Erica Lewis credits sports with giving her confidence. A heavyset girl, she played soccer in high school, and her powerful kicks often sent the ball sailing into the opponents’ territory. “The best part,” she says, “was that the crowd loved it when I kicked the ball. Everyone would say, ‘Ahhh.’ Then the clapping would begin.”
Sports helped Lewis develop satisfaction with her body, a feeling every daughter needs. During their teen years, girls sometimes lose self-esteem. Typically, one signal of this loss is discontent with their own bodies.
Most adolescent girls worry now and then about their appearance and about the physical changes they undergo. That’s normal. But if your daughter’s concern starts to undermine her self-assuredness, if she grimaces each time she looks in the mirror, she may be losing touch with how to believe in her body. Joan Brumberg, author of The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls, has dubbed this loss “bad body fever.” She argues that it is far too common among our daughters.
Fortunately, participating in sports helps girls feel more positive. Being athletic helps your daughter see her body not merely as decorative, but as capable of great physical feats. It changes her focus from how her body looks to what her body can do.
Building Muscle, Building Confidence
No matter what her skill level, you can encourage your daughter to be active, and you can express appreciation for her physical ability. Each time you say something like, “It feels great to run hard, doesn’t it?” or “What a rush when you reach the top!” you help her to focus on how good it feels to challenge her physical limits. Each time you compliment her game, you indirectly boost her confidence. She feels stronger inside and out when she hears you say, “You really charged that ball today,” or “Your kick looks solid this season.”
Offering this encouragement isn’t always easy. Some parents feel unsettled by the sight of a grimy, sweaty, dirt-streaked daughter. Many of us grew up when girls did not have as many sports opportunity as they have today. The change can take some getting used to. Sometimes we struggle with a sugar-and-spice factor, the expectation that being feminine means being delicate and neat.
The fastest way to overcome sugar-and-spice ideas is to watch your daughter’s determined face when she sinks a basket or finishes a lap. She doesn’t care how she looks or smells when she crosses the finish line. She knows it doesn’t matter.
Working up a Sweat
Try these ideas to increase your daughter’s confidence:
Throw overhand. Teach your daughter the overhand throw, an element in many sports, from a tennis serve to a volleyball spike.
Buy gear that fits. A girl who has always been active may feel self-conscious as her body changes shape. Growing breasts may make her feel awkward or uncomfortable when she runs or jumps. She’ll feel more confident if you help her find a sports bra and clothing that fits
Watch women play. Subscribe to women’s sports magazines, and take your daughter to women’s sports events. Be a fan of women who play hard.
Find the measure. Help your daughter focus on how she feels when she’s active. Remind her that the true measure of sports success comes from inside her body. If she feels energized when she rides her bike or climbs rocks, she is building self-esteem.
Frame the action. Among the posed and well-coifed images in your family photo gallery, include shots of your daughter in action—sweaty, dirty, and triumphant.
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