“One of the primary benefits of Title IX was that it gave girls many other venues to exercise,” said Dr. Cathy L. Cantor, a board-certified specialist in internal medicine, pediatrics and sports medicine with ProMedica. “If you look at the numbers, in 1971 or `72, in high schools, there were about 290,000 female athletes. In 2010, there were over 3 million.
“To see that kind of jump in participation is wonderful,” she said.
“Girls get short-term health benefits from sports participation along with benefits that can last a lifetime, including decreasing their risk for diabetes and elevated blood pressure, which we are seeing at significant levels in the pediatric population.
“In addition, there are the social benefits – learning teamwork and for teenagers, having something to do can keep them out of trouble,” Dr. Cantor said.
“Sports can also increase access to college – I’m someone who probably wouldn’t have been able to go to college if it weren’t for sports,” she said. “I did all kinds of sports in high school and ended up running track and cross country at the University of Alabama.”
Dr. Cantor urged parents to start their young daughters – and sons too – on the road to sports participation with fun backyard activities. “Go over the basics of a sport and how it works, taking turns, etc.,” she said. “Run around, get active outside with your children.”
If your daughter shows an interest, sign her up for a youth instructional team. “Start with the goal of having fun first,” Dr. Cantor said. “Some of the travel team activities may be too intense or competitive for some young athletes.
“And with so many sports opportunities, don’t make kids choose one sport too early,” she added. “You may not know what sports you’ll be good at until later on.
“I also think you get a more well-rounded experience from a health perspective if you do multiple sports because you’re working multiple muscle groups,” she said.
No matter what sport a young athlete chooses, training consistency is an important caveat to avoid injuries, Dr. Cantor said. “Make sure they’re not doing too much too soon – that’s the biggest message for all athletes.
“Girls’ growth plates fuse at different ages than boys,” she said. “And females can be a little more prone to ACL injuries and stress fractures, depending on where they are in their stage of development.
“ACL injuries are potential hazards for female basketball and soccer players,” Dr. Cantor said. “There has been a lot of research on this, but the thought is that perhaps boys and girls fire hamstrings and quads differently, and some of the movements in soccer and basketball require a lot of quad and hamstring action.
Girls reaching puberty may notice changes with their performance, she said. “There is also a hormonal influence to girls’ training. If girls are starting their menstrual cycles, that may change their response to training and kind of impact on their bodies – they may gain weight; they may change at their hips; they may not be able to achieve the intensity or endurance they had previously because of the changes with their bone structure.
“It’s important for coaches to be aware of these changes and approach their training for each athlete on an individual basis,” Dr. Cantor said.