In February, my 8-year-old’s grade 3 class worked on biographies of Olympic athletes. As an avid cross-country skier, my daughter thought of Alex Harvey. But then she saw a picture of biathlete Rosanna Crawford wearing the very same heart-covered Fast and Female buff that she wears, and she was excitedly off to the races, so to speak!
Fast and Female is an international organization co-founded by Rosanna Crawford’s older sister, skier Chandra Crawford, with the goal of keeping girls between the ages of 8 and 18 in sports. As a parent of two daughters in this age group, I’m keenly interested in this project, and my own experience as a non-athletic child and teen actually makes me all the more eager for inspiration on how to encourage girls to stay in sports. It wasn’t until I was in my 20s that I realized that outdoor athletic activities have a huge impact on my state of mind–and realized that being more active at an earlier age might have benefited me in so many ways.
From Fast and Female, I’ve learned that around puberty, girls drop out of sports at SIX TIMES the rate of boys. I’ve also learned about research into factors that contribute to this phenomenon, and into what coaches and parents might do about it. For example, I was fascinated to learn about research that shows that for boys, participation in sports builds social bonds, but for girls, it’s the opposite: pre-existing social bonds are the foundation for their enjoyment of sports. Coaching girls well—and keeping them in sports—means coaching them differently.
My daughters got their Fast and Female buffs at “Champ Chats”, Fast and Female events led by female athletes in a variety of sports. They’ve loved the activities, meeting athletes, and hearing their stories. One of the things that has puzzled them a bit, though, is why something like Fast and Female is necessary: they’ve grown up blissfully unaware that generations of women were discouraged from participating in sports. Fast and Female reinforces the idea that they belong in sports. As they move closer to adolescence, I’m hoping that’s a message they’ll continue to take to heart.
Post-script: At a ski outing a few days ago, I planned to get a picture of my daughters and their friends at a lookout point in Gatineau Park to accompany this piece. I had a vision in my mind: a group of girls on skis, looking out over the broad, snow-covered Ottawa Valley, a stand-in for the wide-open possibilities of their futures. Frustratingly, but also very fittingly, by the time I managed to catch up with them, their break was over, and they were off again, a group of laughing girls, confidently flying down hills and powerfully charging up them. I didn’t get my picture, but maybe that says more about their future than the picture itself would have!
Kelly Quinn lives and skis (usually lagging far behind!) with her two daughters and her husband in Ottawa.