon that turned into an ultra as we just didn't want to stop running.
Really, do you see the smile on my daughter's face? She is as happy as can be as she is getting sprayed with cold water. She tallied up 10 K! She is 8 years old. Guess who got donats after?!
I believe that through being active in sports, young women learn leadership and relationship skills, but perhaps most importantly, they gain confidence and courage to pursue their dreams whether in the sports arena or in life.
At least this is precisely what happened in my life.
Through active participation in cross country skiing, and athletics in my childhood and youth, I learned many skills, but most importantly I harnessed the self-belief that anything is "work-out-able", and nothing is impossible.
This background enabled me to trust in myself when I embarked on this wild rollercoaster ride as an expatriate globetrotter. Having lived in 6 countries on 4 continents, one surely needs rock-solid positivity and a "can-do" attitude.
One of the most empowering aspects of my life has been the will and curiosity to explore my own limits and shatter the ceilings while pursuing ambitious goals! And I believe that often women are more attracted to this kind of challenge rather than win over a friend or "frenemy" in competitions.
Active young women of today will grow into future leaders, and research shows that when women lead, both economic and social impact is higher and more positive in companies, governments, and society. I've seen this time and time again. Here's an example from the time I lived in Norway in my 20s.
I was co-founder and leader of "Powder Puff Girls" a female participation project for the Norwegian Snowboard Association. Our vision was to empower young women to become more active in every part of snowboarding, as athletes, organizers, judges, coaches. Through our work, we changed the paradigm of patriarchal snowboarding with women as sexual objects in snowboard. As a young girl, why would you dream of becoming a snowboarder only to pose in the media in your bikini holding a snowboard? "No way", we said and we challenged the snowboard media to start publishing active, kickass pictures of absolutely badass women who were already on the top of the snowboarding world and/or up-and-coming snowboard stars as well.
This was only one aspect of our work. We gave the young women opportunities to take ownership of their participation in snowboard by educating and equipping them with the right tools and resources to organize their own training camps and events. A major shift was happening in all parts of the country!
Sometimes we used a very simple tool to engage women. We asked them. Plain and simple, we asked to be part of the movement. And guess what most of them said? Yup, you are right, if you just said YES! Sometimes the most powerful method is to just ask.
Showing the way through role models, and by simply asking them are one of the most powerful, positive ways to engage the young of today to become leaders of tomorrow. We had new snowboard clubs pop up in Norway that was run by young women and men in their teens and twenties. And young women were in decision-making positions from the top down to the grassroots.
Our very own secretary of generals and the President of the Norwegian Snowboard Association were females for years, in the board of directors, we had equal representation, and this rippled down all the way to the grassroots. We gained major attention in the Norwegian Sports scene and in international Snowboard for this. And it all started with someone asking us.
Many of these young women that were involved in PPG, are now in the decision- making positions in major Norwegian and international companies changing the paradigm.
In general, the Nordic countries are at the forefront when it comes to progressively change the society from the conventional archetypes of the patriarchy to female lead society. When Finland elected their new government in 2019, all five major political parties were led by women under 40 years of age. The rise of the female power in the Nordic countries has been partly enabled by legislative measures such as Gender Quotas (minimum of 40% of Board Members & Parliament must to be women), progressive and forward-thinking maternity and paternity leave, and subsidized childcare- to name just a few. Again, it is about enabling and equipping women to be an active role in society in ALL venues.
Being raised in a progressive country, and having always believed that I can do whatever I want to do, the decision of not going for my own career, left me stunned and quietly crying. A choice between pursuing my own career the way I had intended (Ph.D. in Sports Science), and following my husband's international career, and stay home with kids. A decision, frankly not many agreed to when I talked about it with my friends. But I've always lived MY life and my life only.
On one hand, I wanted to be present to my kids, as I grew up with two working parents and a lot of time alone with my sister. My parents were working at all hours, my dad even had three jobs to keep the food on the table and my mom was working as a nurse, and studying. They were devoted parents, but there are only 24hrs a day. I wanted more for my kids.
The flipside was that I would have to be really creative about how I was going to pursue my dreams and goals. Thankfully the technology these days allows me to coach clients where ever they may be, whenever.
It was not an easy decision to make, but as always, when I go in, I go ALL in. And I wholeheartedly believe that everything I have done and accomplished in my life has been because of the skillsets and self-belief I learned through sports.
As an athlete, I already know this for myself to be true, but as a mother, I see firsthand what an incredible, empowering, uplifting effect sports have on my own children.
Last weekend I was watching our kids play baseball, witnessing a whole plethora of emotions. And my heart was singing HALLELUYAH! Of course, it is difficult to see your own kid make a mistake and be disappointed, heartbroken, crying. But because of what I've gone through in sports, I KNOW in my heart that the kid just went through a major learning experience he/she may never get anywhere else. And it makes me so happy.
As parents, we tend to sow pillows under our kids' arms, to dampen the pain when they fall. We remind them not to run. (I always cringe when I hear this and have to restrain myself from screaming: "Run, Forest, RUN!!!!!" lol)
We want to prevent the kids from getting hurt, disappointed, disencouraged. We mean well, but we are stripping them the opportunities to learn what they are truly made of, what they are capable of, and empower them to find out WHO THEY REALLY ARE.
You know what I am talking about.
When were the last time you went through hardship (probably not long ago in these Covid times) and you used the skills and mindset tools you learned as a child/ young doing sports?
When you go through a rough patch in life, when you see no light at the end of the tunnel.... when the only person who is there with you, is you.....
you are faced with the person God put on this earth to be. It's a very raw moment. A moment that may last for hours, days, weeks, months.
It's you and you only. Facing the truth of who you are. And only you will find the way to the end of the tunnel...
Being active in sports offer these mini-series of learning the person you are and who you were meant to be.
We all make mistakes. Mistakes are only failures if we don't learn from them. And in sports we are given a LOT of opportunities to learn. And opportunities to move on to face yet another challenge.
Being active in sports offers Miniature Life Lessons that prepare the kids to tackle BIG Life Lessons later on.
To me, signing my kids up for sports is a NO brainer. It is not just about learning healthy habits, gaining fitness, learning relationship skills, but it is about preparing them for life.
So cut off those pillows you've sown under your kid's arms, push the kid off the cliff (FIGURATIVELY ONLY PLEASE) and trust that she/he will learn to grow wings in the air.
Seriously though, please don't push your kid off a cliff. Just don't. This is NOT meant as advice and I take no responsibility for your actions.
IT IS A JOKE, OK?!
Unless she is strapped in a snowboard and knows what she is doing!
And for goodness sake, stop saying: "DON'T RUN!"
Whatever you do next, let it be to sign your daughter and son for sports. It is the best you can do for them. Give them the opportunity to learn life skills.
And when the time comes and they play, either use that phone to film them, or do a workout yourself while you watch (if allowed... here in Dubai some sports do not let adults watch due to covid restrictions) or go for a run!
Yours in sports,
Marjaana AKA Tired Mom Runs
Appreciate if you can click on these SM links and give me a follow