Last week I was courtside watching my younger daughter’s netball match, as you do on a Friday night (it doubles as my social life.) The parents were huddled together, bouncing in our puffer jackets to keep warm while we watched our girls tear up the court, oblivious to the cold in their netball uniforms, lost in the thrill of the game.
I overheard two mums behind me discussing the action on the next court, where their team was getting what could only be described as a solid thrashing. “They’re going to lose again, and it’ll wreck her whole weekend,” said one about her daughter. “She wants to give it up because she says she’s not good enough. But she loves to play – I don’t get it.”
I wanted to turn around and give this woman a hug. Her 11-year-old who was probably a bundle of energy and sparkly headbands not too long ago, had lost her self-confidence and wanted to give up something she did for fun. My heart ached for both of them.
A recent study, the Suncorp Australian Youth and Confidence 2017 Research Report, found that while sport has a highly positive impact on Australian girls’ self-esteem and friendships, as they get older fewer girls play. As they withdraw from their teams and the peer support team sports offer, girls also do less physical activity, which can impact their mental health, too.
I have two daughters in the thick of early adolescence and all its awkward, spotty glory. As a wise woman once told me: it’s a marathon, not a sprint. School can be tough, friendships can be tricky and hormones are brutal. It’s little wonder low self-esteem tends to seed itself in adolescence. Just when our girls need their confidence the most - up pops a mean girl in their own head.
How do we nix the negativity and reinforce to girls just how great they really are – or at least remind them to hang in there when things are hard? I’ve realised they need to know they’re enough. That they don’t have to be the best at everything. I think we owe it to our tweens and teens to teach them this, to build them up and help them find a positive inner voice by turning up the good stuff they hear and turning down their mean girl.
So I’ve come up with six things I want my girls to know. Not just my girls - their friends and every girl who’s going through times of self-doubt. They might not believe me, or even listen, but every one of them deserves to hear it.
You are a good sport and you are kind.
Being a good sport counts in every facet of life. And kindness gets bonus points. When the girl on the other team took a tumble on the court last week, you helped her up and asked if she was OK. You helped her over to the side because she had a bleeding knee. And you did that without thinking. That’s good sportsmanship and it’s kindness and why #TeamGirls are there for each other. Keep it up.