“Play Like A Girl” Inspires Next Generation of Athletes

With hopes of facilitating a love of sports among girls, Oberlin College Athletics held the eighth annual “Play Like A Girl” event May 15. The event, which was held virtually for the past two years, brings together coaches and players from women’s teams to mentor girls aged 5–12. 

Director of Football Operations and Running Backs Coach Roseanna Smith participated in this year’s in-person “Play Like A Girl” event alongside members of the women’s basketball, lacrosse, soccer, swimming and diving, track and field, cross country, softball, volleyball, and field hockey teams.

“I wanted to participate because dreams are built around opportunities like this clinic,” she wrote in an email to the Review. “I’m a football coach today because of many mentors who invested in me instead of telling me why I couldn’t or shouldn’t play or coach football. To teach girls how to hit a bag with power, snap a football, and use their loudest voice to call a cadence is just the beginning because we find our passions and confidence in trying new things.” 

According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, by age 14, girls will have dropped out of youth sports at twice the rate of boys. This makes the event’s mission especially critical. Second-year volleyball setter Taylor Gwynne emphasized the ways in which “Play Like A Girl” creates role models for participants.

“Events like “Play Like a Girl” provide a safe outlet for young athletes to experiment with sports they haven’t had the opportunity to participate in before,” she wrote in an email to the Review. “Not only are they getting new experiences, but they are interacting with role models that show them what they could use their sports to do in the future.” 

Gwynne also believes that events such as “Play Like A Girl” show children that they can be successful student-athletes both on and off the field. 

“As [Division III] athletes, we all came to school for academics first, which makes our programming more unique,” Gwynne wrote. “These children get to see what it’s like to be really devoted to your sport but also devoted to school and your future outside of sports as well. The role model athletes I interacted with when I was their age left a lasting impact on how I pursued competition and sports in the future, and I can only hope we are doing the same for these young athletes!”

Although women’s competition in male-dominated sports like football has historically been overlooked, Smith feels that recently, more athletes have been getting deserved recognition. Smith hopes that events such as “Play Like A Girl” will inspire the next generation of female athletes in the same way that Smith was inspired by athletes like Jennifer King, Lori Locust, Catherine Raîche and Kim Pegula.

“Sports are for everyone,” Smith wrote. “Football is no exception. Thousands of women have competed all over the country for decades … mostly in anonymity. States like Florida and Georgia offer girls high school varsity flag football, which has opened the pathway to college flag football teams and national flag and tackle teams. Girls are also competing for and earning college tackle football scholarships. I played football at a time when many fewer girls were playing, but I love to also see that so many more are finding a home, passion, and career in the game. … I’m grateful to get to do what I love in the footsteps of these women.”