When I was five, I started playing soccer.  By the time I was ten, I added volleyball, softball, and basketball to the mix.  I wasn’t particularly good at any of them (but I wasn’t terrible, either.)  And I learned both how to play as a team – and how to push myself to excel, even when it was hard work.

Believe it or not, those wind sprints stay with me today.  Growing up as a girl post Title IX made a significant impact in my life – especially compared to my friends who grew up prior to its passage.  In my school, we could play whatever sports we wanted (and there were many).   When my brother went to soccer practice, so did I. When he learned it was part of life to win – and to lose – and to fight hard – and to work as a team – I was learning those same lessons.  I was his equal, and I knew it from the day I set foot on the soccer field.

Today, schools across the country continue to try to offer equal access and funding to women’s sports – from the elementary through collegiate levels.  It’s an uphill battle – but a valuable one.  Add in the challenges of getting kids active at ALL in these days of obesity and Wiis on every corner, and organizations who are trying to promote activity and health are facing some incredible challenges.

The Women’s Sports Foundation was formed in 1974 by Billie Jean King, to advance the lives of girls and women through sports and physical activity.   Today, the Foundation continues to be active because there is STILL a need.  Why do they do it?  The Foundation says the following about its work: (I’ve bolded the three points that hit home the most for me.)  

The Foundation works for equal opportunity for our daughters to play sports so they, too, can derive the psychological, physiological and sociological benefits of sports participation.

o   High school girls who play sports are less likely to be involved in an unintended pregnancy, more likely to get better grades in school, and more likely to graduate than girls who do not play sports.

o   Girls and women who play sports have higher levels of confidence and self-esteem and lower levels of depression.

o   Sport is where our children learn about teamwork, goal setting and the pursuit of excellence.  In an economic environment where the quality of our life is dependent on two-income families, our daughters cannot be less prepared for the highly competitive workplace than our sons.

o   Eighty percent of the female executives at Fortune 500 companies identified themselves as former “tomboys” and having played sports. 

o   The Foundation works to afford females equal opportunity to work and be volunteer leaders in sports organizations and the sports industry.

The Foundation gives away grants – $10,000 to $20,000 per week – to help introduce girls to sports -and to help support amazing grass-roots efforts to achieve this objective.  They also do a great job advocating for women and girls:

o   One of the top five public grant-giving women’s funds in the United States, the Foundation distributes $10,000-20,000 per week from operating dollars to provide opportunities for socioeconomically underprivileged and inactive girls to participate in sports and physical activity.

o   The Foundation’s advocacy efforts have directly affected the amount of scholarship dollars supporting educational opportunities for female student-athletes in the United States.  In 1972, women received only $100,000 but now receive $617 million a year.

o   In the past 34 years, the Foundation has awarded more than $50 million in educational and cash grants to advance participation, research and leadership in sports and physical activity for girls and women.

o   The Foundation’s support of national laws prohibiting sex discrimination has resulted in an increase in high school girls’ varsity sports participation from 1 in 27 in 1972 to 2 in 5 girls in 2006.

o   In the 2004 and 2006 Olympic and Paralympic Games, 33 of the women competing received Travel and Training grants from the Foundation, and five medals were earned by the grantees.

So, as you’re thinking about how to make a difference in someone’s life, it’s not too far off to think that a grant to the WSF would be both meaningful – and well used – this holiday season.  Consider it your gift to the next generation of women athletes. 

Alternatively, make your gift the gift of your time.  The Foundation lists the following activities that you can engage in to help continue to advance girls participation in sports:

1. Educate yourself. Learn the ins and outs of the law and its interpretations and become an advocate for gender equity in sports. Visit the Issues and Research section of our site and peruse our Title IX articles.

2. Write a letter to your Congressperson. We’ve elected these people to represent our best interests, now is a perfect time to hold them responsible to the ideals of their constituents. The common belief of providing girls and equal playing field needs to be a bigger priority than special interest money.

3. Become a member of the Women’s Sports Foundation. We, the national leaders in Title IX advocacy, have worked tirelessly for 25 years to increase opportunities for girls and women in sport and educate the public about this necessity. Join our team and begin making a difference today.

4. Review and connect with your local newspaper. The media needs to know when they are doing a good job. When you compliment the media, they will give you more of what they were applauded for. When the media covers women’s sports the way you think they should, e-mail the editor, sports editor or station manager and tell him or her how much you appreciate the coverage. Likewise, the media needs to hear from you when coverage of women’s sports is sexist, biased or simply not there.

5. Make a donation to the Women’s Sports Foundation. Your donations help give us the fuel to do the important advocacy work that we do every day on behalf of girls and women. Beyond legal and public policy work, we give hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to provide opportunities for girls to play sports through our GoGirlGo! grants.

6. Support women’s sports with your dollars. Like it or not, the business of women’s sports is still in relative infancy compared to men’s sports. Want to see women’s sports thrive and grow? Go to a local women’s college game. Buy season tickets to women’s professional league games. When it’s time to give gifts to others, think of purchases that pump money into the business of women’s sports.

I think they’ve said it best.  Whichever course you choose, thanks for reading!

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