By Any Other Name

DJ was a baby when the announced a WNBA team was coming to Portland.  I recall being excited to be able to have a professional sports team of women to be able to show my daughter instead of the, at the time, professional men’s team filled with thugs, potheads, and spoiled brats.  I wanted her to see possibilities in her future if she fell in love with sports  – not just ever four years when the olympics were on TV.

Did I want her to play basketball?  Only if she was interested.  Even though I played basketball, played softball, and ran cross country, I did not expect my children to share my love.  I wanted them to explore what made them happy and do it.  I had my time – there would be no living vicariously through them.  I wanted them to follow their passion like I did.

But I did want them to do a sport.  For me, sports taught confidence and leadership in a way that nothing else did.  It taught teamwork and the importance of skill sets that make up that team.  It taught the thrill of victory, and how to lose gracefully.  It also taught the direct correlation between hard work and success especially if you have perseverance.

Sports taught me that.  And I have seen sports teach many women the same.  I wanted my girls to experience that.  But with the sport that was right for them.

So watching a professional team of women (someone like her), I wanted DJ to see that happen – see how not giving up can pay off. I wanted to see them try hard not give up.  I wanted her to cheer for them. I wanted to also teach her to be a good sport by pointing to the bad sports and explaining why I don’t like that behavior.

And we had that.  Sadly, about the time Indigo was born, the team left Portland.  The team was losing money (albeit at a slower rate than the men’s team).  And we were left with mens teams again.  Yet, we went to baseball games.  The girls enjoyed them.  And during those games, I would explain strategy to them.  How the mental understanding of the game was more important sometimes than the physical aspect.  We kept score. And the girls cheered loud.

Both girls play soccer even if DJ doesn’t play on a team anymore.  When she did, she understood especially as she got older how not playing as a team can kill a team.  How to give direction without being bossy.  It was good stuff seeing her try hard and want to win, but at the same time understanding why they lost and how to fix it next time.

Indigo hasn’t had her a-ha moment yet, but she will. I am also not convinced she has found her sport yet.  She tries and enjoys it, but it’s like riding her bike – a fun thing to do but you don’t really try harder each time.  Don’t get me wrong – fun is something that, as my dad would say,  is critical to playing a game successfully.  If you aren’t having fun, he’d say, you are doing it wrong and need to fix it.

DJ through taekwondo has learned a lot about herself.  Leadership, perseverance, working hard, never giving up – they are all things she has had to tackle and continues to work hard at.  She didn’t become a 2nd degree black belt by sitting back and not working hard.  She holds her own.  And most importantly, she hold her own regardless of the sex she is up against.  Male or female, she doesn’t look to measure herself to one or the other based on sex – she looks at whoever can give her an example of where she wants to go strength wise and uses them as a guide.  She focuses on being good and drives herself to do it.  Just what I was hoping for.

But what is awesome? Having moms come up to G and me – moms with little girls just starting taekwondo and having them tell us that their daughter looks to DJ as an example of what she can become.  The fact she is one of five girls who are black belts (out of like 25 total blackbelts) has given their daughters someone to look up to.  So when she chooses a kick that is complicates to break that board – and does so spectacularly – their daughters all go “wow – I want to be like DJ”.  Love it.  (I digress.)

For Valentine’s Day, G got me two season tickets to the National Women’s Soccer League Team in Portland – The Thorns.  It was good to have another women’s pro team in Portland – and they picked the right one as Portland is a soccer town.  The first game I was sick so G and DJ went.  DJ came back excited.  She rambled on about the game.  G mentioned it was physical, and DJ told me what the women were doing on the field.  She loved it.

My first game , I took Indigo.  Indigo loved watching the strategy.  “Look at their position – they are playing the triangles” she would point out.   She loved how far they were kicking and asked if I would show her how to drop kick.  She was totally into the game – not bored but into it.  She left with her favorites and talks about what number she would be when she plays.

And I think that’s the key for me.  I knew I could play softball, for example, through college – but that was going to be it.  Just was what it was.  There were no pro-teams for me or even dreams of it.  But for Indigo and other girls, there can be dreams now.  Lofty, yes. But they can see doing what they love beyond where there used to be a ceiling.

This is why I go to the games.  I go because I love the sport.  I go because it is great soccer to watch with some amazingly talented women.  But I also go because I know with my money, they have a chance of success and longevity.  I feel like these world class athletes doesn’t have to go abroad to play their sport on teams where they can’t understand the coaches – they can stay right here.  And we don’t just get to watch them when they gather the national team players and play internationally.  There is a season.

Portland loves their team too.  They share the stadium with the men’s team.  They have their own group of hooligans.  And we fill that stadium with between 11,000 and 17,000 fans each home game.  (To give you an idea, big for most teams is maybe 4000, if they are lucky.)

Success of women’s professional sports is important to me. It’s important to our kids.  I hope people – men and women – understand that so we can keep this going.  Because, in many cases, these are the role models we should want for all of our kids.  Not just to show them potential, but to show that there are pro-athletes who aren’t getting arrested for crimes, who are out volunteering in the community (not just the second stringers), and who truly want to be where they are.  I found that with the WNBA team we had as well as this NWSL team – they want this bad – and they truly want to support the communities they are in.

I figure it’s the least I can do for my kids as well as them to support them.

start of the last home game (credit Thorns FB page)

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