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Thursday, May 31, 2012

For girls in low-income urban areas, lack of organized sports opportunities is striking

This morning, America SCORES and DC SCORES Executive Director Amy Nakamoto is speaking on a panel at Title IX and Beyond: How To Get the Rest of our Girls Into the Game hosted by the Aspen Institute. You can follow a live stream of the event here. Below, Amy gives her thoughts on the issue of a lack of organized sports opportunities for girls in low-income communities such as Washington, DC.

By Amy Nakamoto
America SCORES and DC SCORES Executive Director

This year represents the 40th anniversary of the passing of Title IX - the groundbreaking legislation that has made it possible for millions of girls to play interscholastic and collegiate sports.

As someone who grew up ‘post-Title IX,’ I personally didn’t know a world where girls were denied an opportunity to play sports. As a teenager growing up in a middle class community in Fairfax County Public Schools (VA), I had ample opportunities to learn and excel in multiple athletic endeavors. Our schools had the resources and placed a priority on JV and varsity teams (and, in some cases, freshman teams, too) so as to expand the offering and accommodate varying skill levels.

The youth sports culture I grew up in was school-based and club-based, allowing me to develop skills and off-the-field abilities that ultimately led to an opportunity to continue playing soccer in college. Because of those opportunities, I developed a love of sports, a love of being active, and a confidence and drive that I’m not sure I would have developed otherwise.

There is a different story, though, in what I see day-to-day in DC public schools.

More specifically, there is a somber narrative that is associated with girls from low-income communities. Many - actually, most - middle and high schools are not flush with opportunities for girls to participate in sports. The limited menu of options, lack of JV teams, and inconsistent supporting infrastructure have left girls literally and figuratively ‘on the sidelines.’

These observations could be perceived by girls as a disinvestment in their education. I know I have seen it this way and worse. I see it as a gap in understanding the link between sport participation and positive health and academic outcomes.

I have to believe that the powers that be are working to change this narrative. And I believe it has to be a comprehensive and evolving strategy to make these strides for all our girls in the District.

For our part at DC SCORES, we are part of the strategy in that we feel we have a model for instilling in girls a love of sport (soccer), a love of being active, and a deep connection between what it means to be an athlete and a dynamic and engaged student.

Our holistic after-school model targets multiple modes of learning, students’ varying levels of motivation, and aims to create an environment that introduces sports in a manner that is supportive, team-oriented, and steeped in youth development principles. By combining self-expression, service and sports, girls can learn concepts of teamwork, develop on and off the field skills, and foster positive peer and adult relationships that are inherent in any traditional ‘sports’ team.

Further, girls can learn a game they have never seen or have been discouraged to play in a safe space that allows them to achieve multiple successes in a variety of ways - ways that make them feel part of a team even if they don’t understand the rules yet. We feel this is a key for engaging girls for multiple years - to create an association to ‘sport’ that is infused with feelings of success, a peer group that is a team on and off the field, and a learning environment that represents healthy, yet challenging competition.

I can only hope it does not take another 40 years for girls from low-income communities to have the same reflections that I have when thinking back on my school sport experience. It’s long overdue for millions of girls in urban and rural settings with fewer resources. Let’s shift the focus and dig deep into strategies that will change their narrative.

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