When people find out about the work that we do at Dynamo Girl, adults often asks us similar questions. Don’t you think boys need these classes? Would you ever consider starting a Dynamo Boy? Our answers to these questions is: yes, all kids could benefit from the type of coaching that we provide at Dynamo Girl and yes, there are many boys that get turned off by the sports classes and coaching that is out there. But, when you look at the research, girls are quitting sports at staggering rates despite all the positive benefits of playing a sport. And, the offerings that are out there for girls just don’t compare to the vast variety of sports available to boys. Last month, I was invited into one of our participating schools to talk about Dynamo Girl and I discovered that kindergarteners know exactly what we are talking about… just ask them!
The idea for my visit came from the head teacher in a kindergarten class who reached out to us because of ongoing discussions her class was having about Dynamo Girl and fairness. A week earlier, when a few girls in the class lined up to go to Dynamo Girl, a few of their male classmates wanted to know what the class was all about. After a quick explanation from the teacher that it was “a sports class for girls,” a couple of the boys expressed confusion, frustration and hurt feelings about not being allowed to attend a Dynamo Girl after-school class. Next thing I knew, I was invited into the class for their to address the boys’ concerns.
Prior to my arrival, the class had compiled a list of questions about Dynamo Girl and what we do in our classes, which I planned to address during their morning meeting. Our conversation began and the kids were friendly, courteous, intelligent and really funny. I was nervous about how to answer their questions without going deep into research about how girls are dropping out of sports at twice the rate of boys. I wanted to make sure I could articulate in an accessible way to these young kids the reasons for keeping sports in young girls’ lives like: its positive impact on their self esteem, body image and friendships, to just name a few. In other words, I knew I needed to get to their level and frame in a upbeat way why it was important to keep Dynamo Girl classes all-girls, not because we want to exclude boys but because there are things girls need that they can’t necessarily get in a co-ed sports environment.
After our initial introductions, I asked the class if any of the kids were in sports classes and asked what they notice about those classes. The students’ hands shot up. The first answer was from a boy, and he stated that he attended an after-school soccer class and that there were only two girls were in the class. More kids chimed in with similar answers and some wondered why there were only a few girls attending the classes. One of the boys talked about being the only boy in a dance class and that it was ok. They all agreed that it can be hard to be the “only one” in a class and maybe that was why there weren’t many girls in their sports classes.
The conversation ultimately turned into an examination of what it is like for the few girls to participate in those mostly male sports classes. One boy shared that he wrestles in his soccer class and suggested that maybe some girls don’t want to do that. I shared a story about when my daughter was about five and she played in a pick-up soccer game in Riverside Park with her brother and about six boys around her age. After playing for 15 minutes, my daughter stormed off the field on the verge of tears with her face red and her hands in fists. “They aren’t passing to me!” she exclaimed. When I shared that story with the kindergarteners, there were lots of heads nodding in the room. The kindergarteners explored some of emotions that my daughter must have felt like: frustrated, angry, and sad. And many of the girls in the class, including female teachers, gave signs of agreement and shared understanding through the classroom hand signal for “me also”.
The conversation I had with the Kindergarten students blew me away and reconfirmed that while girls have so many more sports opportunities than in my generation, the work that we are doing at Dynamo Girl isn’t just fun, it is very necessary. As we finished the conversation, we checked off all the questions on their list to make sure the class felt I had covered everything they wanted to discuss. We talked about the importance of going to the park and playing games with our friends, siblings and most importantly, our grown ups. I expressed my wish that we would not need a Dynamo Girl in the future because girls would be able to be full participants in sports classes and teams. As I left the room, I got lots of high fives and hugs and felt deep gratitude to be able to do this work with such an amazing community of kids.