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When my children were 8 years old, their school decided to add ‘sports’ as extra, after-school activity. Meaning, the school would keep the kids back in school for an extra hour and encourage them to play sport. This was in addition to the skating, swimming, yoga and PE that was a part of the curriculum.
While we at home applauded the school’s decision, we also witnessed a wave of indignation running through some parents. They tried to be a voice larger than the school’s and their protests ranged from the ages of the children to their gender! Loudest voices belonged to parents with daughters in the school. Their biggest problem was that the sports introduced weren’t very ‘girly’, (because hockey and basketball were introduced along with football and cricket in the team sports section), the girls get tired in the sun (the time of the day was 3 pm) and most importantly for them was the question “if they must, why can’t they introduce dance for girls, that way they can stay indoors and not spoil their color.”
While most of us can immediately jump onto our high horses and make all the politically right noises, the attitude of these parents simply expose the plethora of misunderstanding that sports in India lives under. Especially for girls. Shockingly, in urban, metropolitan India.
Of course, I cannot make a sweeping statement of this effect on my experience of one school. But then, seriously, let us name some top female athletes and sportswomen in India and find out how many of them are from the tier-1 cities. And that is my point.
OK, we don’t really want sports as a career option for our kids. Agreed! Especially because not everyone can be a Tendulkar or Neymar or Sania or Saina. But as a lifestyle? Yes, for girls as well!
Well, just look at it this way – where have boys, traditionally, learned about teamwork, goal-setting, the pursuit of excellence in performance and other achievement-oriented behavior? Playing some form of sport or the other, right? Isn’t it proven that these are the very, critical skills necessary for success in a corporate setup too? We are into an economic environment where the quality of any family life will be dependent on two-income families; in such a scenario, do we really want our daughters to be any less prepared than our sons, especially when they are the ones who will need to break that legendary glass ceiling? In fact, market research abroad has shown that almost 80% of the female executive at Fortune 500 companies from across the world identified themselves as former ‘tomboys’ who used to play sports.
And then, let us talk about the non-tomboy factor. Lately, more than ever before, the trend seems to moving towards girls becoming ‘young ladies’ earlier and earlier. Blame it on Bollywood or cultural upbringing or just plain, simple fact that consumerism survives on the very insecurities of these little girls. We do see a lot of girls struggling with body-image and unhealthy eating issues from ages 8 years and up, leading to serious physical and psychological issues in their adult lives.
It has been observed, over the years, and through various market studies in India and abroad, that girls and women who play sports have a more positive body image and experience higher states of psychological well-being, have higher levels of confidence, self-esteem and lower levels of depression than girls and women who do not play sports.
Then, one might say, what about academics? Because, we Indians lay a lot of emphasis on them; our world revolves around the performance in exams. Then just remember that playing sport is an exercise; and exercise ALWAYS improves learning memory, concentration and widens the logical thinking capacity. Where pressure is a big part in our daily routine today, playing sports can only help one deal with it. Exercise is a natural mood lifter and a great way to relieve stress and fight depression. In urban, metropolitan India, where one or two children are the ‘kings of the castle’, working with coaches, trainers and teammates to win games and meet goals is a great practice for success. Being a team player can make it easier to work with others and solve problems, whether on field or workplace. Girls involved in athletics feel better about themselves, physically and socially. It helps build confidence when they see their skills improving and goals becoming a reality. Then of course, as they grow up, they get in shape, maintaining healthy weight.
If all that is not enough, let us women simply look around us. Haven’t we encountered and dealt with older women in our families suffering from osteoporosis and its side-effects? Aren’t we, as we get older, being told constantly by our doctors to add ‘regular walks and sugar-free diets and calcium supplement’ to our lifestyle? Why do we want our daughters to suffer the same? Playing sport leads them to stay fit, build muscle and as a result get stronger bones. They will reap the rewards in their middle-age.
I am all for my daughter playing sport; hopefully, so are you!
Content Head; KheloMore
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