Keeping Girls in the Game

Published: April 22, 2019

By Karen Sutton, MD, orthopedic surgery, orthopedic sports medicine, HSS Orthopedics at Stamford Health Collaborative

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As a former college lacrosse player, avid triathlete, and team physician for the U.S. Lacrosse and U.S. Ski and Snowboard teams, I’ve been fortunate to enjoy the energy and excitement of women’s sports at many different levels. Sports provide a unique opportunity for female athletes to instill qualities to help them succeed on the field and throughout their careers, such as:

  • Build friendships  
  • Gain confidence
  • Learn teamwork

The longer girls stay involved in sports, whatever their connections, the better off they are. Here are some recommendations to help keep female athletes in the game.

Benefits Accrue Early

Being on a team helps girls:

  • Build confidence in their abilities
  • Meet challenges
  • Overcome adversity
  • Connect the dots between hard work and results

On-field experiences can carry over to the classroom, among friend groups and even into the workplace. A 2017 Ernst & Young survey of high-level female executives found that 90% played sports. Among women who held C-suite titles, the proportion was even higher, at 96%.


Create Nurturing Environments

Girls respond to their environment. They prefer a group setting with teams that offer camaraderie, support, and friendships. They want to understand the whys behind certain plays or decisions. If a team has a bad practice and the players hang their heads afterward, having a coach criticize and curse out players will not be well received nor achieve a productive result.

Monitor Progress

I like Oprah Winfrey’s approach: Keep a journal of your progress against immediate, short- and long-term goals. Tracking goals applies to sports, academics, and your career.

Start by working with the team to come up with a saying or motto they can rally around. Determine your individual and team goals, then track how you’re doing, whether it’s more playing time, working hard in practice, or enhancing skills. Bring your coach, trainer, and teammates into the loop, so everyone is vested in setting and achieving your goals.

Optimize Training

In my current role at HSS Orthopedics, I focus on sports with a lot of pivoting, cutting, and twisting. Female athletes need to build strength in their core, comprising the abdominal and gluteal muscles. I favor dynamic warm-ups, where you are stretching and moving at the same time. Examples are:

  • Jumping back and forth over cones on a field
  • Doing planks
  • Using agility ladders to shuffle side to side

Safeguard Against Injuries

Experts estimate that nearly nine million Americans age six and older who participate in sports and fitness will suffer a sports-related injury each year. But many of these injuries are preventable by accessing information, training, and resources to keep young athletes safe and healthy. The HSS Sports Safety Program offers an educational series for athletes, coaches, teachers, and parents that includes neurodynamic warm-ups, proven to reduce the risk of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury (one of the most common injuries for females).

Keep Girls in the Game

Our ultimate goal is to keep girls active and playing sports as long as possible. HSS Orthopedics and espnW recently co-sponsored an all-day conference on this topic that featured professional athletes, motivational speakers, nutritionists, and others.

Strategies for reaching this goal start with keeping sports fun. We’re so focused on perfection and drills. Carve out practice time each week for a fun activity. Varsity and travel teams are not the right fit for everyone. Consider joining house leagues and participating in intramural sports. As you mature and your body changes, modify your training to grow as an athlete and enjoy sports.


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