This week we are hosting the Canadian Accredited Independent Schools (CAIS) U15 Girls’ Soccer tournament. Starting yesterday, the fields have been full of teams from across Canada competing for their prize. On my way to my first meeting of the day yesterday, I observed the ball suddenly squirt out from one end of the field toward the other, chased hotly by two competing girls; one girl would get a breakaway on goal, and the other would fail to defend the breakaway. When the two of them got close to the ball, one of them quite obviously and unceremoniously shoved the other girl away. Momentarily, she achieved her purpose; immediately, however, she was given a penalty. It was actually amusing, had no bearing on the game, as it happens, and my colleagues and I laughed out loud when I recounted the incident. I have no doubt this will have been turned into a learning moment.
Today the fields are equally busy with more girls’ soccer games. In schools like ours we are committed to the education of the whole student; hence compulsory programs in the arts, athletics and service to others. The power of sport, which is the evidence before me outside my window today, has been researched thoroughly, for both boys and girls. Since it is girls who are before me today, here is some useful research from the Women’s Sports Foundation, an American body that has done the work. This research is confirmed and re-confirmed in study after study:
- 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.
- As little as four hours of exercise a week may reduce a teenage girl’s risk of breast cancer by up to 60%. Breast cancer is a disease that afflicts one out of every eight American women. (Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 1994)
- Forty per cent of women over the age of 50 suffers from osteoporosis (brittle bones). (Osteoporosis, 1996) None of us should want our daughters to repeat the experiences of generations of women – our mothers and grandmothers – who were not permitted to play sports or encouraged to participate in weight-bearing exercises that are necessary to establishing bone mass.
- Girls and women who play sports have higher levels of confidence and self-esteem, and lower levels of depression.
- Girls and women who play sports have a more positive body image and experience higher states of psychological well-being than girls and women who do not play sports.