By Gary Kleeblatt
The feeling of success from kicking a goal in a soccer match, directing a good pass to a teammate, or making a diving save is one of the simple victories that many girls get to experience during their childhood. Playing a team sport like soccer can build confidence and self-esteem, develop teamwork and relationships that carries off the field, and teach life lessons.
But for some children, they may never have that "normal" experience.
That is why staff from the Department of Children and Families are "teaming up" with the women's soccer program at Central Connecticut State University (CCSU) and an association of private providers who specialize in girls' services to offer it to some girls who especially need it.
On Saturday, February 2 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., girls in one of several treatment programs across Connecticut will come to the New Britain CCSU campus to participate in a special soccer clinic. Instruction at the clinic will be offered by women from the CCSU soccer team under the leadership of Coach Mick D'Arcy and Assistant Coach Jen Prozzo. The Department worked with CCSU and the Girls' Provider Network, an association of private service providers who treat and serve girls in state care who have behavioral health needs, to organize the event.
The event is premised on the idea that "being physically active improves girls self-esteem and physical health," according to a Department flyer recruiting girls to the event. "Participation in organized sports helps girls learn about teamwork, goal setting, the pursuit of excellence and achievement-oriented behavior." The event also is being used as an opportunity to recognize the 27th Annual National Girls and Women in Sports Day, which is celebrated in all 50 states.
Jacqueline Guajardo, PhD, who is a consulting psychologist with the Department and the event's main organizer, said participation in organized sports is something that girls in care too frequently miss out on.
"The Department continually looks to provide girls in its care with opportunities for safe, fun, and rewarding experiences," Dr. Guajardo said. "Unfortunately, the life circumstances of many of our girls limit their exposure to organized sports, and few get the chance to regularly participate. Even a simple childlike dream of being a winning athlete is an enigma.
"National Girls & Women in Sports Day gives girls in DCF care the opportunity to laugh, learn and play with successful college athletes, many of whom have overcome personal and/or family hardships by participating in organized sports," she added. "Together, the girls and young women can share the physical and mental benefits of participating in sports, and hopefully understand the value of enjoying an active lifestyle."
Annie, a 17 year old who is participating in the event, said she has a goal of attending college and perhaps working in sports medicine. In fact, she has been to the University of Connecticut campus to compete for her high school track team. She also has visited the Western Connecticut State University campus in Danbury, where a friend of hers is going to school.
Annie said that girls who participate in the Sports Day event will "get to know what college is like and if they want to participate in sports." Annie, who was a sprinter and long-jumper, said sports are a great way to "relieve stress, stay out of trouble and get fit."
Ms. Prozzo, the assistant women's soccer coach at CCSU, said the benefits will be reciprocal.
The girls will be exposed to a college atmosphere and to "see something else outside their lives right now," Ms. Prozzo said. She hopes the girls can see what the women athletes do to go to college and "be fit and put in the work." She said sports teaches young people about competition, cooperation, and working hard to achieve goals, as well as the benefits of sports for fitness, health and strong character.
Ms. Prozzo added that while the women on the soccer team will be providing instruction and playing with the visiting girls, they also will be learning about the rewards of sharing their time with children facing challenges.
"It will be a learning experience for our girls, too," Ms. Prozzo said.