This 13-Year-Old Just Reminded Us How Badass It Is to ‘Play Like a Girl’

And she was invited by the White House to introduce the U.S. women’s soccer team.
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And she was invited by the White House to introduce the U.S. women’s soccer team.

Back in July I wrote about the U.S. women’s victory in the World Cup and how meaningful it was to have Mia Hamm as my idol growing up. I shared my joy about the fact that young girls today have the 2015 USWNT to idolize and my hope that the contrast between our nation’s female athletes and vapid reality stars would be sharply noticed by impressionable girls seeking a role model.

Enter Ayla Ludlow, a 13-year-old-girl from Massachusetts. When her brother made fun of her for watching the Women’s World Cup this summer, she put her foot down. She wrote a letter to the White House, which eventually made its way into the hands of the World Cup players as well. Talk about taking action for what you believe in.

Earlier this week the White House invited Ludlow to meet the president—as well as her soccer star idols—and discuss her conviction about the value of women’s sports. A video clip of the discussion was released yesterday, and I couldn’t love it an ounce more.

I love you, Ayla. I love your parents for whatever they’ve done to make sure you know that girls can be just as good—or better—at sports than boys. I love your soccer coach (surely you play soccer, right?) for whatever she’s done to make your time on the field about more than just physical education. I love that you wrote a letter to the president because in a way, this issue of playing like a girl just might be an issue of national importance.

When girls play sports, they understand teamwork.

They understand that not everyone gets to be the goalie or the star forward but that neither of those positions would matter if the other players weren’t doing their jobs.

When girls play sports, they understand sportsmanship. 

They understand the thrill of competition and that competition is not possible without an opponent. So we respect our opponents. They understand that victory is not guaranteed, that no one is entitled to it, that it is earned with careful practice and hard work and sometimes a bit of luck. They learn to show up on game day even when victory feels impossible. They learn that losing is part of life, that even winners lose sometimes, but that the heart of a player is so much bigger than a win–loss record.

Tobin Heath #17 of the United States in action against Costa Rica during the match at Heinz Field on August 16, 2015, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Tobin Heath #17 of the United States in action against Costa Rica during the match at Heinz Field on August 16, 2015, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

When girls play sports, they learn the power of their bodies.

They learn that their bodies are capable of great things—of surprising strength, speed, and grace. They learn about wounds and healing. They learn what it feels like to have your heart beating so hard that you are momentarily deafened by the sound of it, able only to hear exactly how alive you are in that moment.

When girls play sports, they learn the power of discipline.

They learn about looking into the future at a goal and working backward to a starting point. They learn that life is full of variables that cannot be controlled but that you, alone, are responsible for what you put into it. And then, practice by practice, one foot in front of the other, repeated day in and day out, they become ready. And one day, the goal enters into sight, and they are prepared to grab it.

When girls play sports, they learn about loyalty.

They learn what it means to be bound together by the common goal of achieving something together. They learn that no matter where someone comes from or what they look like or how different they seem, when they wear the same jersey as you, they are for you. And you are for them. They learn that this is how individuals become a team and how teams become great.

Thank you, Ayla. Thank you for reminding us all that to “play like a girl” is actually a beautiful, badass thing.