Guest columnist Melanie Ross Levin: How Sports Saved Me


Melanie Ross Levin lives in Washington, D.C., with her 2-year-old daughter, Elliana, and husband, Seth. An advocate for women’s rights and equality, she currently serves as Senior Outreach Manager at the National Women’s Law Center, where she focuses on education, employment, and family economic security issues.

Dear Elliana,

By 6th grade I was the tallest girl in the school, and by 8th grade the third tallest person, including the boys. At 5 foot 9 inches, I was one lanky middle-schooler. And while that may seem cool to a two-year-old, it was uncool in middle school. I was trying to fit in, make friends and just be like everyone else.

Then sports came to my rescue. My long frame became an asset, and I learned to embrace who I was. I could shoot a basketball over the heads of snotty boys, run faster than the preppy girls and turn teammates into lifelong friends. Sports injected me with something I needed: self-confidence.

In high school, just about everyone, especially the boys, caught up to my height, lessening my natural advantage. So I just kept practicing and improving. But I realized sports was no longer just about me. I committed to being part of the field hockey team for four years. Eventually I became co-captain. That enabled me to learn leadership:


Winning was fun, of course, but as it turned out, losing taught me perseverance. I accepted defeat with dignity and immediately refocused for the next game. I developed resilience and, with it, some measure of character.


Now I have a confession to make. I want you to get all the benefits from sports that I received growing up. Now, as your mama, I know I’m supposed to expose you to a lot of activities and let you choose your passion. Or at least that’s what the books and blogs tell me to do. But I really hope you end up loving sports.


Why? Well, to be selfish for a moment, I want to go to games and cheer you on from the sidelines and be “that parent” – the one with the orange slices who volunteers to coach. I want to take a ton of pictures, just as I already do, and celebrate your successes and comfort you when you lose. Plus, I’m unable to resist a bunch of little kids swarming around a soccer ball – it’s too cute.


But the biggest reason I want you to play sports is this: Maybe sports will benefit you as sports benefitted me. Maybe you, too, will come away self-confident, resilient, your character strengthened, a leader.

Fortunately, you’ll have lots of opportunities to experience sports in and out of school – in large part due to pioneering women’s sports figures who championed Title IX. Before, Title IX schools could discriminate against women in a number of ways, including on the playing field. That’s just wrong, and your mama is going to fight to continue to keep the law strong.

Maybe tonight you and I should take out a ball and practice some kicking and throwing. It’s never too soon to take that first step.


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