By Joey Lee
Growing up with confidence, self-esteem and a healthy body image isn’t easy for anyone; it’s especially difficult for little girls who are bombarded from all directions with images of how they “should” be. As the father of a remarkable two-year old girl, this is constantly on my mind. It’s a battle parents fight daily and now there’s an organization in Mississippi designed to help little girls become confident, caring, contributing young women.
Girls on the Run is a non-profit, transformational physical activity-based positive youth development program for girls from third to eighth grade; designed to develop and enhance their competencies to successfully navigate life experiences.
Yep, that’s a mouthful all right. More succinctly, it’s a development program for young girls based around physical activity. GOTR teaches social and emotional skills and habits using the physical initiative as a backdrop. Lessons include: how to deal with bullies, the evils of gossip and spreading rumors, how to work with a team and positive ways to deal with real-life situations.
“We target girls at the age that statistics show self-image plummets,” explained Leslie Holleman, GOTR Board Chairman. “I remember being that age and the challenges that I faced. Sometimes it seems that girls are girls’ worst enemies. I want to show these girls the power of positive interaction.”
Council Director, Tara Hunter explained, “At Girls on the Run, trained and supportive coaches and volunteers teach life skills through dynamic, conversation-based lessons and running games. The program culminates with the girls being physically and emotionally prepared to compete in a celebratory 5k running event.”
The program is designed with specific goals including: to develop and improve competence, unleash confidence through accomplishment, develop strength of character, respond to others and oneself with care and compassion, create positive connections with peers and adults and make a meaningful contribution to community, all while establishing a lifetime appreciation for health and fitness.
The groups meet twice a week with a well-defined curriculum for each practice. They begin with a two-way dialogue and exercises where they discuss a specific topic, for example, “Real Beauty.” They discuss and participate in various lesson-teaching tasks and role playing scenarios before getting into the actual workout portion of the practice.
What’s really great is the lesson doesn’t end there; they carry it throughout the evening. The warm-up portion consists of both physical and mental exercises to help the girls understand the day’s message, in this case, what real beauty is. And the actual run portion of the workout further drives home the point. In this curriculum, the coach writes a portion of a message on each girl’s arm after each lap. Upon completion, the message spells out, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”
But if you’re thinking the learning ends there, you’d be mistaken! The girls are given a goal and specific assignments to help reinforce the message and continue the dialogue. In this case, the assignment is to, “Ask someone how they define beauty. Then share the different real beauty characteristics we talked about today!”
“We want to stress that this is not a ‘running program,’ Leslie said. “It’s physical activity-based and we do finish with a celebratory 5k; however, there will be no competitive atmosphere and no pressure to complete distances or tasks. Each girl will set her own goals and we’ll have fun reaching them.”
“Because we have not yet had a season, there are not any concrete examples to point to in our area. But, I can say that our program (in other areas) has been instrumental in changing lives, not just for the girls but for the coaches, parents and volunteers as well,” Tara said. “The program shows girls exactly what they are capable of. It gives them the confidence to go out and conquer any obstacle or attain any goal. It helps them understand their place in the community and what kind of impact they can make on the lives of others.”
Originally established in 1996 in North Carolina, Girls on the Run began with 13 girls, the second season had 26 and the third, 75. The program now serves more than 150,000 girls in more than 200 cities across the continent each year.
Sports and physical activities are a great way to teach many life-lessons and build confidence. Girls on the Run has found a formula that works wonders with little girls and you can bet that when my daughter Ginger is old enough, she’ll be participating.
Since the chapter is new, they are still working to obtain coaches and volunteers (men and women). If you can’t offer your time, the fledgling group is still working on funding so donations would be greatly appreciated as well. Anyone interested in volunteering, donating or just getting more information about the program can go to www.gotrms.org for more information.