Issue 5 out now!

Female athletes join Nike in a conversation about the role of coaches for girls and women in sports.

By Hanna McNeila.

It is a known fact that exercise helps the human body and mind in many ways, especially for young people. Research shows that playing sports can help children and young adults gain confidence and self-esteem, perform better in school, and live a healthier lifestyle. Despite these benefits, by age 14, girls have dropped out of sport at twice the rate of boys. This is something that Nike is aiming to change.

The sports juggernaut recently released its latest initiative, the ‘Made to Play Coaching Girls Guide,’ a manual for coaches to help make sports more fun and welcoming for girls. The guide was created in partnership with We Coach, with additional support from Youth Sport Trust. As a supplement to the five pillar plan, Nike also hosted a panel of four inspiring female athletes who discussed their experiences in sport and how their coaches have supported them and helped them get to where they are today.

The lineup of guests included Olympic medalist and Nike coach Shalane Flanagan, Olympic long-distance runner Marielle Hall, Portland Thorns soccer player Sophia Smith, and Las Vegas Aces WNBA player A’ja Wilson. The conversation was led by Nike’s social and community impact general manager, Caitlin Morris.

During the discussion, which was held via Zoom, the athletes discussed a number of topics including the difficulties they faced compared to their male counterparts, their relationships with coaches, and the environments that helped them thrive.

Smith recalled some of the many times her coaches helped her face the discouragement that came with being a young woman in sports. “There is a huge amount of disparity between male and female athletes that needs to be addressed and needs to be fixed,” Smith said. “But I think when a coach believes in you and has respect for you, then that can put confidence in yourself and can make you realize, “I can achieve anything a male athlete can achieve and my gender isn’t going to stop me from doing that.”’

Hall, a long-distance runner, discussed the importance of Nike’s fifth tip for coaches, which is to ‘encourage girls to be brave not perfect.’ Hall mentioned that something she has learned from her coaches is to focus on herself and her work and not compare herself to fellow athletes. “It’s ok for a workout to look perfect for someone else and terrible for you.” Hall said. “Embrace that part of the work. So, you have to work a little bit harder today, it’s important to have ownership in that.”

The panel concluded with the athletes sharing tips they would give parents to help them keep their daughters in sports. The athletes were in consensus that ways to encourage young girls to pursue sports is to let them try multiple games, make sure it’s fun for them, set goals for them, and always help them remember: it’s about progress, not perfection.