A girl’s participation in sports can enhance every aspect of her life: relationships, confidence, emotional well-being, even academics. That is why we consider athletics to be an essential part of the GPS experience. From the first day a girl sets foot on campus, she is encouraged to try a sport that matches her interests, whether that’s soccer, rowing, climbing, or bowling. While she may not aspire to become a professional athlete, the lessons learned along the way are priceless.
However, according to Refinery29, more than half of all girls by age 17 will quit playing sports. In a recent poll of 1,000 teenage girls, they discovered the main reason was because they didn’t see a future for themselves in their sport and wanted to prioritize their time on school or other extracurriculars.
At GPS, 60 percent of Upper School girls participate in at least one sport, compared to 36.8 percent in Tennessee (the second lowest in the country).
What’s the secret to our success? Below are five ways we encourage girls to stay in the game.
1 | All-Girls Environment
Our athletics program’s greatest strength is its all-female environment. Girls don’t have to yield facilities or compare their performances to a boys’ team. One hundred percent of our resources—from coaching and facilities to strength and conditioning training—is dedicated to the support and success of our female athletes.
Another key difference is that they don’t have to share a weight room with guys, which can be either intimidating or distracting for teenage girls. In fact, GPS’s specifically designed strength and conditioning program is the only all-female program in the region with two nationally certified strength and conditioning coaches. Under their direction, the program is targeted to help female athletes build strength, improve performance, speed recovery, and avoid injuries. This includes an ACL injury prevention program, which strengthens the hips, knees and ankles to lower the risk of this common, career-ending injury.
“Being in an all-girls setting gave us the freedom to explore what it meant to be strong, young women. We didn't have to impress anyone but ourselves and were challenged to push the boundaries on what it meant to be a female athlete.”
—Whitney Bell ’06, publicist at Netflix, former GPS softball and volleyball player
2 | A Wide Variety
GPS offers 15 varsity sports and 12 middle school sports, and each girl is encouraged to find her own path. In addition to traditional sports such as basketball, cheerleading, soccer, softball, and tennis, girls can try bowling, rock climbing, rowing, or lacrosse. It’s not unusual for a girl to try two or three sports before finding her niche, and sometimes they go on to play that newfound sport in college. Each year at GPS, approximately 10 girls sign letters of intent to play in college. Nationally, only 7 percent of male and female athletes go on to play on a college team.
Full Offerings: BASKETBALL, BOWLING*, CHEERLEADING, CLIMBING*, CROSS COUNTRY, DIVING, GOLF, LACROSSE, ROWING*, SOCCER, SOFTBALL, SWIMMING, TENNIS, TRACK & FIELD, VOLLEYBALL (*sport offered at only the Upper School level)
3 | Social-emotional Coaching
Every coach at GPS understands the importance of a positive coaching model, which means encouragement over yelling. Studies reveal that a female’s everyday brain activity is centered in the limbic system, which is known for emotional processing. So everything that happens in a sport, from making a shot to a coach’s reaction, will trigger an emotional response. Understanding a girl’s unique social-emotional needs, coaches focus on being nurturing and relational. They also employ a “big picture” approach, taking the time to explain why they are doing something rather than just giving directions. Getting buy-in is particularly important when coaching an all-female team.
4 | A Grit Mentality
One of the things emphasized at GPS is developing grit, or the ability to overcome. Instead of removing barriers, each girl is offered the support she needs to triumph over adversity. This applies to every aspect of the GPS experience, but is particularly noticeable in our athletics program. We don’t take lightly the demands each girl feels juggling a rigorous curriculum with a sport, which is why everyone works together to make sure girls have what they need to succeed. Teachers care about how girls are doing on their teams; coaches ask athletes about their classroom performance. The confidence a girl gains by overcoming challenges follows her the rest of her life. It’s undoubtedly the reason that 94 percent of female C-suite executives have a background in sports.
5 | Support for the Mental Side of Sports
All sports require mental toughness, and GPS coaches employ some novel strategies to help develop this core skill. The rowing team spends practice time journaling and doing visualization exercises. The tennis team can be found each Wednesday devoted to mental training sessions, exploring topics such as positive self-talk, standing up for yourself, and focusing on the process rather than the outcome. In cross country, runners are encouraged to develop mantras to get them through long runs and learn deep breathing techniques to combat race-day anxiety.
Each of these five strategies are employed to help girls not just win in sports, but also in life.