Letter to my niece – keep playing team sports

18 June 2019

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Team Girls is dedicated to fostering and promoting girls’ participation in sport. It’s about girls supporting girls, building up their confidence, and knowing they’re stronger when they stand together – on and off the court.

A letter to my niece

When my niece told me she wanted to quit her team sport, this is what I said:

Dear G,

Last night you asked me a question.

I was unpacking the dishwasher when you asked me to help convince your mum to let you stop playing netball. You were sick of it, you said. Had stopped enjoying it. Didn't have time. And why couldn't your mum just get that?  And then when I was about to give you my answer, the phone rang, Quincy was throwing spaghetti at the dog (!!!) and your mum arrived to collect you. Before I knew it, you were out the door and off home.

Anyway, so I thought I would answer you now in this letter because this is an important thing to discuss. So here goes…

Will I help convince Mum to let you quit netball? No. Nopety nope nope.

I don't want you to stop playing netball, G. I want you to keep going. And here's why.

Playing sport teaches you how to be part of a team.

Darling girl, this is KEY in life. You have to learn how to be part of a team. And team sports give you that in spades. You learn what it's like to be relied upon and to be committed to something that's bigger than yourself. It means turning up to training even when you don't feel like it. It means putting in extra practice at home when you're feeling a little rusty. It also helps you find your voice and be heard. There are the times you'll be yelling for the ball and times you'll be yelling out encouragement to your team. That's thing you see, you learn how to support and console your team mates when they screw up – the same way they do for you when you have an off game. It's about experiencing that feeling of belonging which truly is one of the greatest feelings in life.

Resources and tips to help you navigate those tough conversations with your daughter around quitting sport.

Playing sport brings more friendships into your life.

Just trust me when I tell you that netball opens you up to friendships you'll have for the rest of your life. Those girls you train with, celebrate with and cry with are like your soul sisters. On court – they're your family and it's a bond like no other when they score a goal and you're cheering for them louder than you'd even cheer for yourself.

Can I also say, that at a time when you are increasingly conducting so much of your communication via device I like seeing you hanging out IN PERSON with your team. And that motto you girls have of having each other's backs on the court is a lesson you take with you off-court. It's a message about #TeamGirls, about sticking by each other and other girls too, on and off the court, inside and outside the classroom, at school or at home.

The more I think about it, the more I think netball teaches you how to be a better person. It teaches you how to comfort someone when they're playing badly. How to cheer someone on who is smashing it out of the park. And how to accept feedback when you know (and they know) you're off your game. Plus you know how much I've always encouraged you to have a second group of friends away from school! This is another reason why I love team sport, because on days when school has gone pear-shaped, you can hang out with your team and still feel loved and accepted.

Playing sport teaches you life skills beyond school.

Your mum would wrap you up and protect you from any of life's negative emotions if she could (you know, I'm right). But really, you need all those experiences to grow. And that's another reason I love netball. On the court, you are going to lose. At some point you will play a team who are better than you and you'll lose, and you'll have to handle it with grace and kindness and shake your opponent's hand and be mature about it. You'll need to suck it up when you disagree with an umpire's call and grin and bear it when your opponent is less-than-friendly. Netball teaches you sportsmanship and how to be accountable. To try harder next time. To turn up to training and listen to the coach. It teaches you that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts - which is a fancy way of saying that every person on that team has an important job to do. And if you can' t be the best player, you can be the best leader who motivates and inspires their team to keep going. Added bonus: there's nothing quite like being able to use training or a netball game as a reason for not being able to stay late at a party. “Can't stay! Gotta go! We have a game at 8am!”

Playing sport is good for your head.

I know what you think. You think all that netball is good for is simply strengthening your calves and your biceps and your quads. And you're right – it does all that stuff. But more than that, netball is good for your head, G. It builds your confidence. Every time you're on court, it reminds you of what your body can do. How fast it can run and jump and pivot. And every pass, every goal, every intercept or save, it's boosting your self-image and your self-esteem. That game is giving you confidence even if you can't see it. You see, at a time in your life when your body can feel like it's betraying you, sport reminds you how fierce you really are. Plus, every time you play, it's a mental health break from your life. When the whistle blows, homework and assignments, and schoolyard cliques and social media dramas and every other worry from your life melts away. For an hour you don't get to think about any of that stuff. All you're thinking about is that ball and getting it down the court. And when you're a teenager you need those moments – trust me.

Truth is, if I could put you on a court every day I would simply because it gives you a break. Added bonus: if you're playing netball, you're off your phone! <insert evil Aunty laugh!>

Playing sport is good for your health.

I know. You kinda expected this one first, right? Because it's important. Netball gets you off the couch. And mooooooooving. When you're playing sport, it reminds you that you were not put on this earth to be eye candy. It reminds you that you were born to run and leap and jump and even fall. Playing sport will make you feel strong and fit and, I hope, brave as you push yourself out of your comfort zone.

So don't give up, G. Keep going. Just give yourself that 60 minutes every week to switch off from the world and play.

Keep going because that team, those girls, are giving you more than you can maybe see right now. They're giving you, YOU. A chance to tie up your shoelaces and just be you out on that court. Strong, fierce, fast, CONFIDENT you. Keep playing, my girl. Keep playing.


Aunty Bec

If your child, or anyone you know is having issues with self-esteem, confidence or mental or physical health, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.

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