Sports Her Way: Motivating Girls to start and Stay with Sports


Susan Wilson, a longtime coach and former college gymnastics champion, has written the practical guide for parents who want to encourage their daughters to start — and stay with — sports as a pathway to a lifetime of health and self-esteem.
Sports Her Way coaches parents in each phase of getting their daughters involved with sports. With lively examples and clear advice, ...

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Sports Her Way: Motivating Girls to start and Stay with Sports

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Susan Wilson, a longtime coach and former college gymnastics champion, has written the practical guide for parents who want to encourage their daughters to start — and stay with — sports as a pathway to a lifetime of health and self-esteem.
Sports Her Way coaches parents in each phase of getting their daughters involved with sports. With lively examples and clear advice, Susan Wilson shows parents how to:

  • Understand sports readiness and determine what activities are appropriate for their daughters' physical, emotional, and mental maturity
  • Choose whether a recreational or competitive program is right for their daughters
  • Exercise their daughters' minds by turning disappointments into positive life lessons about persistence, mental fortitude, and self-discipline
  • Seek out diverse role models
  • Create an enthusiasm for fitness that will last a lifetime

Authoritative, yet friendly, Sports Her Way is an indispensable handbook for parents, coaches, would-be coaches, mentors, or anyone who recognizes the vital role sports play in girls' physical and emotional development. With Susan Wilson's help, you will find the smart and healthy way to inspire your young athlete today — while preparing her to be the self-reliant woman of tomorrow.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Donna Lopiano, Ph.D., Executive Director, Women's Sports Foundation A must-read for every parent who wants his or her daughter to grow up to be a healthy and confident woman.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780684865126
  • Publisher: Touchstone
  • Publication date: 8/1/2000
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 0.59 (w) x 5.50 (h) x 8.50 (d)

Meet the Author

From the time I was a little girl, the word "writer" held a special significance to me. I loved the word. I loved the idea of making up stories. When I was about twelve, I bought a used Olivetti manual typewriter from a little hole in the wall office machine place in Middletown, CT called Peter's Typewriters. It weighed about twenty pounds and was probably thirty years old. I pounded out the worst kind of adolescent drivel, imposing my imaginary self on television heroes of the time: Bonanza, Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Star Trek.
Those are my earliest memories of my secret life of writing. For reasons I cannot really fathom, I never pursued writing as a vocation. Although I majored in English, I didn't focus on writing and it wasn't really until I was first married that I hauled out my old Olivetti and began to thump away at my first novel. This was, as I recall, an amorphous thinly plotted excercise in putting sentences together and has mercifully disappeared in some move or another. I didn't try anything more adventurous than some short stories and a lot of newsletters for various things I belonged to until we moved to Martha's Vineyard and I bought my first computer. My little "Collegiate 2" IBM computer was about as advanced as the Olivetti was in its heyday but it got me writing again and this time with some inner determination that I was going to succeed at this avocation. I tapped out two novels on this machine with its fussy little printer. Like the first one, these were wonderful absorbing exercises in learning how to write.
What happened then is the stuff of day time soap opera. Writing is a highly personal activity and for all of my life I'd kept it secret from everyone but my husband, who, at the time, called what I did nights after the kids went to bed, my "typing." Until, quite by accident, I discovered that here on the Vineyard nearly everyone has some avocation in the arts. Much to my delight, I discovered a fellow closet-writer in the mom of my kids' best friends. For the very first time in my life I could share the struggle with another person. I know now that writers' groups are a dime a dozen and I highly recommend the experience, but with my friend Carole, a serendipitious introduction to a "real writer", Holly Nadler, resulted in my association with my agent. Holly read a bit of my "novel" and liked what she read, suggested I might use her name and write to her former agent. I did and the rest, as they say, is history.
Not that it was an overnight success. The novel I'd shown Holly never even got sent to Andrea. But a third, shorter, more evolved work was what eventually grew into Beauty with the guidance of Andrea and her associates at the Jane Rotrosen Agency.
The moral of the story: keep at it. Keep writing the bad novels to learn how to write the good ones. And, yes, it does help to know someone. Andrea might have liked my work, but the path was oiled by the introduction Holly Nadler provided.
Hawke's Cove is my second published novel, although there is a "second" second novel in a drawer, keeping good company with the other "first" novels.

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Read an Excerpt


One November day in 1983 I found myself seated at a desk on the second floor of a converted airplane hangar in Los Angeles. Anyone who knows me knows that sitting is not what I do, especially in nylons and a skirt, but there I was trying to digest everything. Phones were ringing, people scurried about, and the energy was unmistakable. It was a thrilling scene that happens only once every four years. And I was there. All I could think of was that a dream had come true, a fantasy of being part of the highest level of athletic achievement on the planet. You see, two weeks earlier I was recruited to be the director of gymnastics competition for the 1984 Olympics — the dream and the challenge of a lifetime rolled into one mesmerizing event. I couldn't help thinking what a long way I was from Boston, where I grew up enjoying sports but never dreaming that it would dominate my every waking moment.

How did I get started in sports as a girl? The seeds were planted by my parents, who always encouraged me to be active when I was a child. In our house of five children (two girls and three boys) there was no gender distinction as far as sports were concerned. Whatever sport my dad was trying to teach us, everybody tried — for instance, many Sundays after church we would all go to the playground and play baseball. Happily, my days were filled with motion and a built-in play partner, my twin sister, Judy. We loved to skate wearing the old metal roller skates, the kind where you used a key to tighten them onto your shoes; we walked on stilts my dad built for us; we knew every way to duck in and out of a swinging rope. In the winter we would ice-skate, fling ourselves onto our red sleds, or ride the toboggan run at the playground — it was all very electrifying to the spirit. I spent countless hours riding my bicycle, swimming, and playing tennis. It's true I had my dolls, but playing sports of all kinds was a far more addictive activity. It was just bunches of fun and made me feel good.

How did I stay hooked on sports? I found my passion. In my junior year of high school I recall sitting cross-legged on a cold wooden gym floor in my not so flattering green gym suit. But on that fateful fall day none of that mattered, because in front of me was a trampoline and a set of uneven bars, the names of which I don't even think I knew at the time. They must have been in storage. At least I had never seen them before. With a sense of anticipation and excitement, I wondered what you did on those things. Looking back to the day of my awakening, I can vividly see my gym teachers' faces and recollect their names, Mrs. Reardon and Miss Finks. They wore crisply starched, tailored, cotton blouses and bright, plaid kilts. After a brief introduction they called for volunteers to be demonstrators on the apparatus. My arm shot up in the air with all the energy I could find. Luckily I was picked to be a demonstrator. That day is well recorded in my memory as the day I started gymnastics and began a fusion with sports that changed my life — I had found my calling, something that captured my imagination, my heart, my spirit.

The short year and a half that I spent training during my junior and senior years at high school led to four incredible seasons of competition at the University of Massachusetts. Three out of the four years I was fortunate to represent my college at the AIAW (Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women) National Championships.

Though I majored in sociology in school, it soon became apparent that sports would be the focus of my career. After a couple of years of searching for a good teaching opportunity, at the age of twenty-five I settled on becoming, with a partner, a small-business owner of a gymnastics school in New Jersey. What I didn't have in terms of business knowledge, which was quite a lot, I made up for with persistence. After six intense years of growing our program, one location became four, and we were training more than a thousand girls and boys.

While running a business, I began to realize that the growing number of gymnastics competitors called for an increased number of gymnastics officials. Using whatever spare time I had on the weekends, I studied, became a certified state official, and judged competitions throughout the state. After a few years I learned that a higher ranking — becoming certified at the regional, then national levels — meant judging more prestigious, higher-level gymnastics. You guessed it, I caught the vision and moved up in my rating until I became an elite national judge. And yes, going to the more prominent meets was a very heady experience.

As gymnastics grew in my state, so did the need for organization. Further compelled to support growth of the sport, I committed my efforts to being part of the board of directors for the New Jersey Gymnastics Association.

Somewhere between running a business, boardwork, and officiating entered a stroke of luck. My business partner (now my husband) was asked to direct an international invitational competition in Madison Square Garden. Awesome! I thought. Except for one thing. Most of the judges and the technical committee were European. The next thing I knew, my husband and I were studying German. Miraculously the event proceeded with only minor glitches, and I felt that in a single weekend I learned as much as I had in four years of college. Our efforts couldn't have been all bad, because the next year we were asked to be the directors again. But the big time came when we were asked to be part of the administrative team for the 1979 World Championships of Gymnastics in Texas. My training at the world championships then led to my being hired by the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee in 1983. The eleven months that I spent planning and organizing in Los Angeles was and is the dream of my lifetime. The thrill of the Olympics made me want to share and excite girls about the magic of sports participation. You see, the girl in the green gym suit had come a long way — and sports had become, and is, the focus of my life.

What It's All About

This book is about how to get your daughter off to a great start in sports and how to know what the best programs are to keep her involved for a lifetime of enjoyment and personal benefits. Girls play and learn sports their way. For a variety of reasons, little girls play and approach physical activity differently from little boys. They don't always spend as much time running, climbing, tumbling, or playing with balls as boys do. Girls are not usually playfully aggressive or competitive. There has been and continues to be extensive scientific research to get to the heart of the matter of how boys and girls play differently. The implications are always controversial.

Many of my thoughts in this book come from countless hours of coaching and watching the play of thousands of youngsters. A group of boys left alone in a room will soon be wrestling, playing dodgeball with an old shoe, a basketball, or any old thing that is found lying around. Girls may engage in some of those activities, but most likely they will form a circle, create a group dance, or do some other cooperative activity. My husband and I have watched this group dancing thing performed by the girl gymnasts in our training center and have wondered if such a phenomenon could ever happen with a group of boys. It hasn't been observed to date. My conclusion that boys and girls are different may not be scientific — it is empirical. Parents will agree. Boys and girls are different in their approach to play.

Our society encourages boys and girls to play differently. Parents buy dolls for girls and balls for boys. Occasionally a boy plays with dolls. These dolls are soldiers, astronauts, or robot sci-fi secret laser ray killers. Boys are encouraged to be aggressive, combative, and daring with their doll toys. Occasionally girls will pick up a ball and play catch.

Here's a news flash. Little girls are very athletic and receptive to sports instruction at an earlier age than little boys. They can listen, they can convert coaching information to skill, and they can strive with the best of the boys through the elementary school years. But then something happens. They may lose self-esteem, interest, and strength unless they are encouraged to keep on the sports track. While you may have started your daughter in sports, your next job is to keep her in sports.

What I Believe

Sports provided me with the opportunity to meet hundreds of new people, whether I was competing against other schools as an athlete, instructing children in my gymnastics classes, attending workshops as a coach, or traveling internationally to athletic events. I have had a chance to share ideas with, struggle with, and be excited about accomplishments great and small with all kinds of people, at all levels of experience. Sports has truly been a way of expressing my personality. It is a joy for me and has enriched my life in many, many ways.

The reason I wrote this book is that I passionately believe that sports can transform a girl's life if she is encouraged and supported right out of the high chair. Having witnessed so many girls discovering their love for sports, and having seen how sports helped them to develop into happier, more confident individuals, I wrote this book to encourage you to help your daughter discover that love for sports.

I believe that parents are the key role models for young girls. When you provide an early start out in the backyard playing catch or taking classes in a preschool gymnastics program, your daughter will be ready to play sports as she grows older.

I believe I must set an example as a coach and accept that I am a role model, too.

I believe that physical activity, sports, and recreation should be part of everyone's lives. The benefits of good health, a sense of well-being, and the act of continually striving contribute mightily to the development of the whole person. Every time your daughter makes a gain through sports, she's giving herself a personal promotion.

I want your daughter to have the impression that she can control her destiny — instead of waiting for someone to take care of her. I believe if she's given thoughtful training, she'll be a capable decision maker and self-reliant. My early years in sports marked the beginning of a journey that gave me direction and strength for the rest of my life. And I'm still on the road.

This Is Your Starter Kit

This is a practical book designed to give you the kinds of information you can use in your backyard or while volunteering in community athletic programs. There are three distinct aims for this book. First, to show you what you can do to engage your daughter in athletic activity, regardless of her age or physical abilities — or your own knowledge of a particular sport. Second, to explore the many ways that sports provides mental, emotional, social, and physical benefits to your daughter. Third, to learn why girls stay with or drop out of sports and how you can keep your daughter involved for the long term. Additionally, I will advise you as to certain things that are helpful and are not helpful when it comes to handling a young athlete's fears, failures, attitudes, and sense of "sportswomanship." If you're considering becoming a coach, there is a chapter on how to prepare yourself, what to expect, and how I believe coaching girls is different from coaching boys.

My Hopes and Dreams for You and Your Girls

When you enroll your daughter in a preschool gymnastics class, play catch with her out in the yard, take her to the park where she can master the monkey bars, or sign her up for soccer, you're paving the way for her to enjoy a lifelong relationship with physical activity. My hope is that you will come to believe that sports should be part of her life. The benefits of good health, social interaction, learning to make decisions, mastering physical skills, and continually striving toward personal goals contribute mightily to the development of the whole person. By setting the stage for your daughter to become involved with sports, you're not only giving her the chance to find her passion, you're enabling her to become the well-rounded, self-reliant person she deserves to be.

I hope you take this book to heart and help your daughter grow in body and spirit through sports. It's a remarkable motivator. Remember that your daughter's body has to see her through a long life. Let's give her a healthy and competent one. Her level of confidence and well-being will be the emotional tools that will guide her. Best of all, you will have peace of mind for a job well done. I warmly welcome you and your daughter to Sports Her Way. Now, get together with your daughter, lace up your sneakers, and get ready for some fun.

Copyright © 2000 by Susan Wilson

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Table of Contents




The Bonanza of Benefits


Starting Right out of the High Chair Makes a Lasting Difference


Understanding Sports Readiness


Creating a Lifetime Enthusiasm for Sports


Shopping for Recreation and Competition Programs


Using Player-Friendly Language


Exercise the Mind Along with the Muscles


What It Takes to Coach Girls


Role Models Come in All Shapes and Sizes


Protecting a Girl's Right to Play Sports Her Way


Helping Your Daughter Stay with Sports



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