No matter how much you champion feminism in your daily life, it’s sometimes hard to feel like anything you do is actually making a difference. Which is why it’s all the more heartening that empowering the next generation of girls is surprisingly simple: Get them involved in sports.
For proof, look no further than a real-life mom and daughter. Monica Dirito has lived it with her three daughters, especially 14-year-old Maggie Weible’s star turn as a gymnast.
Dirito can speak firsthand to the far-reaching impact sports can have on women, because she grew up in the ’70s—a particularly potent time for equal rights. The passage of Title IX had just made gender discrimination illegal in publicly funded schools, and all eyes were on Grand-Slam champ Billie Jean King’s inspiring ascent as a tennis pro and activist for female athletes.
“[Sports] made me feel strong mentally and physically. [Sports] provided friends, goals, and dreams.”
As a result, Dirito spent much of her childhood on the tennis court beginning at age 5 (“I was small for my age, but put every ounce of myself into each shot,” she says), and she attributes many of the qualities she is proud of as an adult to lessons she learned on the court.
“Tennis gave me confidence,” she says. “Tennis made me feel strong mentally and physically. Tennis provided friends, goals, and dreams.” In other words, all things that can serve a young girl in ways that amplify over the course of her life.
“I learned that it’s not always about winning—it’s bringing your personal best everyday and that can vary on a daily basis. I learned how to win gracefully and how to lose gracefully. I learned to treat my opponent kindly and to be a good sport,” Dirito goes on. “These are all lessons that can be applied to my daily life now as a mother, wife, daughter, sister, and friend.”
Scroll down for three invaluable takeaways that girls can learn in the game—and carry with them to become badass women.
How to find joy
Sports comes with loads of parent-approved benefits (regular exercise, leadership skills, teamwork), but the most crucial thing Dirito hopes each of her daughters can take away is joy.
“Life is too short to put your blood, sweat, and tears into something that is not bringing you joy,” Dirito says. “Life has so much to offer. Just make sure you’re happy doing what you’re doing.”
For Maggie, chasing joy as a child meant doing anything that involved a field/court/pool—but the ultimate lesson was learning how to balance her happiness.
“When I was little I wanted to play every sport out there,” she says. “I wanted to do it all because I found so much joy in sports.” Today, she’s zeroed in on gymnastics are her number one—but the vibes are still strong.
The power of trying new things
Though Maggie has now honed her focus on gymnastics (she spends 25 hours a week practicing, while also going to school), her mother encouraged her to sample a variety of sports before she committed.
“With my girls, I try to stress how important it is to not put all of your eggs into one basket. Sometimes we burn out on a sport, and that’s okay. Switch it up and try something new,” Dirito says. “A diamond has many facets. That’s why it shines so beautifully. Have more than one facet.”
With that motivation behind her, Maggie has sampled soccer, baseball, swimming, and even breakdancing. And even now that gymnastics has developed into her passion, she still finds time for tennis and ballet.
The importance of leading by example
Rather than forcing her kids to play organized sports, Dirito found the most effective way to encourage them to pick up a racket or a ball was to show them how happy an active lifestyle made her.
“Sports and physical activity bring me peace of mind and peace of body,” Dirito says. “I hope that my example will influence my girls to live a healthy, active, and balanced lifestyle.”
And it’s working. “For as long as I can remember, I wanted to play sports, too,” says Maggie, who calls her incredibly active parents her biggest role models (her dad pitched for the U.S. National Team). “My mom put me in dance classes when I was little, so I’ve been lucky enough to grow up being physically active from the get-go.”
Another thing Dirito is hoping to pass on to her daughters is an appreciation of an active lifestyle. “I truly believe if you grow up being active and participating in sports then it becomes something your body just needs like food, water, and love,” she says. For Maggie, being active (and loving it) is in her DNA.
In partnership with Athleta Girl
Photos: Athleta Girl
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