Women in Sport

On June 5, the four Kosovar women who are working in Pristina—Lumi, Albina, Nora, and Dona—gave a presentation to members of their community on the importance of women in sport (see Tori's recap here). They did a fantastic job speaking about their personal relationship to sport and how it has affected them and talking about the transfer of the skills they've learned in soccer to the rest of life. As coaches, Baeth and I talk about this a great deal. Inspired by our fellow Kosovars, our whole US contingent here decided to take on the task of presenting our own views on women in sport to our (online) community. We hope you enjoy our stories and can learn something from our experiences.

Transferable Skills (Carly)

 I grew up in a soccer family. My father has been a college soccer coach longer than I've been alive, and when I declared "I want to coach" a few years ago, he joked with everyone that some latent coaching gene had finally kicked in. But seriously, soccer is my life—it has provided me a competitive outlet, a cat named "Kicks," an opportunity to earn a Master's degree, a new career, and numerous incomparable opportunities to travel and make new friends. I grew up playing soccer, played soccer in college, and then graduated college to get a "real job." I had intensely studied leadership in high school and college, even majored in it, and I wanted to do something with that, but I had no idea what that something might be. So, I used my studio art degree to get a graphic design job in DC, and I spent four years searching for my place and wanting to make a difference, knowing that this wasn't cutting it. Two years later, I have a graduate degree from Smith in Exercise and Sport Studies, and I find myself in Kosovo speaking with all these amazing, important people about the value of women in sports.

I firmly believe in the value of sport as a tool for teaching athletes skills for life. Coaches are educators. From these coaches, and from their own personal sporting experiences, players learn life skills. Our Mount Holyoke players will discuss these life skills in detail, but I want to touch on a few. First, there is discipline, which is a huge part of being a successful athlete. Players are required to show up on time and prepared for practices, games, and team activities. They also need to be self-motivated to work hard and stay in shape during the long off-season when they are apart from their teammates. Throughout college and upon entering the working world, student-athletes must rely upon this same discipline to successfully function in daily life—getting to class/work/meetings on time, scheduling workouts and homework, and arriving prepared for the challenges they'll face each day. A second major quality that is learned through sports that transfers to EVERYTHING (not that I'm biased) is leadership. Athletes are constantly required to step up to challenges and overcome them, whether we are talking a one-on-one in a game, a fitness test, or a particularly tough practice. The challenges athletes face are physical, mental, and emotional, and they must search deep within themselves to find the courage and strength to overcome them. Furthermore, athletes are required to take responsibility for themselves and others. Even the most individual sports (i.e., swimming or running) operate under the construct of a team, and getting however-many athletes moving in the same direction is a challenge for everyone involved. These leadership qualities athletes develop through sports participation will be called upon time and time again in their lives—humans gravitate toward groups, and group dynamics are never simple. I could go on with a substantial list of transferable life skills, but I'm going to hand it off to the Mount Holyoke players now and let Kat, Cassidy, Emily, Tori, and Hannah tell you about their experiences. Enjoy!

 Confidence (Kat)

I started playing soccer when I was about 6 years old. I wore a bright blue shirt and my team was called the "Smurfs." I then graduated to the "Yellow Jackets." I wasn't a serious soccer player then at all! I used to do cartwheels on the field and pick flowers. My dad was a big influence for me to play. He loves the game of soccer. When I was younger, I didn't realize how impressive it was that he
would manage to work full-time, spend time with the family, and referee many soccer games. There were times in my days of the "Yellow Jackets" when I would have rather just danced than played, but as I got older I realized more and more how much I loved the game. My dad was one of my coaches for a while, during a crucial time in my development as a player. During this time, the "Gateway Gator" team I played on made history for the girl's part of the league, climbing from a low-ranked Division 2 team to Division 1 champions. When I was a junior in high school, our team won the Western MA championship, and came in as the runner-up for state champion. My senior year we won
Western MA again. Starting in 8th grade I took the classes and became a referee also, (of course not as highly ranked as my dad), with much support from him. My junior year of high school I joined a club team, in which this year will be my last year to play because the club only goes up to age 19. And of course, currently I play on the MHC team, or no one would be reading this!

Something I have obtained over the years from playing sports is confidence. Having confidence in yourself is something that is very important to have to get through life (ESPECIALLY for women). Through success in sport, I had faith in myself that I could do whatever I set my mind to. Also, being in shape and physically fit, which is essential, gives one confidence. Not only because these attributes
make a person feel good, you literally can do more activities, and feel better doing them. For  example, an athletic person would have no problem climbing a mountain. And the view at the top would be worth it! Also, being in shape for one sport gives you a better chance at excelling at another sport. One's endurance is usually better, and I know that I just feel stronger, can lift more weight, and never had trouble walking for miles and miles. Another lesson sports gives you is confidence to take on challenges. I know there have been times doing fitness that I thought I had been pushed to my  limit, that I was never going to make it, and BOOM perseverance saw me through and I accomplished what I needed to do. It teaches one to fight in order to make yourself better. It is never easy. For me, confidence in my teammates was something I realized I had to conquer. If you don't
trust your teammates, your team will never be successful; and as a result, neither will you. It's true in real life that you need friends and allies, and this can only happen if you have the ability to put
your full confidence and trust into others.

 Character (Cassidy)

As I ran down the field with my beloved jersey hanging down by my ankles, jumping, weaving, sprinting, and thinking I was absolutely killing it, although probably looking like a waddling tellytubby, I began to love the game of soccer. After all the years I have been playing I owe so much to soccer. It has helped me become less shy and, as an only child, gave me sisters. I have learned the benefits of working hard and the sweet, sweet feeling of success. What I am most grateful for is…my calves. No, just kidding, it has provided me an arena to become a good sport. From the start of my soccer career I was told from coaches and my parents to be a good sport. At first, I took this advice and shook hands with opponents after the game, or during the game, why not, and helped others up when they fall. 

As I have grown, my definition of a good sport has broadened. Today, being a humble, composed player and a role model for my teammates and opponents is what it means, to me, to be a good sport. I have watched opponents and teammates use the soccer field as a place to taunt and ridicule other players. Consequently, the image of soccer was tarnished in my eyes for a long time. I was motivated to be what I define as a good sport in order to preserve the beauty of soccer. Every time I step on the field I tell myself to be composed, humble, and a good role model. These qualities have helped me reach success in so many areas of my life. I wish for the success of the establishment of soccer and other sports in Kosovo so girls will have the opportunity to grow characteristically and reap the benefits from sports like I have. 

Communication and Teamwork (Emily)

It would be an understatement to say that sports have had a huge impact on my life. I started playing sports when I was six years old—softball, basketball, and soccer. I would play anything my older brother played; I wanted to be just like him.  Soccer was definitely my favorite of the three sports. I started playing for a travel soccer club called Cheshire United when I was 6 years old. I loved competing with other teams, having practice almost every night, traveling throughout New England to play in games and tournaments, and developing lifelong friendships with my teammates.  As I got older and continued with soccer, I realized the greater importance and effect that soccer had on my life not only athletically but also socially, academically, and professionally.

Athletics provides and helps to build many qualities that are important in everyday life. Two qualities out of the many that I find extremely important are communication and teamwork. Soccer is a sport that has universal rules. It does not matter where you are from or what language you speak, you have the ability to work with and communicate not only with the players on your team but your opponents as well. The ability to communicate is important because it not only helps to build relationships with people but it also gives people the ability to present themselves with confidence and clarity in whatever they do. Soccer is also a team sport, teaching you to work with the people around you to achieve a common goal. In our academic, social, and professional lives, we are constantly in contact and working with people, whether we like them or not. Playing a sport helps develop ones ability to communicate and work with the people whom they may come in contact with. Having these skills are important aspects in all peoples lives, and leads to success not only on the field but off the field as well.

Friendship (Tori)

Playing with my younger sister in high school was one of the most rewarding experiences that I have ever had. My sister and I, like all other siblings around the globe, fought constantly and never apologized. Going into my senior year, I was not sure how playing on the same team would work out for us. Because we both played defense, the fights could be about formation, who is defending which girl, or even if one of us kept an offender onside. The questions kept building until our first game. Surprisingly enough, we worked extremely well together! Our defensive tactics flowed, our outlook on the game marbled together, and our attitudes throughout the entire season meshed into perfect harmony!

Playing with my younger sister taught me that being on a team with someone can completely change your relationship. Being a part of a sports team forces the entire team to work as one cohesive unit for a common goal. Teams need to know each individual's strengths and weaknesses, and how to work with each one. Through this experience, I have also realized that almost every one of my best friends has been a part of a sports team with me at some point in my life. This shows that sports can connect you to other people in ways that nothing else can.

My sister's and my friendship grew so much out of this experience, and I would not change it for the world.

Sportsmanship (Hannah)

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that sports are the central aspect of my life. Through athletics I have acquired a multitude of invaluable skills, been given countless opportunities, and fostered relationships with some of the most important people in my life. Sports have taught me how to be a team player—a skill that has great relevancy to other areas of life. Through team sports, I'm learning the value of sacrificing for others and I am constantly reminded of the reward of working with a group toward a common goal. Being a part of a whole that’s greater than the individual is one of the most gratifying feelings I could hope for, and I’m lucky enough to experience it daily. I’ve also learned the importance of finding a balance between being an assertive leader and humbly being led. A good teammate is able to advocate for herself, but also knows when to step back and let someone else take the helm. What’s more, my teammates have become some of the most important people in my life. It’s safe to say that the majority of my friends were made through sports, and since I’m an only child, I view my team as a sort of sisterhood. These girls are my role models, and I look up to each of them in a different way—they keep my competitive drive strong.

Sportsmanship is an aspect of athletics that can’t be emphasized enough. An athlete acting in a way that shows her respect for her team, her opponent, and ultimately her sport is one of the most beautiful things that competition inspires. Sportsmanship and spirit of the game require competitors to possess a certain discipline that’s scarce in the non-athletic world. Athletes are responsible for representing a club, school, city, or country in a positive way, so the kind of maturity that sports ultimately demand is something really special. In the end good sportsmanship is what separates the great athletes from the mediocre—a fair competitor is always able to leave the field with no regrets.

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