I was running in my Brooklyn neighborhood last weekend when I came to a halt at the soccer fields just south of Prospect Park in the Parade Grounds. I often run past this area and marvel at the intensity of the young kids racing around in the grass. This time I stopped and eventually took a seat – the exuberant players were young teens and they were a culturally mixed group of pony-tailed girls. I was especially impressed by the bouncy young goalie at my end of the field, who cheered on her team, then got the opportunity to make a stunning save. As they walked off the field for a break, her teammates were circled around her, laughing.
I was mesmerized. Of course, I know girls have been playing soccer for a long time now. But watching these particular girls suddenly took me back to my pony-tailed childhood when there was very little encouragement for a girl in team sports. I grew up with two brothers and until the age of 12, I played baseball and street hockey with my older brother Bill and his friends, and chased around with them on our bikes. In grade school, the girls were taught basketball, not a sport where I excelled, but at least a lot of running was involved. However I’ll never forget the summer when my mother took me aside and said I was too old to play with my brother. I needed to be a young lady. I tried playing tennis with my girlfriend, but it never became a passion for me the way team games had been. And the next year I started an honors high school where phys ed was a low priority.
I sat there wondering if my teenage years would have been a lot less painful if girls had played soccer in my Detroit hometown. As a teenager I felt very isolated, but I realize now that the lack of team sports to channel my natural teenage anxieties and fears helped fuel a major depression by junior year. My life continued to be a see saw of minor health crises throughout college. I always bounced back, but I didn’t get my exuberant childhood health back until I joined a food coop in my late 20s, discovering biking, running and organic foods. So many of the successful women I’ve known have kept up their dedication to sports and fitness; often that commitment comes from an exposure to team sports when they were young. Men have more readily recognized that link between physical fitness and business success.
As I left the bench and the soccer playing girls, I felt so happy for them. Go, girls!