The only thing better than seeing the US Women’s National Team kicking ass and taking names in the 2019 Women’s World Cup is that I feel like people are FINALLY paying proper attention. Not just to soccer, but to women in sports as a whole. Any and everyone who has a TV at their desk in my office over the last few weeks has tuned in to Team USA’s games, and it’s been awesome to hear the shared cheers and commentary over the cubicle farm walls.
As the whistle blew on the 98th minute of the USA-England semi yesterday afternoon, I couldn’t help but smile when one of the older guys in the office cheerily said out loud to no one in particular, “we’re the best!” as he went to shut his TV off.
I wanted to take photos of the Lululemon Serene Stride Dress last night, so I headed to the soccer complex near my house for a little bit of fresh air and open space. As soon as I got over there and spotted a few goals still out for the summer, I couldn’t help but run to the nearest net. Nostalgia kicked in and it immediately felt like home.
While I eventually realized my dream of being a Division I athlete in a boat rather than on the pitch, soccer was my jam from 3rd grade on. As I sit here writing this post, I still have about 6 soccer balls, 3 pair of cleats and who knows how many goalkeeper jerseys within 10 feet of me. Also, the same grimy shin guards that I’ve worn since I was 10.
Young AthletiKaty: a Brief History
A love for sports carried me through my awkward years. I was a frizzy-haired weirdo who was bigger than everyone else. Check the yearbook photos, story checks out. When it came to soccer, I wasn’t a speedy goal scorer. I was first a defender, and eventually found my home as a reasonably athletic goalkeeper. Not a hotshot with a golden boot, at least my team could count on me to make some key saves and bomb that ball back in the other direction.
(I did score once, though. 2001 state tournament, game went to a shootout. Imagine being a goalkeeper with the opposing team’s goalkeeper walking up to take a shot on you. Confused the other team, confused their fans. Second or third in the lineup, I walked up to the ball and nailed it cleanly into the back of the net. I wish someone had that on video.)
When soccer wasn’t in season, I was on the track team. I threw shotput in the winter, shotput, discus and javelin in the spring. I thought distance runners were INSANE for races like the 3200m. (Little did I know what I’d be doing for fun 15 years later.) Again, I was the outlier, but I loved working hard and showing what I could do. I qualified for the state championships all four years, both indoors and outdoors.
The Game Doesn’t Care Who You Are
Often times I’d be covered in mud, but sometimes I’d be in the mood to rock a cute dress. Despite wanting to, I didn’t feel like I could be both sporty and feminine. I tied my self identity to sports so much that if I dared wear a dress (or anything pink at all), people would make comments about it because it was such a rare occurrence. Not wanting to feel like I stuck out like a sore thumb, I’d retreat right back into my tomboy uniform of cargo pants & Doc Martens for another few months before I had another cute and frilly idea.
I took to sports, because sports allowed to me have fun and be who I was. Sports didn’t care what my outfit looked like. They didn’t care if I thought Spongebob was funny, or that I was also in marching band. That shot didn’t care if I was in love with the Backstreet Boys or really good in Latin class, the only thing that mattered is that I showed up, worked on my technique and threw it as far as I possibly could.
I look back 20 years and wonder why my younger self didn’t say something like “WHO CARES if my shirt is pink” and get on with her day. I admittedly had ZERO self confidence if I wasn’t wearing some sort of uniform or outfit that identified me as an athlete. Sports were my thing, and I wanted to make sure my appearance conveyed it. It took until my last season of my senior year to bust out the knockoff Tiffany jewelry for my senior photos and not worry if I was being “too girly”.
News to Many, Memories for Some
Having played soccer as well, my Dad and I shared a love for she sport. He’d take me to UConn home games, or if the National Team was playing an exhibition nearby we’d go. The summer between middle school and high school, we went all the way to Giants Stadium for Opening Day of the 1999 Women’s World Cup. There were no smartphones to commemorate the occasion two decades ago, but I won’t ever forget it.
It’s been 20 years since then. Women have been crushing it at the world class level for decades, yet it feels like only in recent years female athletes are starting to receive the respect they’ve always deserved for their athleticism, skill and dedication to advancing the game.
Real Recognize Real
Mainstream media is coming around, and outlets like espnW and On Her Turf exist for the coverage of women’s sports. It’s amazing to see NBA players attending WNBA games, recognizing women who are excelling in their sport. Big name male athletes are out there supporting the women, making keyboard warrior trolls begging to differ look like the ignorant clowns they are.
Considering how integral sports were to my identity and self-worth growing up, I personally believe that empowering girls in sports is HUGE. Sports gave me confidence when I struggled to find it anywhere else. Who cares if you’re a girl or a boy. If you want to play, you should be able to.
As Brazil’s Marta recently said in an interview in regards to empowering the next generation:
“This is what I ask of the girls. There’s not going to be a Formiga forever. There’s not going to be a Marta forever. There’s not going to be a Cristiane. The women’s game depends on you to survive.”
I’m an Adult, and I’m Inspired Too.
So maybe I didn’t grow up to be an international superstar, but I’m still an athlete and proud of it. Sports taught me to win, they taught me to lose, and they also taught me to work. I owe numerous friendships, personal development, and hell, even my career to my love of sports.
It’s not just about these women showing little girls all over the world that they, too, can achieve their athletic dreams. I’m the same age, if not older, than many of the current USWNT members, and I still look up to these women at 33 years old.
Confidence was not my strong suit throughout my teens, and sports kept me going while I worked to be comfortable with the quirky person I was. With the dawn of social media, we now have unprecedented access to SO MANY positive role models who inspire women daily to be strong, and to embrace their athleticism no matter their age or ability.
Female professional athletes have proven time and again that you can be tough, you can work hard in the gym, and you can succeed in an adorable outfit and/or a full face of makeup if you damn well please.
If that’s what makes you feel like your best self, GO FOR IT. Wear a little black dress while having the time of your life blocking imaginary shots on goal, just because you freaking miss the game.
You do you, regardless of how boyish or girly society wants to label you. Social norms can stuff it. It’s 2019, and female athletes all over the world are making it clear: women in sports are no pink sparkly joke.