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Business News/ Mint-lounge / Features/  Why you need to bring up sporty girls

All the sporting stars of the solar system were aligned directly above Babyjaan that summer holiday weekend in May. First, we attended a baseball game at San Francisco’s AT&T Park. Babyjaan was gripped, eyes shining, head nodding furiously, cheering and booing in sync with the beer-guzzling fans around her. None of them could have guessed that her mama had just Googled “baseball rules". Well maybe they suspected because for a while we thought the San Francisco Giants were playing the Dodgers, not the Angels—Google had skipped the part about Los Angeles having two baseball teams.

The next day we watched Floyd Mayweather versus Manny Pacquiao over a family cookout. That same morning we caught American Pharoah’s thrilling finish at the Kentucky Derby. The testosterone generated that weekend was powerful enough to make me reaffirm an old vow: Babyjaan would grow up a sweaty, sporty girl.

Developing a love for sports is easier if, like one of my favourite sporty girls, Shivani Naik, your mother can’t stop talking about Kapil Dev and dinner-time conversation revolves around the bowling styles in the Pakistan team. “Mum went into labour with instructions that my younger brother should be called Boris. By the time she delivered, Becker had won his first Wimbledon," Naik says. Eventually he was named Rohan, after Rohan Kanhai, the Guyanese cricketer and 1960s West Indian team A-lister.

Even Saina Nehwal’s mother wanted to name her daughter Steffi. For years people called her that, Nehwal says in her book Playing To Win. Mum may have loved tennis hero Steffi Graf but Nehwal’s parents were both badminton players and she began watching their Dhal Gaya Din routine when she was six months old. When the time came to pick a sport, badminton was the natural choice.

For little girls, developing a love for sport is the quickest way out of the pink ghetto or craft hell. Parents are always pushing their sons to be stronger and faster, but I consider it a basic parenting duty to bring up sporty girls. Why should the best lessons in victory and defeat be restricted to boys? Don’t girls need to learn that it’s okay to fall and get up?

Playing any sport will make your girls healthier, stronger and more confident. It teaches team work, discipline and the joy of getting dirty. It’s an early lesson in respecting your body. It makes you hungry and dissolves any teenage angst. It toughens you like nothing else can. It holds you in good stead as you grow older too. It’s easier to stay fit and to be a late mother if you have always been the sporty type.

The history of women in sport is the history of women learning that they can do anything they want. From Gertrude Ederle, the first woman to swim the English Channel in 1926, to gymnast Kacy Catanzaro, the first woman to qualify for American Ninja Warrior last year (I only know this because it’s my brother’s favourite TV programme), the field is brimming with female role models for your daughters. Sports is a good way to combat racism, sizeism and all the other crap that’s out there lying in wait for the next generation. Sports heroes are sports heroes. Children don’t notice their colour, size or religion.

In the developed world they track the growth of sporty girls. Since 1972, female participation in high school sports has increased by more than 900% in the US. Here, the national thinking about girls and sports is that our daughters will become dark playing in the sun. We make life so difficult for our women athletes I have no idea how they even make it to the international arena. Luckily for us, they do, and Indian sport is also full of amazing women.

Babyjaan’s sporting programme is already underway. Here’s how we do it.

Ensure she spends active time with dad. He’s the one who encourages her to climb higher than can possibly be safe; to swim without her floats in the deep; to cycle without trainer wheels before she’s ready; and to play rough football. Mostly I’m on the sidelines, wincing and cheering weakly. Men seem to have a more laissez faire attitude in the park too. My father never says no to his granddaughter when she wants to kick off her shoes, play in the mud, run around madly or stay out longer. If you’re the type who’s ready to go home after 20 minutes in the park, try to focus on building your stamina instead of curbing your child’s energy.

Make it a family activity. Be grateful it isn’t 1924. Back then women were only allowed to participate in figure skating at the first Winter Olympic Games. We sat together and watched boxing champ Mary Kom’s Olympic bronze in 2012 and her Asian Games Gold in 2014. We set the alarm past midnight on several school nights to watch the football World Cup and picnicked as we identified the flags of so many countries. Of course we also struggled a bit to explain Neymar’s fractured vertebra.

Introduce her to some champions. Babyjaan’s been watching Wimbledon since 2013 when Marion Bartoli won the women’s final in straight sets. She knows Serena Williams is mama’s hero and she also knows Williams loves to pair orange and pink. At 2 she was conjuring up Mary Kom when she needed help to fight imaginary “bad men". And she can certainly distinguish her Sainas from her Sanias.

My personal favourites are our wrestlers and our shooters. The best part about these sporting heroes is that they all have amazing stories. Share these tales with your daughter. No fiction writer could have made up the story of Haryana’s Phogat sisters. Six wrestling champions, all women, all brought up in what is officially India’s worst state for baby girls.

Spread the love. Give girls sporty birthday gifts. Mini foosball tables, footballs, badminton rackets, tennis lessons. When shopping, head straight for the boys’ section; that’s where they hide the fun stuff.

Fake it if you must. If you’re not an Indian Premier League fan, watch kabaddi. Pick a sport of your choice and track it. She’ll soon be able to identify key players, recognize their pictures in the newspaper. Thanks to Babyjaan, I’ve even started reading the sports pages again. If you dislike all sports, enlist the cricket-obsessed brother, the neighbour who cycles to work, or the godfather who is a killer sports writer. If, god forbid, you find yourself alone with your daughter on a big sporting night, you can always read your Zadie Smith under the covers as you pretend to care if Stan Wawrinka defeats Novak Djokovic. Do whatever it takes to ensure your daughter learns to play hard.

Priya Ramani will share what’s making her feel angsty/agreeable every fortnight.

Write to her at

Also Read: Priya’s previous Lounge columns

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Updated: 20 Jun 2015, 12:59 PM IST
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