By Diana Lustig – Currently, there are nearly 3.67 million girls competing in high school sports in our nation. This is a staggering jump from the 250,000 girls that were participating forty years ago. As Deputy Director of Public Schools Athletic League (PSAL) for the New York City Department of Education, one of my main responsibilities is to ensure that all girls are given an equal opportunity to play sports they love. Even with these increases in participation, we have a very long road ahead of us to find more and unique ways to encourage girls to embrace the many benefits that come from being actively involved in sports.

Being part of something – a sports program, the chess club, playing in the orchestra, or acting in the school play – during the formative years allows you to learn important life lessons. In sports you learn about teamwork, setting goals, competition, sacrificing for the benefit of the team, finding out what it’s like to win and lose, working hard to obtain a goal and the general benefit of interacting with your peers and with coaches. These are all things that most of us need to learn to be successful in life and when we enter the professional world.

Girls who play sports are more confident, less likely to smoke or do drugs, do better academically, and are at less of a risk for diseases.

For me, playing sports has always been an intrinsic part of who I am. I like identifying myself as “an athlete”. I am very lucky because I have been given the opportunity to play sports my entire life and I have reaped the benefits. As a woman in her early thirties, I am self confident, in great shape, at less risk for disease, and have excelled academically. I also have economic security. These attributes are the effects of being a lifelong athlete and those that any girl can inherit if she were to start playing sports at an early age.

I know this not only because I am the living embodiment of this fact but because all educational research around the impact of girls and sports supports this claim. Girls who play sports are more confident, less likely to smoke or do drugs, do better academically, and are at less of a risk for diseases. It is vital for our girls to have equal opportunities to play sports. Otherwise we are denying them the health, academic, and economic benefits that participation brings.

A core part of my job is speaking to different members of various communities and listening to their thoughts on girls in sports. A common question raised is… how can students, parents, teachers, and communities make simple changes to support growth in girls’ sports? The answer is complex, but there are some easy ways to get started. Here are four suggestions that would have an impact on supporting and growing girls’ sports nationwide.

Watch Girls’ Sports

Watching girls’ sports is an extremely important component to increase girls’ athletic participation. Currently, many young girls cannot imagine themselves as professional athletes because the opportunity simply does not exist for them. For that to change, parents need to watch girls’ sporting events with their children. If viewership increases more sponsors will be signed and that will result in an increase in revenue. If more money is made from women’s professional leagues, then there will be an increase in options for girls to explore as adults, and young girls can start envisioning themselves as professional athletes.

Girls LacrosseWatching girls’ sports is also essential because it allows young girls to have role models. Watching professional sports with your daughters will allow them to get to know the women who are making a difference in their sport and give them something to aspire to.

Stop Labeling

This is simple. There is no such thing as a “boy” sport or “girl” sport. Girls like to wrestle and play football just as much as boys like to dance. Stop labeling sports by gender!

Speak Up

Parents, students and communities speak up! If a school has limited sporting options for girls and a variety for boys, make your voice heard! Contact your district, athletic director, or the Title IX Coordinator to make a change. The only way to get more athletic opportunities for girls is to advocate for them.

Start Young

It is a proven fact that the younger a child starts anything – from sports to music – the better the chance that they will continue this activity into their adolescence. The younger a girl gets involved in sports the better the chance that she will play throughout the duration of her life and learn to cultivate a healthy lifestyle.

Involvement in sports for girls is extremely important. The problem is many people think that equality has already been achieved because female sporting opportunities have grown enormously. However, here are the facts:

Girls Basketball1. Secondary schools are still providing around 1.3 million fewer chances for girls to play sports as compared to boys.

2. Only 64% of African American and Hispanic girls and 53% of Asian girls play sports compared to 76% of Caucasian girls.

3. More than half of the students at NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) schools are women; they receive only 44% of the athletic participation opportunities.

  • Female athletes at typical Division I schools receive roughly 28% of the total money spent on athletics.
  • At the typical Division I school, for every dollar spent on women’s sports, about two and a half dollars are spent on men’s sports.

Though growth has been made, it is clear that our nation still needs more girls playing sports! That’s why EVERYONE needs to make an investment in girls’ sports. If each individual commits to the suggestions listed above, just imagine the impact this would have on our girls.

(Statistical Data Source: National Law Sports Center resource article and Title IX fact sheet)

Lead photo of Girls Flag Football: Photo Credit Damion Reid

About The Author:

Diana ParenteWoman You Should Know Diana Lustig grew up in Northport, Long Island where she was a four year varsity soccer player at St. Anthony’s High School. She went on to attend Syracuse University, playing soccer there as well, and received a B.A. in Political Science. Diana always dreamed of combining her passions for education and sports, which is what prompted her to earn her Masters in Social Studies Education from New York University.

After receiving her degree from NYU, Diana became a New York City Public School Teacher and soccer coach for both her high school and the Public Schools Athletic League’s Big Apple Games. While teaching, Diana became a leader in her school’s community and went on to receive a second masters degree in Educational Leadership from NYU.

The culmination of her experience and education led Diana to accept the position as Director of Title IX Operations for the New York City Department of Education where she has been working for the past few years. She was recently promoted to the DOE’s Deputy Director of Public Schools Athletic League (PSAL).

Since 2008, Diana has also been actively involved with Level The Field, a non-profit that provides inner city children the opportunity to work with high achieving collegiate student-athletes both inside and outside of the classroom.

A lifelong fitness devotee, Diana is currently training as a CrossFit athlete.

Diana Parente_CrossFit