A couple of years ago, seeking an alternative to the gym, and hoping to meet people in my new inner western home, I joined my local women’s soccer club, The Maribyrnong Swifts. One month after the end of my first soccer season, I fell pregnent. I joined the club for fitness and friendship; little did I know that being a sporting mum would have so many other benefits, now and into the future, and for both myself and my daughter.
At first, I was a total novice – I hadn’t been part of an organised sporting team since high school, and even then, my talents left a lot to be desired. But the coach worked us hard on fitness and skills, and gradually, after months of twice-weekly training and Sunday round robin matches, I did improve (yep, I even got the Most Improved award at the end of season!). Plus, I was fit, and had made 16 new friends. I looked forward to soccer: the tough training in rain, mud and sun; the early Saturday night bedtimes in preparation for the Sunday game; the bruised legs and blistered toes; and the guilt-free team lunches or dinners (big plates of parmagiana and jugs of beer) after each game.
I learned about my body: how it worked, how far I could push it, and how resilient it could be. I learned about teamwork: about cooperation, but also proactiveness and personal responsibility. I also gained a great deal of respect for my gender: women from all age groups, all walks of life, and numerous nationalities came together as a team to put their bodies on the line for a common goal. I wished I had joined a sporting club when I was at school. It would have shown me that the world was bigger, and more accepting, than my school and the cliques within it.
I fell pregnant at a convenient time – a few weeks after my first soccer season ended – so I took a year off and rejoined the team when my baby was 6 months old. After two months of pre-season training, I was feeling fit again; but, during the very first official match of the season, I fell awkwardly and fractured my wrist. I continued training, with my cast on, partly because I loved it and didn’t want to lose my fitness, but also partly because I’ve realised how important it is to me that my daughter sees women being active, competitive, dedicated and supportive of one another.
As my daughter grows up, I want sport to be a fun and normal part of her life: as normal is it is for boys. Sport will teach her about teamwork, goal-setting and personal achievement – all vital skills in the workplace. It will keep her fit and strong, and establish a good habit for exercise throughout her life. Testing and pushing her body to its limits will empower her, boost self-confidence and inspire her to achieve. She will feel a bond with her teammates: a kind of bond that only team sport can create. And, most importantly, she will learn that, with hard work, she can achieve whatever she wants in life, regardless of her gender.
Perhaps my daughter’s generation will be the first to see female athletes paid the same as male athletes, watch regular live televised women’s sports on television, or book tickets to spectate women’s sports without a second thought. In the meantime, I will continue to be a sporting mum, hoping a little bit of my enthusism rubs off. Fingers crossed.