My little granddaughter, Brooklyn (Erin's daughter), is a delightful four year old. She figured out long ago that her "Papa" is a push over when it comes to, well, pretty much whatever she wants. We have a special relationship and I spend a lot of time with her. We play silly games and constantly ask each other questions.
Over the years, one of the things I ask her is, "Are you going to play sports?" As you can imagine, Brooklyn has been exposed to many sports, particularly basketball, in her formative years. I coach her Uncle Brendan's team and she very rarely misses a game. The roster of the team has been virtually unchanged since Brooklyn was born, and she has the run of the gym. My players don't even notice anymore when she runs into our half time huddles to hug her Papa, or she brings her pom-poms to the game to form a one person cheerleading squad.
So I've been asking her, "Are you going to play basketball?" I tell her it will be fun. She has expressed no interest, zero, none. This leads to more encouragement and selling. But nothing has worked. Not until last Sunday.
Last Sunday, due to a scheduling quirk, there was a Division 1 Juvenile (Under 18) Girls game before our game (I coach the Under 18 Boys team). We had arrived at the gym early and my team watched most of the girls game, which was very well played. Then we played our game.
On the drive home Brooklyn was very excited. She had made an important discovery. "Girls play too, Papa!" she exclaimed. She is now talking about how she is going to play basketball like the other girls. I realized that for her, when I had asked her about playing basketball, she was picturing herself as the only girl playing with the boys. This was the first time she had actually seen girls playing basketball - and no boys on the court.
So 20 young women, just out playing ball, have influenced little Brooklyn more in 20 minutes by their actions than I could in four years with my words. Maybe she plays, maybe she doesn't. But she knows she can and that it's OK to aspire to.
And now I understand, in a way I did not, that watching the boys has no correlation to girl's participation in sports. Gender equity has taken on a new meaning to me. In dragonboat I see a lot of strong female role models. Many of these women also compete in women's sprint canoe racing and in outrigger. You should know that you are influencing the next generation of young women.
Girls play too.