From the moment we girls are born, we look up to Dad as our hero. My dad, like most of the dads I knew growing up, loved sports. Really loved sports. He played football and basketball, followed the Sixers season after season, and just about died of joy when the Eagles won the Super Bowl.
As a little girl, it was hard for us to connect. He loved me, absolutely, but when you’re a big rough-and-tumble football guy and a little girl comes into your life, it can be hard to know what to do. You should have seen the relief on my dad’s face the day everything changed between us: the day I wanted to get on the field. He was over the moon with excitement, and just like that, I became the protégé of the most awesome hero ever: my dad.
In between practices and post-game fueling on soft pretzels, he was giving his little girl the greatest gift a father can give a daughter: the tools I needed to become the strong woman I am today. Now I run my own business, a training gym for high school girls looking to earn top scholarships for collegiate sports. These girls are serious — and tough. But they’re still someone’s little girl, and they still need their dad.
If you’re a sports guy, and your daughter is in sports, you’ve got the perfect “in” to connect with her and be involved in her life as she grows up to be a woman you can be proud of. If you’ve ever found yourself wondering what’s going on inside your little soccer star’s head, here’s what she’s dying for you to show her…
Affirm That Girls Can Be Athletes
It sounds simple, but there are so many things working against us. We’ve got grown women wondering why we want to be out digging our cleats into the sod. We’ve got Instagram models and celebrities telling us that getting dirty isn’t pretty, or that getting strong will make us less of a woman. We even have our friends wondering why we’d rather spend time shooting hoops than sending Snaps.
If your daughter wants to play, she needs you to show her it’s all right.
Dads, we look up to you. We like the sports you like, we root for the teams you root for, and we love your favorite athletes because of this simple truth: We trust you. Your opinion shapes our own. So what does that mean when it comes to sports? Celebrate us, too. Show us that sports aren’t about a boy/girl thing. Show us that sports are an athlete thing.
We wish you would show us that you think women in sports is just as awesome as your guy teams. You don’t have to trade the NBA for the WNBA full-time, but flip it over on occasion. Watch a round or two of women’s snowboarding during the winter olympics. Point out Serena Williams the next time she makes the cover of a magazine in the grocery aisle. Give us permission to look up to female athletes.
We’re looking to you to tell us that achievement in sports will bring you just as much pride as our grades or other more “girl-appropriate” hobbies. Help us shape our perception of what’s appropriate for us. Put your voice in our heads so that when people tell us we’ll never get a date to the school dance if we spend time shooting hoops, we roll our eyes at them and keep kicking ass on the court.
Inspire Our Confidence
As teenagers, we have no idea who we are. We don’t know what’s “cool.” We just want other people to think we fit in and not make fun of us. As a former teenager and woman who works with dozens of teenage girls, I’ll let you in on a secret: They all lack self-confidence, and they desperately need their dad’s help!
My dad drove me to every game and did probably the most embarrassing Dad-thing ever: played his music on the way to “get me pumped.” (Number one on the playlist: Boz Scaggs’s “Make My Life Shine.”) This wasn’t always a hit with the self-absorbed and sometimes moody teenage me. But he’d bulldoze through, he’d get pumped up with me, and his enthusiasm was irresistible. Listening to that song with him before every game taught me two things:
- Your team depends on you to bring your best energy to the game.
- You decide how you want to perform.
Lack of confidence comes from not knowing who we are in the world, feeling like we can’t really make a difference, being unsure of our minds and bodies. My dad showed me that my thoughts and feelings are my responsibility. That I’m in control of how well I perform. He taught me the value of hard work through sports. How to break down dreams into goals and get to doing them. He exposed me to teamwork and conflict, competition and mental toughness.
You daughter needs you to use your mutual love of sports as a way of discovering who we are, how strong we are, and how capable we can be.
Celebrate Performance, Not Outcome
Sometimes I’d score the winning goal. Sometimes…the other team was just better. You’ve got a choice: use your love of sports to connect or to focus on failure. Before you start thinking I’m a “participation trophy” millennial, I promise you I’m not. I’m not one of those coaches who think all players should get a ribbon. We have to recognize that failure is a part of the game.
Dads, don’t break our hearts. We both know what it feels like to fail. Instead of focusing on success, focus on performance. Teach us that games are going to be won or lost, that there are no easy or overnight successes. We can do our part to control the results of the game through our efforts leading up to them, but chance has something to do with it, too.
Let’s imagine your daughter loves playing basketball but is frustrated with her vertical. She has trouble keeping up with rebounds during game time. Here’s what I encourage dads to do: Turn praise away from the game (because no one wants to hear they did a “good job” when they know they didn’t) and to the weight room instead. Instead of focusing on a lost game, help her strength-train to improve her vertical!
Raise a Champion
That shot above is of me today, at my all-girl gym, working with hundreds of sports-loving daughters. If there’s one thing your daughter wants you to know, it’s this: She needs you. She needs her sports dad.
Great sports dads teach us that success is not measured in numbers of championships, but in the hours of practice that earn championships. She’s looking to you to show her around the weight room. She wants you to ask her what she loves about the game. She’s dying to practice pitches and soccer drills with you. When it comes down to it, your daughter wants to be a champion because she wants to follow your lead.
Emily Pappas’s gym, Relentless Athletics, specializes in both training and nutritional education for female athletes as young as 8 years old through the collegiate/professional level. She also teaches science-focused strength training for female athletes at Temple University.