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Women's Sports Network Influence Girls

You all know Amy at Shaping Youth by now, but I wanted to run a piece about the new Women Talk Sports Network and what it will mean for girls.

wts-blog-badgeMay 19, 2009 In the “Young Runners” post yesterday I glossed over the new Women Talk Sports network and Shaping Youth Correspondent Rebecca Scritchfield’s involvement as one of their cadre of contributing bloggers, because I KNEW this media magic warranted a post and presence all its own.

One of our readers yesterday was seeking a hub for encouraging teen girl athletes dealing with body image issues and healthy tips on raising athletic daughters…I loaded her up with links and ‘go to’ spots, including Women Talk Sports network, but in reality, I could’ve given her just this ONE source.

Why? Because WTS folds umpteen resources into one ‘real time’ hub, which cuts to the chase by putting girls in touch with athletes themselves in ‘we’re living it’ mode!

Their conversations raise issues of importance and voices to be heard from all over the sports spectrum grappling with everything from critical analysis of media portrayals to sports specific tips ‘in the game’ and nutrition and training regimens.

wts-twitter-loungePithy. Funny. Edgy. Wry. The voices of these women are all over the board sharing best practices and pitfalls in ‘Twitter-time.’ (i.e. right here, right now, in the moment)

Women Talk Sports network calls themselves the “First online blog network for women’s sports” …I’d amp up the voice a bit louder and crow this is THE ‘go to’ spot for female athletes, coaches (and the families who love them!) for sheer candor and unabashed conversation on ANY ancillary sports topic at ANY given time.

Sure, there’s the fabulous Women’s Sports Foundation, grand dame of advocacy, education, GoGirlGo youth programs and Go Girl World.org to connect 8-18 year old girls via e-zine and online forum with other active like-minded athletes and ESPN support…

And there’s NAGWS, and Tucker Ctr. Research for Girls/Women in sport, and various commercial ventures, including sponsored off-shoots like Nike’s Gamechangers, which is a favorite of mine for global scholarships and storylines spotlighting Sport for Change including my own GWLN.org/Women Leaders for the World colleague Lucky Chhetri who won a mini-grant for her 3 Sisters Adventure Trekking in Nepal…

But here’s what makes Women Talk Sports network different…It stretches media momentum a bit further by using the best of web 2.0 community building in real time and engagement.

raising-athletic-daughters

Think of it as a deep lunge instead of a warm up…

They’re able to integrate conversations using web tools and RSS feeds to create meaningful dialogue among multiple female sportsters, whether teens, students, Olympians, celebrity/pro circuit, coaches or amateurs and all the ancillary trainers and service providers that wrap around that conversation to support them.

This not only builds in role models from the get go, it gives girls and women a place to be their personal best and share what’s on their mind whether it’s performance-driven or collaborative chat within the community.

Nice to have a ‘safe zone’ to relax and touch base among shared interests, because all too often women don’t have much of a ‘tribe’ when it comes to areas traditionally dominated by a more male point of view. (We found this at the She’s Geeky UnConference of techies, engineers, and STEM career lifers too; it just creates a different ambience and comfort zone)

Refreshing amidst a media diet of ‘Gossip Girl’ drama and stereotyped ‘mean girl’ personas depicting relational aggression as normative. Bleh.

ggwJust as journalists Jean Zimmerman and Gil Reavill wrote about the positive impact of sports in girls’ lives in their book, Raising Our Athletic Daughters:

“If Ophelia had been on the swim team, she might not have needed reviving.”

No kidding. The WTS network helps lift the voices into the media mix with first-person 21st century camaraderie, much like their book emphasized first-hand stories of transformation from the inner cities and rural playing fields across the country with girls in sports making an incredible difference in the lives of young girls with data many of us can recite in our sleep:

“…Girls in sports reduce pregnancy rates and substance abuse, increase college attendance, promote self-confidence , self-worth, and achievement”…

…AND I’d add…”and give them the armor required for shielding against the pounding of incessant media messages objectifying them into pin-up poseurs” 😉

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Girls need to ‘see themselves’ and connect with others in their given sports, whether it’s via sites like WSF’s GoGirlWorld (shown above) or on ESPN coverage…so I think the Women Talk Sports network is a boon to all ages.

As I wrote in this post, “Using Media to Inspire All Ages: From Lia Neal to Dara Torres” the Olympic Games drew girls into the world of the athletes firsthand, “training in tandem” with role models like Natalie Coughlin showing them how on YouTube and feeling the sense of “up close and personal” media formats that build intimacy and reveal their personality…

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Well, a quick peek at this WTS network, from pertinent blogs on Sports, Media & Society to their “Twitter Lounge” feeds (that refresh every 5 minutes without doing a single thing so kids can literally ‘watch’ it for a jiff, btw…) puts these positive role models in girls’ hands even further, by personalizing the access and building a sense of online community by their mere presence. (that’s Natalie’s Twitter photo at left)

All WTS users benefit from this transparency…from sports tips and techniques to insights and clarifications from the athletes themselves.

Natalie Coughlin herself just ‘Tweeted’ this on the WTS network earlier today, a classic ‘hands-on’ case of her rights as a public figure to refute rumors in real time and seize online reputation management back from the talking heads and spinmeisters…Natalie wrote,

Who’s the person spreading rumors that I’m retired?!? Not cool. Just taking a break, but I’m slowly getting back in the water.”

Then there’s more elaborate forum style WTS commentary that looks lively and well-reasoned, such as this ongoing analysis I found called “One Sport Voice” by Dr. Nicole LaVoi which would no doubt appeal to Shaping Youth’s audience of critical thinkers…

She frames her scholarly commentary on all things sport with ‘bigger picture’ issues on the pros/cons of social media’s blast zone of athlete awareness vs. sustainability…(as in “Show me the money” for women’s sports).

wts-screenshotDr. LaVoi writes,

“There seems to be much discussion over Twitter and how it might be “the answer” to successfully marketing and promoting women’s sports. Jayda Evans (Seattle Times columnist & Twitter-er) wrote about it, the Women’s Professional Soccer League is using it, and Megan Hueter, Co-founder of Women Talk Sports, has two recent blogs about the importance of social media for women’s sport (A recent blog is about Twitter and an earlier blog was about Facebook)… ”

“…I get that social media is a platform to market women’s sports in a saturated market, and it is accessible, current, relevant, provides athlete-generated content etc…I got it. I love social media, really I do, so this is not a critique of social media or those that love it, promote it, and live for it. I have a Blog (obviously), a Facebook page, am connected to colleagues through LinkedIn, and recently conquered my Twitter fascination…”

“…However, even with my love for social media I’m reluctant to make claims about the effectiveness of it in promoting female athletes and women’s sports. It is the researcher in me—I’m critical and skeptical until I see the proof (i.e., empirical data).

“…I have seen ZERO research that demonstrates if, and how, social media tangibly and effectively promotes and markets women’s sports. I queried one of our very smart graduate students who is immersed in this research, and she didn’t know of any either. We will stand corrected if it exists. Just because everyone is all atwitter about Twitter doesn’t mean it “works” or will “save” women’s sports…

(–Dr. Nicole LaVoi) Read the rest here…

THEN, Dr. Nicole LaVoi kicks it up a notch and asks whether we’ve really leveled the playing field at all with social media or whether it’s just another venue for sexploitation of athletes or a showcase of antics that permeate pop culture.

Oooh…Getting hot in here.

danika-patrick2.jpgThis is akin to my Danica Patrick post about racy racecar drivers selling out in ‘third wave feminism’ stance to become yet another hottie pinup girl of engine revving libidos straddling her machine with innuendo and hammering girls psyches with betrayal of what it means to be an athlete and ‘sexy.’—

I even split factions with our own advisory team of PhDs at Packaging Girlhood who argued the point similar to WTS Co-Founder Jane Schonberger of Pretty Tough who responded to Nicole LaVoi,

“Do you really think that female athletes have been coerced into being sexy and pretty in order to market themselves? What if they simply enjoy their femininity and don’t feel the need to suppress it in order to have their athleticism taken seriously. Why does anyone’s identity have to be reducible to one personality? It’s the range of talents, personalities, abilities, etc. that contributes to sports’ appeal and each participant should feel free to rep themselves honestly.”

Personally, as a creative director, I DO think female athletes are ‘guided’ into their poses to ‘sell’ and have seen this firsthand, but that’s a ‘show me the money’ story in itself in play for pay profiteering…I’d point you to Media Education Foundation’s film “Playing Unfair” on that one, for a media lens deconstruction of post Title IX ‘equality.’

wts-twitterThen another equally sharp retort came from WTS Co-Founder Megan Hueter (photos at left) who adds,

“…I have spoken with representatives from both the WNBA and Women’s Pro Soccer.

They do not “force” their players to do anything. The leagues simply gave them the green light to say whatever they want.

These players are participating because they want to. They WANT interaction with their fans. Krisi Toliver said that to me, here:

…And, if you take a look at the female pro athlete widget Women Talk Sports has on the side of the homepage, just by browsing through the conversations you can see that there are plenty of conversations about games and practices, as well as discussions of “off the court” topics that may/may not allow them to relate to their audience.

The point is, as long as the athletes are being honest and truthful, how can it hurt their sport to tell a little bit about themselves?…So in answer to your question,

“Could it be possible that social media, including Twitter, is just another means to replicate the ways in which traditional sport media marginalizes and sexualizes female athletes?” My response is yes, it could be, but the difference here is that the female athletes have the control over the conversation (not journalists). And that is very, very powerful.”

Agree…

The conversation continues over on the WTS network and it’s a worthy back and forth lobbing of volleys like a well-matched doubles set.

I can’t wait to read more from this erudite group of champions out to level the playing field…

Meanwhile don’t miss their video section, too! Share it with some girls you love!

Christiane Amanpour, CNN Chief International Correspondent, on the importance of sport in the lives of women and girls. Created and distributed by the Women’s Sports Foundation (also on WSF’s Facebook Fan Page) via Vimeo.

Related Sports Posts on Shaping Youth

Changing the Game Through Sport (Nike GameChangers)

Lia Neal to Dara Torres: Using Media to Inspire All Ages

Girls Sports Boosts Preteen Body Image & Self-Worth

Danica Patrick: A Racy Kids’ Role Model to Champion?

Positive Coaching Alliance Offers Media Tips & Life Lessons

Media Tips from Dads & Daughters About Sports Engagement

GLTR Girls: Girls Learn to Ride Creates Oceans of Self Esteem

Gender/Race/ Sexism: Shaping Youth Through Pop Culture Cues

Young Runners: A Media Must for Track Season

+3 Network: Social Media Sponsorship Tool for Races!

Kidney Stones in Kindergarten? Put Down the Sports Drink Kiddo

Aligned Resources &/Or Partner Orgs

Frank Baker.com: Sports Marketing & Advertising, Media Literacy Lessons

MEF/Playing Unfair: The Media Image of the Female Athlete

Women’s Sports Foundation.org

GoGirlWorld.org (national divisions and world site)

Girls Are Champions

San Mateo/Starlings Volleyball USA

Balanced Health & Nutrition: Rebecca Scritchfield

Elite Nutrition: Fuel. Perform. Achieve

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