This Children's Day, the best gift a parent could give their daughter is an introduction to sport

“And what if I fall down?”

“It will hurt but you will pick yourself up and stride forward.”

That is what my father told me when I was five-years-old -- during a cool autumn day in the mid nineties, as he was teaching me how to skate. I fell multiple times, cried multiple times and picked myself up multiple times. In a few days I learnt how to glide on concrete and eventually I learnt how to glide in life. While my father was teaching me skating, he was also, unknowingly (or knowingly) teaching me how to deal with life.

 This Childrens Day, the best gift a parent could give their daughter is an introduction to sport

Girls play at a public park in Dharavi. Reuters

Since that day, I have fallen multiple times both personally and professionally, but each time that has happened I simply pick myself up and stride forward.

“Sports do not build character. They reveal it,” legendary UCLA Basketball Coach John Wooden said. And in a country such as India where less than one percent of the children and an even lower number of girls, have access to organised sports, I am glad I was privileged enough to be one of them.

Economist Betsey Stevenson in her 2010 paper 'Beyond the Classroom: Using Title IX to Measure the Return to High School Sports', published research finding establishing how playing sports eventually helps women shatter the glass ceiling.

"A ten percent point rise in state-level female sports participation generates a one percent point increase in female college attendance and a one to two percent point rise in female labour force participation. Furthermore, greater opportunities to play sports leads to greater female participation in previously male-dominated occupations, particularly in high-skill occupations."

So besides the obvious physical and emotional benefits that participating in sports offers, one of the greatest gifts it can give young girls is an ability to fight patriarchy. The real reason why most conservatives do not allow women to play sports is because once a woman realises the true strength of her body, she realises that she is capable of doing anything.

According to the United Nations, "girls who play a sport are more likely to participate in school and society. When women and girls get used to winning on the playing field, they are more likely to step up in the classroom, the boardroom, and as leaders in society."

As per a survey in 2013 by the professional services firm Ernst and Young, 96 percent of women in the “C-Suite” played sports at some level while growing up. This builds on a 2002 study by mutual fund company Oppenheimer done in the United States which stated that one in six adult women identify themselves as athletic, but that jumps to nearly half among women who make more than $75,000 a year.

The results advance a 1997 survey by the Women's Sports Foundation that found that 80 percent of female executives in Fortune 500 companies identified themselves as ''competitive'' and ''tomboys'' in their youth.

The reason why this happens? Sport inculcates self esteem.

According to Jacquelynne S. Eccles at the Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan, “studies show that girls’ self esteem peaks around nine-years old, and then begins to drop as they navigate the challenges of adolescence.”

Actively participating in sports as they enter their teenage years helps boosts these girls’ self esteem as they learn to appreciate their bodies, work towards tangible goals and gain a greater sense of belonging.

While I am not one for symbolism, maybe Children's Day is a good day to introduce your daughter to the joy of sports. One of the greatest gifts parents can give their daughters is the gift of self worth and purpose -- and one of the best ways to do that is through sports.

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Updated Date: Nov 14, 2015 14:25:07 IST