Billie Jean King has been a champion for girls and women in sports her entire life. Her success on the tennis court —39 Grand Slam championships, the creation of the Women’s Tennis Association, and a spot in the International Tennis Hall of Fame —helped pave the way for the next generation of girls and women in athletics.
After her long tenured tennis career, King created the Women’s Sports Foundation in 1974. The organization’s mission is to assist girls and women in sports in all aspects of the industry, and to remove any barriers for their athletic careers. The different sectors of the organization, advocacy, research, programs, resources and awards, help uncover issues in girls and women’s sports and create solutions for the problems that arise.
WSF has many programs to help girls and women gain equal opportunities, as well as providing financial support. In 1977, the organization began the first grant program for summer camp scholarships. In 1985, the High School All-Star program began as a way to provide girls in high school scholarships to play sports at the collegiate level.
More recently, in 2014, the WSF and espnW launched a national grant program called Sports 4 Life to increase participation among Black and Hispanic girls in sport.
In June, WSF held a livestream event on “Girls of Color and Title IX, An Unfulfilled Promise.” The panel was hosted by ESPN analyst LaChina Robinson, and panelists included WNBA star Candace Parker and University of South Carolina women’s basketball head coach Dawn Staley. The event highlighted obstacles that girls and women of color face in athletics from their youth up to the professional level.
Since the beginning of the Foundation, “the initiative has funded 162 different organizations in 32 states (plus Washington D.C. and U.S. Virgin Islands) with $1.6 million in grants reaching 60,000 girls in 50 sports.”
In addition, the Sports 4 Life program also offers the GoGirlGo! New York City initiative that “offers grants to support girl-serving organizations that seek to enhance the lives of girls using sports, physical activity and life lessons” and the WSF Athlete Ambassador Program that connects aspiring athletes at all levels with organizations across the country to serve as mentors.
The WSF also conducts numerous research projects to pinpoint obstacles girls and women face in sports and highlight solutions to those issues. Two most recent studies the organization conducted are Keeping Girls in the Game and Chasing Equity: The Triumphs, Challenges and Opportunities in Sports for Girls and Women.
Keeping Girls in the Game: Factors that Influence Sport Participation analyzed the external factors on participation levels among kids in sports, the likelihood of their return and the dropout rates out of sports. The study found that girls are more likely to not play sports and less likely to currently be competing. The solution was to find other ways to encourage girls to participate in sports.
One third of parents believe that boys are better than girls at sports, but the solution is to encourage parents to support their daughters emotionally and tangibly (providing the necessary equipment to play). The last two findings found that girls have limited exposure to women role models in all sectors of the industry and that parents should encourage them to follow women at the collegiate and professional level. The other obstacle was parents not seeing the positive impact sports has on academic careers, and highlights cost as a barrier for athletics as well.
The report was supported by the DICK’s Sporting Goods Foundation’s research partnership with WSF, according to a release.
The second study, Chasing Equity, focused on access and opportunity, Title IX, safety and workplace bias, and media coverage. The key findings in the survey found that in participation and opportunity there are more opportunities for men at the collegiate level, media coverage would lead to more participation, and there needs to be more support for girls in urban and rural areas to have access to athletics.
Moving forward the WSF has opportunities to involve more women in scouting and coaching roles. Their Tara VanDerveer Fund and The Scott Pioli & Family Fund are set to help with the advancement for women interested in scouting and coaching. The Foundation has also launched The Equity Project, which is a movement to impact sports participation, policy, representation, and leadership in sustainable and measurable ways.
By creating opportunities for girls and women at all levels of sports, the WSF continues to find ways to advance the participation, development and industry of girls and women’s athletics.
“The Women’s Sports Foundation is resolute in our mission to ensure that all girls and women have equitable access to sport and physical activity, as a means to the power, potential, and joy it will unlock in their lives,” WSF CEO Deborah Antoine said in a statement. “Having a clearer understanding of the factors that keep girls on the sidelines is critically important … everyone benefits when more girls are in the game.”