Female athletes at the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang will astound audiences around the world with their talent and competitive drive. They should also remind us of what sports can do for girls and women.
“Sport teaches children about teamwork, dedication, discipline, and how to succeed under pressure,” first lady Melania Trump said in November when she visited teenagers in South Korea to promote gender equality in sports.
“When we assure girls and boys have equal access to sports, we are ensuring they have an equal chance to gain these valuable skills,” Trump said. Her visit was in support of U.S. Embassy Seoul’s GirlsPlay2 program. (Follow the #GirlsPlay2 hashtag on Twitter to learn more about the initiative.)
Former Olympic gold medalist Janet Evans, a swimmer, says sport teaches discipline “and it gave me the confidence that I can do anything I set my mind to.”
Qualities developed as athletes help women succeed in business, according to a 2015 report. Among female executives in Fortune 500 companies, 80 percent report they played competitive sports at some point in their lives. (Among women who are chief officers in those companies, a startling 95 percent played competitive sports.)
“It’s impossible to remove sports from the equation when it comes to determination and success,” says Sarah Hillyer, who directs the Center for Sport, Peace, and Society at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
Studies, such as those from the Women’s Sports Foundation, find that sports improve girls’ concentration and higher-order thinking.
“Girls who play sports have better health, increased confidence, higher academic achievement and improved well-being,” Hillyer says. The findings hold true for girls of all skill levels, she says.
Add to that the known health benefits of sports for girls: reduced instances of obesity, diabetes and breast cancer.
Girls don’t have to grow into Olympic athletes to get all the benefits from sport. As Trump observed during her visit to Seoul, “Some girls want to become Olympians, and many girls simply want to be active and enjoy sport for the fun of it.”