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Reader's Companion to Raising Our Athletic Daughters: How Sports Can Build Self-Esteem and Save Girls' Lives by Jean Zimmerman and Gil Reavill

Main Street trade paperback, ISBN 0-385-48960-9, $14.00 US/ $22.00 Canada

Doubleday hardcover, ISBN 0-385-48959-5, $23.95 US/ $32.95 Canada

Reader's Companion to Raising Our Athletic Daughters © 1999 by Doubleday.


1. Introduction
2. Questions for Discussion
3. About the Authors
4. Some Facts About Girls and Sports
5. Readers' Responses to the Book

Now in paperback, this is the first book to document how participating in sports changes young girls' lives during the difficult years of adolescence and early womanhood.

Praise for Raising Our Athletic Daughters:

"We need this book. Strong girls make strong women, and athletics is an important part of that. If you want your daughter to enjoy the health and confidence that come from playing sports, Raising Our Athletic Daughters is a must-read."
--Billie Jean King

"Provides immediate, accessible, and invaluable information to help daughters everywhere succeed on and off the field."
--Palo Alto Daily News

Questions for Discussion

1. Parents' personal history colors their approach to introducing their daughters to sports. What were some of your own sports-related experiences growing up?

2. More people tuned in to televised coverage of the Women's World Cup in Summer '99 than the NBA finals the same year, seemingly disproving the theory that there is no large-scale audience for televised female athletic events. Was it a fluke or a trend?

3. The authors cite studies saying that 95 percent of national sports coverage focuses on male athletes. They say the trend has begun to shift in other venues. How are local newspapers' coverage of women's and girls' sports different, and why? What difference does it make to girls what sports get covered in the media?

4. The authors make the claim that playing sports not only boosts girls' confidence and enhances their physical well-being, but can even "save girls' lives." What evidence is there to support this assertion? Do you know girls for who this conclusion is true?

5. Debate exists regarding the benefits of same sex or coed sports participation. What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of each?

6. What about athletic activities that are traditionally "boys only"--such as wrestling, ice hockey, football, boxing--what are the benefits for girls of taking part? Is there a downside? Are they different than participating in more "feminine" sports--like swimming, gymnastics, tennis?

7. Kate Morrel is a soccer player whose teammates helped her through a tough time. Have you ever played on a team that felt like family?

8. Girls' games are not often capable of drawing big crowds of spectators, something girls in the book note with disappointment. Why does it matter--and who do girls want most in the stands cheering them on?

9. Fathers and athletic daughters share an unusual bond. What are some of the advantages that a father might bring to his daughters sports experience? Disadvantages?

10. The authors assert that how we treat girls and boys even before they start kindergarten shapes their later sports participation and ability. What messages do we send by putting girls in tutus and boys in dungarees, or by scolding girls when they come in dirty from playing outside?

11. The hours of 3 to 8 pm have been described by child professionals as "the witching hours." Why? In addition to the teen crime rate tripling, the teen pregnancy rate also rises. What's the relationship researchers have found between girls' physical activity and premarital sex?

12. Kids play neighborhood pickup games less frequently than they did years ago. Instead, we have much more adult-organized team play. What are the pluses and minuses of this evolution?

13. The authors describe the boom in girls' sports involvement as a "children's crusade." What evidence do they cite for this view? What are some of the obstacles to equal sports participation for girls?

14. What are some of the barriers in schools to girls' sports participation? What can parents do to monitor what goes on in their kids' school?

15. What are some of the sporting events of the last several years that have altered the public expectation for women athletes and fueled girls' desire to play?

16. The authors profile a number of young athletes throughout the book. What are some of the more memorable characters? Did any of the girls remind you of a girl you know? Did the descriptions of girls' personalities ring true?

17. The book talks about the role of some especially devoted coaches. What makes them good? Talk about your own experience with coaches. Do you remember a standout coach?

18. Corporate America is taking notice of the explosion in sports for women. Examples? Why is business so interested?

19. How do some coaches ensure that kids excel academically as well as athletically? Can you think of an example the authors give of a high school student who was motivated by her sports involvement to improve her academic performance?

20. It's been said that while sports teach boys what they must be, they teach girls what they can be. Can you explain what this means? While physical activity is good for all kids, do you think it holds particular advantages for girls? If so, what are they?

21. "Not to have confidence in one's body is to lose confidence in oneself," wrote Simone de Beauvoir. Social theorists like Mary Pipher have described the culture we inhabit as "girl poisoning." What kinds of features make girls lose confidence in their bodies and how can physical activity help girls regain a healthy body image?

About the Authors

Jean Zimmerman's books include the critically praised Tailspin: Women at War in the Wake of Tailhook. Gil Reavill is a freelance journalist who has also authored several travel books for Fodor's. They live in Westchester County, New York and are raising an athletic daughter.

Some Facts About Girls and Sports

In 1970, 1 in 27 girls participated in high school sports. Today that ratio is 1 in 3.

More than 16,000 high schools (out of a nationwide total of 20,000) now have a girls' basketball team.

87 percent of parents agree that sports are equally important for girls and boys.

High school girls who are athletes earn higher grades and get better standardized test scores than nonathletic girls.

Girls who play sports are less likely to drop out of high school and more likely to go on to college than their nonathletic counterparts.

A 1996 study confirmed a link between girls' involvement in high school sports and higher science grades and test scores.

Playing sports helps kids develop appropriate motor skills for each stage of development.

Girls who engage in regular physical activity are less likely to be overweight. They have lower levels of blood sugar, cholesterol and tryglycerides, and lower blood pressure than nonexercising girls.

Physical activity during adolescence helps girls develop stronger, denser bones, and guards against osteoporosis later in life.

One to three hours of exercise per week from menarche to menopause correlates to a 20 to 30 percent reduction in breast cancer risk.

A 1995 study of girls in YWCA summer programs found that body image became increasingly positive with an increase in participation on sports teams.

High school female athletes are less likely to use tobacco than nonathletes.

There is a significantly lower rate of attempted suicide among teenage female athletes than among the population as a whole.

A broad-based 1998 study of athletic participation and sexual behavior definitively established the link between sports involvement and lowered rates of teenage pregnancy. Researchers found that girls who were athletes were less than half as likely to get pregnant as female nonathletes. Female athletes had their first sexual experience later than nonathletes, had intercourse less often and had fewer sexual partners.

The NCAA found that female student athletes graduate college at a higher rate than nonathletes--69% to 58%. For African-American students the differential is more pronounced--58% to 41%.

80 percent of female Fortune 500 executives said they were "tomboys" and involved in athletic activities in their youth.

From the Authors: Readers' Responses to the Book

As we were working on the book, we found we really enjoyed talking with parents and with girls of all ages--so much so that we wanted to continue these conversations once Raising Our Athletic Daughters was in print. We decided to include an address for e-mail and conventional letters, so that we would continue to hear stories about girls and sports. In the past year, we have had an overwhelming response from parents and from young athletes. Some of the letters are heartwarming, others thought provoking.

One mother, for example, wrote to tell us about her oldest daughter, who is serious about cheerleading. She wrote, "What I have discovered is that this is no sport for wimps. She is expected to run daily, weight train, lots of exercises and perform some rather frightening stunts. She appears to be in better shape than at any time prior to this. The past captain of the cheerleaders was awarded a scholar-athlete award (the first given to a cheerleader) and upon her HS graduation, received a full scholarship to University of Virginia which she passed up in order to attend Harvard. I am now a believer in this and desperately wish there was some way to convey the sheer athleticism of this to the general public."

Another mother described her experiences starting a girls' lacrosse team for second to eighth graders; she got an unexpectedly big turnout at registration. "It demonstrated to me the desire of girls to try out and play a new sport--any sport! After seeing this desire and reading your book, I am more committed to providing an outlet for girls of all shapes, sizes and abilities to get out there and PLAY, without the huge focus on winning and forming the division between the elite and non-elite player as soccer had, to the exclusion of most of the girls in the town."

A woman with no children of her own wrote to tell us how important athletics were to her upbringing, and to say that she was looking for opportunities to serve as a sports mentor. A father asked if we could make a case for coed play over single-sex. Is one preferable?

We continue to be interested in hearing stories from the field, and welcome reader responses. Please write us at athleticdaughters@yahoo.com.