Titans’ Derrick Henry builds bridges with girls at STRIVE

First impressions

The NFL’s best running back Derrick Henry made a new record during the Titans 27-17 win against the Packers last week. Henry, whose elite talent was on display in front of a national audience Thursday night, rushed for 87 yards and a touchdown — while also catching two passes for 45 yards (that included a key 42-yard grab on a Titans’ scoring drive). The coup de grâce came as Henry threw a three-yard touchdown pass (his second completion of the night) to tight end Austin Hooper and, ultimately, served the game-winning score.

Henry became the first player with at least 20 carries, two completions, a rushing touchdown and a touchdown pass in the same game since 1983 when the immortal Walter Payton did so. Like Payton, Henry is the best running back of his era, and his performance Thursday night should have added him to the list of players being considered for league MVP.

But Henry isn’t worried about accolades for himself, though. The former Heisman Trophy winner is, instead, focused on helping the Titans continue their 7-3 winning streak. 


A perfect fit

Henry represents excellence both on and off the field of play.

Recently, Henry spent a day building bridges made of Popsicle sticks meant to teach engineering design concepts and help female middle school students at STRIVE Collegiate Academy see the value of pursuing their interest in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and related fields (STEM+).

“Sport matters but what really matters is leveling the playing field for girls,” Henry said during a recent one-on-one with Dr. Kim. “I’m blessed to be able to use my platform to help Play Like a Girl deepen its work toward making this happen in our lifetime.”

Challenge accepted

Henry did what is second nature on the sports turf outdoors. Yup, he tossed a few balls and taught the girls a few winning moves. But he didn’t stop by for football alone. Henry was on campus for Play Like a Girl Day – and a fun and meaningful lesson in STEM+.

With the help of Henry and Bridgestone Americas employee volunteers, students learned how to engineer bridges using Popsicle sticks. Students worked in small groups to design and build a bridge to withstand weight, be sturdy, and with the least amount of resources possible. As a team, students were challenged to take initiative in proposing, designing, building, and evaluating their finished products to their peers. Each bridge was evaluated on effectiveness, design, creativity, and aesthetics.

This STEM+ lesson explores basic engineering concepts as well as challenges students to design and build their own versions of contemporary bridges. This project has been used in the past as a way to develop innovative bridges and has impacted the design of many bridges we see today. 

Corporations Compete, Have Fun and Do Good

Nashville companies face off in the 2022 Play Like a Girl On the Green Charity Golf Scramble at Brentwood Country Club on June 27.

Golf courses are not typically home to corporate team building events. But this isn’t a typical day for Nashville companies.

Last summer, roughly 200 people broke free from their day jobs to attend Play Like a Girl’s inaugural On the Green, essentially a golf play day for grown-ups. Teams from more than 30 companies competed in an 18-hole golf game and various on-course contests nearby at The Grove.

Dr. Kimberly Clay, founder and CEO for Play Like a Girl, is optimistic the 2022 tournament will get close to her goal of raising $100,000.

On the Green was immediately a hit with golfers and non-golfers alike in 2021, in part, because it provides companies with a healthy way to build team camaraderie and employee morale while helping Play Like a Girl connect with companies and donors who may not have interacted with the organization in the past.

“On the Green is a great door-opener for us to engage companies of all sizes as well as the leading women, senior executives and Employee Resource Groups within those companies,” Clay said.

Play Like a Girl On the Green will take place at the beautiful Brentwood Country Club, a private 18-hole golf course located at 5123 Country Club Drive just off Franklin Road in the heart of Brentwood, on Monday, June 27, 2022.  As one of Nashville’s only majority female golf tournaments, this iconic event includes both female and male flights.

Play Like a Girl has teamed up with First Tee of Tennessee to again host the LPGA Girls Golf Clinic at 10:00 a.m. before the shotgun start on June 27. This exclusive girls golf experience features a host of free activities designed to inspire the next generation of women golfers and business leaders.

Participants in the tournament can compete in the four-person scramble event as an individual or as part of a company team, completing several on-course contests including closest to the pin and longest drive.

Registration for both the tournament and golf clinic for girls is now open at iplaylikeagirl.org.


Corporate teams also have the opportunity to raise funds for the Play Like a Girl Scholarship Fund—building a pipeline of diverse young women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Teams that start fundraising ahead of the event can earn extra points in the competition.


Over 120 leaders from over 30 companies competed in the inaugural tournament. Bridgestone Americas was named top fundraising team. Nashville's newest architecture firm, Gensler, is already a breakout for the 2022 competition with Bridgestone leading again this year.

On the Green uses a four-person scramble format which allows corporate teams of four to play the course in a best ball format designed for players of all abilities. Team members all hit from the same spot on each shot, with the team selecting the best ball for their next shot. This continues until completion of the hole.

This format generally eliminates the need to take penalty shots or hit from the woods or bunkers as one team member usually puts the ball in a good position. The team format of a scramble allows for lower scores, quicker rounds, and team spirit not found in the stroke play format.

The tournament draws women and men from all across the country, the state and the city of Nashville. Scores will be ranked on a combination of performance and participation, with teams being scored by the top finishers flighted by gender, as well as the total dollar amount a company raises for charity.

The winning team will hold the custom-designed trophy as well as bragging rights for the next year. There will also be an award for the top fundraising team. Last year, 121 players representing over 30 companies nationwide raised $215,000.

Home Medical Products, Inc. (HMP) won On the Green in 2021 and will be returning to defend their title in this year’s competition. Bridgestone Americas took the award for top fundraising team. From golfers to non-golfers, entry-level employees to C-Suite executives, and start-ups to large corporations – everyone is welcome.

Tournament and clinic registration and corporate sponsorship opportunities are available at iplaylikeagirl.org/golf

Sign up to volunteer at iplaylikeagirl.org/volunteer.

Play Like a Girl Honored As U.S. Soccer 2022 SheBelieves Ambassador


Play Like a Girl Joins Network of Nonprofit Organizations Working Across Sectors and The Nation To Positively Impact Girls & Women

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE (Feb. 23, 2022) – Play Like a Girl has been selected by the U.S. Soccer Federation as a 2022 SheBelieves Ambassador. This special program unites and elevates nonprofit organizations embodying the SheBelieves mission of inspiring and empowering girls and young women.  

U.S. Soccer is the governing body of the sport of soccer in the United States and oversees 24 National Teams, including the four-time FIFA Women’s World Cup Champions, the U.S. Women’s National Team.

Play Like a Girl leverages sport to build a diverse pipeline of young women in competitive, male-dominated fields including science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) by helping more than 1,250 girls annually to build confidence and leadership skills during their critical middle school years.

Through the SheBelieves Ambassadors program, Play Like a Girl will work directly with the Federation to showcase each other’s mission, people, initiatives, and resources, to positively impact girls and women.

“We enjoyed being a member of the inaugural class of SheBelieves Ambassadors and are excited to continue our work to level the playing field for girls and women in soccer,” said Dr. Kimberly Clay, founder and Chief Executive Officer of Play Like a Girl. “Together, we will ensure that underserved girls and girls of color have equal access and opportunity to reach their full potential.”

Play Like a Girl was part of the inaugural class of SheBelieves Ambassadors in 2021 and returns again this year. SheBelieves Ambassadors operate across a variety of sectors including the arts, STEM, education, community development, and professional development. Together, they support girls and women from diverse or underserved communities.

The shared theme reflects U.S. Soccer’s commitment to championing diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) and using its platforms to amplify national conversations fostering DEIB.

“SheBelieves Ambassadors are doing extraordinary work for girls and women who are too often overlooked, underrepresented, or underserved,” said U.S. Soccer President, Cindy Parlow Cone. “We are honored to welcome and celebrate this year’s class of SheBelieves Ambassadors, who align with both our SheBelieves mission to empower girls and young women and U.S. Soccer’s core principles of advancing diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. Where our U.S. Women’s National Team inspire us on the field, these organizations inspire us off of it.”

As part of the SheBelieves Ambassadors program, Play Like a Girl will connect with fellow Ambassadors, be promoted across U.S. Soccer’s extensive social media network – including a spotlight feature on a female staff member or beneficiary – and will be featured on scoreboards and in-venue announcements at the final match of the 2022 SheBelieves Cup, presented by Visa. Ambassadors will also enjoy complimentary access to the SheBelieves Summit, presented by Deloitte, and creatively work with U.S. Soccer and Federation staff on bespoke collaborations meeting the nonprofits’ current needs. This year’s class will also participate in a three-part capacity-building series focused on organizational and professional development topics of their choosing.

The SheBelieves Ambassadors program recognizes the critical role nonprofits and their staffs have in impacting lives and affect positive cultural change. Ambassadors are announced each year around U.S. Soccer’s SheBelieves Cup, one of the world’s premier annual international women’s soccer tournaments.


  • Black Girls Code - Building pathways for young women of color to embrace the current tech marketplace as builders and creators by introducing them to skills in computer programming and technology.
  • Brown Girls Do Ballet - Promoting diversity in the arts through annual scholarships, a mentor network, and community programs to empower young girls, and increasing participation of underrepresented populations in ballet programs through ballet performances, photo exhibitions, and resources.
  • Esperanza UnitedMobilizing Latinas and Latin@ communities to end gender-based violence through supporting Latin@ survivors, families, and communities to gain greater safety, connectedness, and self-sufficiency.
  • National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA) - Empowering LGBTQ Asians and Pacific Islanders through capacity building, policy and advocacy advancing intersectional justice and equity, ensuring LGBTQ API representation in research and resources, and supporting a federation of grassroots community organizations.
  • PowerPlay - Advancing the lives of girls through sports and helping them grow physically, emotionally, and academically stronger through confidence-building athletics and play.
  • She’s The First (STF) – Fighting for a world where every girl chooses her own future, by teaming up with grassroots organizations across the globe to make sure girls everywhere are educated, respected, and heard.
  • U.S. Soccer Foundation - Providing underserved communities access to innovative play spaces and programs that instill hope and foster well-being, while increasing girls’ and women’s participation through the Foundation’s United for Girls initiative.


SheBelieves is a platform that encourages girls and women of all ages to accomplish their goals and dreams, in sports and beyond. SheBelieves was originally launched in the run-up to the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup and has since evolved into a special series of events and programming that bring a powerful message of empowerment and that of believing in yourself into communities across the nation.


Play Like a Girl!® is a 501(c)3 charitable organization founded on the belief that girls given the opportunity to play on a team become women with the confidence to stand on their own. We envision a world where the playing field is level and every girl reaches her full potential. An organization for girls by girls, Play Like a Girl is on a mission to leverage the skills girls gain from sport to build a diverse pipeline of young women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). To accomplish this, we collaborate with schools, corporations and other partner organizations to deliver a coordinated, multi-year program model through which middle school girls experience practical lessons in leadership and engage in hands-on STEM education through the lens of a confidence-building curriculum, while being exposed to inspiring women role models and mentors. Play Like a Girl is a Black, woman-founded and led organization governed by an active volunteer Board of Directors  - because we know real change is a team sport. Since inception in 2004, the Nashville-based organization has benefited more than 50,000 girls and women in the United States and across the world. To join our squad, visit iplaylikeagirl.org, and follow @iplaylikeagirl on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

Failure As Fuel for Success

Meet software engineer Dr. Teresa Vasquez — one of the mentors at our 2022 Women's Leadership Summit!

Dr. Teresa Vasquez, affectionately known as "Dr. T," was born to a Guatemalan immigrant and Creole woman from Louisiana. Her father always said that he “wanted a football player, but what he got instead was the best blessing in the world…a daughter.” Actually, he actually got both -- Dr. T played women’s professional football too!

Her mother died when she was five years old, leaving her father to raise three young children. Dr. T's dad ignited her passion for problem solving as a child, helping her with electrical and mechanical engineering projects. She credits these experiences as the start to her passion for technology and software engineering.

DR. TERESA VASQUEZ: Hi, I am Dr. Teresa Vasquez, but you can call me Dr. T. I lead technical teams to success by being myself and helping people feel valuable. A lot of what I do as a technical leader depends on how I can encourage and support other engineers to be their best selves. We all need someone to believe in us and I do that by using my technical skills and passion to build things. I use math and science to build logic and engineering and technology to help people meet their goals. There is no better feeling than getting to help someone, which in turn helps me. 

PLAG: Share a recent interaction with another woman or girl that you found inspiring.

TV: I was questioning my purpose and one of my mentees became my mentor. She spoke life into me and encouraged my journey by reminding me of my success and impact. It helped me to get out of my slump and to refocus my vision and goals. 

PLAG: What difference would it have made for you to have had Play Like a Girl in your life as a girl or young woman?

TV: If I had a resource like this, I would have been able to achieve my calling more quickly with fewer mistakes. As a girl, I did not have many, if any, women mentors in my life and Play Like a Girl would have been a huge part of learning and sharing my real self earlier in my career. 

PLAG: What does "ready for any field" mean to you?

TV: 'Ready for Any Field' means seeing the beauty in the abstract and knowing that no matter where you end up, your journey and experiences are important and that STEM is the foundation for every professional career you’ll ever pursue. 

PLAG: Why is sisterhood (or women supporting women) important to you?

TV: We know each other’s pain and fears especially in STEM careers. When we share information, we grow more confident and can support others more. Sisterhood brings a level of intimacy and knowledge that can propel us toward our goals - together. 

PLAG: What is the best piece of advice you've received from a woman role model, mentor or colleague?

TV: "You can do anything because anything you love and touch will turn to gold." 

PLAG: What is one piece of advice you would give your younger self?

TV: I'd tell little T to not shrink to fit in. Take up all the space you need because your courage will inspire others once you find it.

PLAG: What advice do you have for younger girls who want to follow in your footsteps but may be afraid to ask for help (mentorship or guidance)?

TV: [bctt tweet="Fear is the killer of creativity and innovation. Failure is the path to success. Beyoncé said it best: “I see it, I want it, I stunt, yellow-bone it. I dream it, I work hard, I grind 'til I own it...” --says Dr. Teresa Vasquez" username="iplaylikeagirl"]

The grind is your journey and if you want it, you can have it. All you have to do is grab it. You can accomplish it, but you need to “get in formation” and get support for what you want so you can get there faster. Don’t be afraid of rejection and use your youth as an advantage because someone will always want to help you along your journey.

Believe that you are valuable because you are. WE NEED YOU more than you’ll ever know. You are a part of OUR story too and by allowing fear to keep you from getting in the game, you’re impacting us all because we need your unique self so that we all can win. Help us by asking for help. 

Follow Dr. T on Instagram and join Play Like a Girl in our mission to build a diverse pipeline of women in STEM by encouraging girls everywhere to embrace failure as fuel to build confidence and be #ReadyforAnyField. ⚡️


Win a chance to be mentored by game changing women in Nashville! Tell us how sport has prepared you to succeed in any field by submitting your original photos, videos or art via Instagram or Twitter using #ReadyforAnyField. No purchase necessary. Void in AK & HI and where prohibited. Open to legal residents of 48 contiguous US & DC. Starts 2/21/22; ends 2/28/22.

Meet + Mentor Tulsa Teaches Girls to Fish

Morgan Prater and employee volunteers lead Meet + Mentor Tulsa powered by Academy Sports + Outdoors 

Play Like a Girl’s Meet + Mentor events are ongoing celebrations to shine a light on empowering women role models in an effort to inspire young girls to explore their limitless potential while learning about incredible women who helped pave the way for them.

We know that girls can’t be what they don’t see. That’s why we see role models as essential in a young woman’s life. Role models also are critical to breaking stereotypes and challenging barriers to gender equality. In most cases, role models are accessible family members, teachers, neighbors, and even strangers who directly build the aspirations and ambitions of girls and young women at every stage of their education and career paths. 

As a key part of our ongoing work, we leverage our Meet + Mentor program to introduce middle school girls to women from all walks of life to show them they can be and do anything they can imagine. On June 29, a highly motivated and vivacious group of middle school students took part in the debut Meet + Mentor day camp powered by Academy Sports + Outdoors at Zebco, a fishing rod and reel manufacturer and product testing facility in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Inspiring local girls to dream bigger, Zebco was transformed into a mentoring lab designed to encourage students to pursue a future in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Starting with a Lizzo-inspired welcome and girl power playlist blasting in the background, Zebco employee volunteers accompanied the girls through special fishing-related activities designed to show students the unlimited possibilities in sport and STEM, stressing the fact that STEM is everywhere and is in everything.

Our CEO Dr. Kim led an interactive confidence-building experience to help girls tap into their own ingenuity and creativity. A panel discussion featuring accomplished women in the fishing industry followed.

After breaking into small groups for a more in-depth mentoring moment with the panelists, students had an opportunity to work with a role model during a hands-on working session where they designed their own paper boats and, later, tested them for buoyancy (or the ability to float in water).

In addition, the Zebco testing lab was used to introduce students to the design and testing of fishing reels, rods and other accessories.

To bring it all together, the girls enjoyed a short chartered bus ride to Oklahoma Aquarium for a fishing expedition with former collegiate athlete and fishing guide Morgan Prater and volunteers from the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

The Meet + Mentor events are ongoing celebrations to spark participants' interest in sport and STEM, while inspiring their limitless potential, and bringing together Academy employees, brand ambassadors and corporate volunteers.

Participating students will be featured in a three-part YouTube series showcased across Academy’s social channels late this summer.

The next event will take place in Memphis on Tuesday, July 6.

View from the Green

Highlights from the inaugural Play Like a Girl On the Green charity golf scramble

The first-ever Play Like a Girl On the Green charity golf scramble was one for the record books. Held June 14 at The Grove, a golf course community located just south of Nashville, the event combined record heat with record funds raised for our mission to level the playing field for girls in sport and STEM. We raised a game-changing $215,000 and counting for Play Like a Girl! While that sinks in, click the images below to check out some of our favorite photos from the day:

Learning to play

We started the day 100% on mission: We invited area girls, many of whom had never stepped foot on a green, to a girls-only golf clinic funded by the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) and supported by First Tee of Tennessee. After warming up with a freestyle dance, girls broke into groups to learn how to drive, putt and chip. They showed up that morning looking a little shy and uncertain; they left with smiles and lots of confidence.

A brush with royalty

Following the golf clinic, girls enjoyed some time up close and personal with Miss Tennessee 2021 Elizabeth Graham Pistole, who served as honorary chair for the event. Elizabeth signed autographs, posed for photos, answered questions and offered words of encouragement. She even let the girls try on her tiara! It may have been the sparkle of her crown that caught the girls’ attention, but it was her kindness and thoughtful words that dazzled the girls and adults alike. 

A girls’ game

Among the foursomes teeing off at Play Like a Girl On the Green was one led by honorary chair and Play Like a Girl alumna Emma Clonan. Now a high school golfer with her sights set on playing the sport in college, Emma led an ice breaker activity to get the girls warmed up for the Junior Girls Golf clinic preceding the tournament. She has played The Grove’s course countless times, and knows exactly what the girls need to overcome their anxieties about a sport they’ve never played on such an amazing but, perhaps, intimidating course. 

Meteorologist and Tournament Co-Chair Meaghan Thomas of WKRN News Channel 2 filmed the 11 a.m. weather segment from the practice range as her colleague and fellow co-chair Kristina Roche took a shot in the background. This dynamic duo then golfed the full 18 holes. But they never did apologize for the heat.

Ladies first

Men, of course, were encouraged to join us—and in fact, it was the men’s teams that took home the top tournament awards—but this charity golf scramble attracted an awful lot of ladies. Of the 101 golfers registered, more than 75% percent were women. Now if we could only see those types of numbers in the C-suite, we’d be in business!

In fulfillment of our mission

What better way to celebrate a big day of fundraising than to immediately pay it forward? After the tournament awards were announced, we surprised these five young women as the first-ever recipients of the Dr. Stephanie Hightower Memorial Scholarship, which supports girls and women of color pursuing degrees in medicine or STEM. They each received $3,500 to help complete their studies at Alabama A&M University, Hampton University, Meharry Medical College and Xavier University of Louisiana—the latter two are Dr. Hightower’s alma maters. She was a longtime Play Like a Girl volunteer who lost her battle with cancer in 2018.

Brand ambassadors from leading companies and local boutique shops like Earth Rides, Glow Girl, the Tennessee Titans, and Tate + Zoey were stationed throughout the golf course. They all had something different to offer, from eco-friendly rideshares to on-the-go organic spray tans, but were all united by their shared passion for our mission.

We capped a long day of fun and celebration with our annual “Women in the Round” songwriters night. Country music artists Julia Cole, Taylor Edwards and Caroline Watkins took turns telling stories and belting hits. The fact that they managed to rock a tired, sweaty audience after a long day in 90-degree weather is a true testament to their talents!

Thank you! 

We couldn’t have done it without you and your support of our mission. And we can’t wait for you to see what’s in store with our newest sponsor, Academy Sports + Outdoors. We’re hitting the road with them for a three-city Meet + Mentor tour. It starts in Tulsa, Oklahoma, makes a pit stop in Memphis, Tennessee, and ends in Katy, Texas, at Academy’s headquarters, where girls will get their first peek into a company dedicated to advancing girls and women in sports. It’s such an exciting time at Play Like a Girl, and we’re so glad you’ve decided to join us for the ride

If you missed the tournament, don’t worry—we’re already planning the next one. We also invite you to join us in other ways. Check out our events calendar for ways to get involved. 

Growing Girls’ Hockey

Why Mary-Kay Messier believes hockey needs more girls and women, and how you can help 

As Vice President of Marketing for the world’s most recognized hockey brand and a member of the world’s most legendary hockey family, Mary-Kay Messier is using her platform to raise an important ruckus. She’s on a mission to make ice hockey as much of a sport for girls and women as it is for boys and men. 

This longtime Play Like a Girl advisor and Bauer executive recently participated as a mentor in our Executive Auction at the Women’s Leadership Summit. We sat down with Mary-Kay to talk about her efforts to grow the game she’s always loved. 

On her hockey background

To say that Mary-Kay grew up around hockey would be an understatement. While she never played organized hockey, she was born into a family that did. Her dad was a former professional player who was a coach by the time Mary-Kay was born, while her two older brothers (including six-time Stanley Cup champion and Hockey Hall of Famer, Mark Messier) worked their way from the youth circuit all the way up to the professional level. Three of Mary-Kay’s four children play, too.

“I played for fun, but I didn’t play organized hockey,” she says. “That didn’t exist for girls when I was growing up. Even so, I still saw what hockey had to offer, from teaching life skills and building self-confidence to forging lifelong friendships and bringing together families. And I feel strongly that girls deserve to have that equal opportunity.” 

On how hockey compares

While Mary-Kay may not have played on a hockey team, she has plenty of other experience with organized sports. She played basketball and volleyball in grade school and, later, played college tennis. 

“Sports in general are amazing for building girls’ confidence and self-esteem, but hockey takes that to another level,” she says. “There’s a camaraderie that differentiates it from any other sport. The time spent in the locker room where friendships and bonds are forged, working to achieve a common goal—that’s a growth experience we can all take with us regardless of what we want to do with our lives.”

On equal opportunity for girls

In Mary-Kay’s role as VP of marketing for Bauer Hockey, she has met some of the world’s most elite female hockey players like Marie-Philip Poulin, and Hilary Knight—and has heard similar stories about inequalities in the sport time and time again. “It’s not uncommon to find out that these incredible women grew up following their brothers to the rink, only to be pushed into trying figure skating,” she says. 

Being so intimately engaged in the sport from behind the scenes for so long, Mary-Kay has developed a keen eye for these blind spots. “Through this work I’ve become acutely aware of the struggles facing women in this sport who just want the opportunity that they deserve. But more than struggles, I’ve also seen so much persistence and resilience.”

On why she’s perfectly positioned to help grow the game

Mary-Kay approaches this problem from a couple of angles. She has the backing of Bauer: “Our leadership and entire team is very passionate about how we can chime in as leaders to help drive the advancement for women and girls in hockey,” she says. 

She has her personal experience as a mother. “Three out of four of my children used hockey as the vehicle to pursue an academic career. Watching that happen made me realize even more that girls deserve this opportunity, too. My appreciation for the game really changed over the course of my life— from being a daughter and a sister to being a mother.” 

Mary-Kay also has the full support of her brother, Mark. The same month Mary-Kay signed on as senior advisor to the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, the Mark Messier Foundation announced a $100,000 match donation to the PWHPA, which has been working toward establishing a sustainable professional league for women’s hockey since 2019. 

On closing the ‘dream gap’

Also that same month, the PWHPA’s Secret Dream Gap Tour made a stop at Madison Square Garden for a history-making puck drop. The game was televised on Sportsnet (an ESPN-esque sports specialty channel in Canada) and on the NHL Network, which is partly owned by NBC Sports. In other words, it was kind of a big deal. Since then, two other PWHPA events were broadcast nationally, and another—the last stop of the Dream Gap tour, in Calgary, Canada—is happening now.

“I believe the game at Madison Square Garden was a tipping point,” says Mary-Kay. “Ratings were strong, and I was flooded with messages from mothers and fathers saying, ‘My daughter got to sit in front of the TV and see women playing professional hockey.’ Representation matters. It makes realizing the dream possible. And by creating a sustainable professional women’s league, we’re creating opportunity for the next generation of girls.”

On the power of girls-only hockey 

Also key to creating that reality for girls is actually providing them opportunities to play with their peers. Mary-Kay is encouraged by efforts across the U.S. and Canada to introduce the game to girls and get them playing in girls’ leagues at a younger age.

For example, Play Like a Girl recently expanded its longtime partnership with the Nashville Predators from an annual 3-hour on-ice clinic for beginners to a new 12-week development program for middle school girls. The program is free to participants, features hockey basics and includes free gear to keep (a must for making the game more accessible to underserved communities). 

This summer will mark the start of a girls’ 3-on-3 league, which is open to girls like Play Like a Girl participants Arianna and Dasani who participated in both the clinic and development program. Mark your calendars now—there are plans to repeat these offerings again in the fall.

Girls-only hockey programs also provide an opportunity to expose girls to coaches, role models and mentors with whom they can relate. 

When Nashville hosted the NWHL All-Star Game in 2019, Bauer Hockey and Play Like a Girl co-hosted a series of girl-specific educational activities including a panel on positive body image with women professionals and Olympic athletes. “That’s a really important message to hear from women who have pursued careers in sports,” Mary-Kay says. “Athletes are proud of their strong bodies and what they can accomplish. The message is empowering.”

On how you can help grow the game for girls

Sport is all about connection, confidence and community. We strongly believe we each have a role to play in growing the game in hockey and any other sport. Hockey, in particular, is a great way to promote teamwork and community. 

For starters, encourage the girls in your life to try hockey. Watch women’s hockey and build a culture of watching women’s sports in your home. Coach or volunteer with a girls’ team in your local community or school in the area. Support the companies that sponsor women’s hockey. 

If you’re a decision maker in your company, seek out women hockey players for your campaigns. “These athletes make some of the strongest brand ambassadors,” Mary-Kay admits. “They’re powerful role models and leaders, and they’re invested in giving back to their communities.” So, make sure they get paid equally too.

Julia Chaffin: How Golf Inspires Success

Teen golfer shares what the sport means to her and how it’s helping her tee up success.

We met Julia Chaffin a couple of months ago, after her mom tipped us off to Julia’s incredible ingenuity and generosity. This Minnesota teen and future engineer started selling “smart mirror” building kits. And instead of turning a profit, she decided to donate the proceeds from her sales to Play Like a Girl. Amazing, huh? When we interviewed Julia about her interest in engineering and why she chose to support our cause, we learned something else about her—she’s an avid golfer and a member of her high school golf team. 

We’re all about golf--and all sports for that matter. Right now, our staff and volunteers are putting the finishing touches on the first-ever Play Like a Girl On the Green charity golf scramble (it’s June 14—join us!) so we thought we’d check in with Julia again to get the scoop on this swinging sport, why she loves it and why she thinks you should, too.

Ideal for families

Ever since she can remember, Julia spent Friday nights playing golf with her parents and older brother. Growing up near a golf course meant riding along in the cart or participating in family putting contests. 

As she grew older, Julia learned more and more about the game and was soon playing a full 18 holes. “I spent many years trying to keep up,” she says. “As most siblings do, my older brother and I could find a competition in anything and golf was no exception. Being three years younger, I learned to lose over and over again. But every once in a while, his bad round would line up with my good round and I would win.”

Julia credits her losses for teaching her the importance of using failure to fuel future success, a principle we teach at Play Like a Girl. “Now I can proudly say that I can give my brother a run for his money any day on the golf course,” she says.

Game of strategy

When we first met Julia, she made an interesting observation about her experience playing both golf and soccer. These two very different sports offer very different growth and learning opportunities, both athletically and mentally. 

“In soccer, the game is fast and requires me to develop a feeling for the space and anticipate where my teammates are and make split-second decisions based upon the trajectory of the ball, my position on the field, and the spacing of my teammates,” she explains. “By contrast, golf is like a puzzle and I must rely upon my own skill to solve it.”

Unlike most sports, Julia says golf gives her a lot of time to think—about every shot, about what club to use, about whether she wants to play it safe or try to hit a hard shot that might not work. All of this—not to mention the variety of courses and obstacles like sand traps and water—add up to golf being a much more strategic game. 

“Golf requires more mental endurance and focus because I can hit as many balls as possible, but if I don’t have the confidence when I go to hit a shot, it will not be what I want,” she says.

A mental maze

Golfers know all about good days and bad ones. “On the good days, I am on and it feels amazing,” she says. “Of course, these days are the ones that motivate me to keep playing. But there are bad days, too. And those are hard.”

Every athlete experiences bad days, but Julia’s team is a constant source of encouragement in sports like soccer. “In golf, it is just me,” she says. “Golf has helped me to practice putting the bad test or the bad shot in the past and keep looking forward. It’s not easy, but it’s critical.” 

The 2017 Always Confidence & Puberty Survey reveals that 50% of girls feel paralyzed by the fear of failure during puberty. This fear is so intense that many girls opt out of important growth opportunities like taking on challenges and trying new things. But the truth is, failing is a good thing! It helps us learn, grow and ultimately build confidence.

Julia admits, “The hardest part of golf for me is recovering after a bad shot,” but she gets the importance of trying again. “I constantly remind myself that I am only as good as my next shot, not my last one.”

A sport for every girl

At Play Like a Girl, we know that playing sport offers lifelong benefits for girls—and that applies to golf, too. It’s a fun way to stay active and develop important life skills like patience and resilience. These are just some of the reasons that make golf one of the most popular sports for girls. 

Julia has also found golf to be a great way to meet people. “I met one of my best friends playing together and, ultimately, joining her golf team,” she says. “There is nothing more fun than grabbing three of your friends and playing a round of golf while enjoying each other’s company in the great outdoors.”

Ready to try golf? At Play Like a Girl, we’re serious about getting girls involved in sports in fun and meaningful ways. Learn Golf 101 basics on June 10 at a virtual workshop for girls and women, then join us on the practice range for our Junior Girls Clinic on June 14. Both golf events are designed for girls with little to no experience playing the sport. Don’t delay—sign up today!

Why More Girls Should Play Sports

Playing Sports Has Lifelong Benefits for Girls

In 2019 alone, about 25% fewer high school girls than boys played sports, according to the latest numbers from the National Federation of State High School Associations. Research by the Women’s Sports Foundation suggests that girls drop out of sports at twice the rate of boys by age 14, and by 17, half of girls quit sports altogether. Some may look at these numbers and shrug their shoulders. “Who cares? If girls don’t want to play sports, don’t make them.” But it’s actually a big problem with far-reaching consequences. 

You see, this dropout rate is particularly alarming because studies have shown that girls who play sports do better in school, and that’s true for both grades and standardized test scores. Girls who play sports also report increased confidence, teamwork and leadership skills as the top benefits of staying in sports.

And there’s a clear connection between those perceived benefits and the outcomes women have once they’re off the playing field and working in a professional field. Studies show that girls who play sports are more likely to graduate from college, land competitive jobs and work in male-dominated industries. What’s more, a survey by Ernst & Young and espnW found that 94% of women executives participated in sports and more than half played at the collegiate level. Nearly three-fourths of these women said their time on the playing field helped develop their leadership “muscle.”

In short, to get girls to play sports is to give them an advantage when it comes to self-confidence, discipline, leadership, problem-solving, teamwork and resilience—critical skills that will serve them when they’re in middle school, high school, college and beyond. 

The challenges to getting girls involved in sports

Here’s a pair of questions we hear a lot: “What are the most popular sports for girls?” and “What are the best sports for girls?” The answers couldn’t be simpler. 

To the first question, our answer is, “It doesn’t matter.” (If you must know, the top 5 sports for girls are track and field, volleyball, basketball, soccer and softball based on the number of participants alone.) But do you know why it doesn’t matter? It’s because the best sports for girls aren’t the most popular ones—they’re the ones your daughter enjoys playing. They’re the ones she plays because she likes to play them—not because they’re popular or she feels pressured to play.

Another barrier to getting girls involved in sports has to do with exposure. Everywhere a boy turns, from the moment he’s born, his gender identity is linked to sports—baby blankets with balls on them, and baby’s first football, baseball and soccer ball. And that messaging only grows stronger as boys grow older. Meanwhile, girls are bombarded with images not of strong female athletes, but of external beauty. Not only do they lack positive role models in sports, they may face stereotypes and discrimination based on real or perceived sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

Then, there’s the problem of opportunity. It’s a fact that girls have fewer opportunities to play sports than boys. The Women’s Sports Foundation reports that high school girls have 1.3 million fewer opportunities, to be exact.

Finally, there’s the issue of funding­. Who saw the side-by-side photos showing the weight room disparities for the NCAA women’s and men’s basketball tournaments? If women competing at the top levels of college athletics can’t get a decent workout room, what does that mean for their younger counterparts? 

When girls’ sports programs go underfunded, that impacts playing venues, playing times, availability of quality coaches, equipment and even uniforms. And these obvious disparities can drive girls away from the game. In many cases, cuts to school funding force the issue, and girls either drop out of the sport or have to find their own opportunities to play. Then it becomes an issue of cost, safety and transportation—barriers that disproportionately face girls of color and those from economically disadvantaged families. 

How to keep girls in the game

Now that we’ve established why it’s important for girls to be involved in sports and the many barriers standing in their way, let’s end on a positive note. We can address these barriers for girls in sports and we can help make sure girls can become women who harness the critical life skills learned on the playing field for success in a professional field. And we can do that by creating opportunities for girls to play sports and for them to engage with the strong role models who represent the best in women’s sports. 

A major part of our commitment at Play Like a Girl is providing girls with positive experiences in sport and active play. We’ve been in the business of creating these opportunities for nearly two decades, with the help of major companies, collegiate and professional athletes, and sports teams and leagues at all levels. Together, we aim to inspire girls to reach their full potential—aspiring to be and do anything they can imagine.

In 2018, we started offering Hot Wheels® Speedometry™ at STEM+ Saturday to teach our girls about concepts such as energy, force, and motion. Students also learn scientific and engineering practices such as data analysis and interpretation. But the fun didn’t end there—we’ve since partnered with Bridgestone, Mercedes-Benz and Tesla to help girls engineer toy racetracks, design their own electric cars, engage with female role models in mechatronics, and attend STEM field trips designed to expand how they see their future.

Hundreds of girls also received a die-cast Matchbox replica of the Mercedes-Benz 220SE commemorating Ewy Rosqvist’s historic Argentinian Grand Prix victory in 1968. It was in this car that Rosqvist and co-pilot Ursula Wirth shattered world records and the notion that women could not compete in the sport.

Just before the COVID-19 shutdown, we had the chance to work with girls at the NFL FLAG National Championship in Orlando. Then later in the year, Sarah Fuller, the Vanderbilt University soccer goalie turned football kicker, joined our Meet + Mentor program as guest mentor. In January, we teamed up with the Nashville Predators to hold a free hockey clinic for Play Like a Girl participants.

After some time on the ice, the girls chatted with women leaders in the Predators’ front office—many of them former athletes. Some of our girls went on to participate in the Preds’ girls hockey program, which just wrapped last month. With a full set of free equipment, they’re now outfitted and ready to improve their hockey game this summer.

In just a few weeks, over 100 girls and women will take the driver’s seat with Play Like a Girl at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway where we’ll go behind-the-scenes of the iconic racetrack and get an up-close and personal look at the first female owned, female driven, and female forward race team at this year's Indianapolis 500. Race car driver Simona de Silvestro and her No. 16 Chevy-powered INDYCAR will be the focus of this high-energy event which will follow a special mentoring series connecting middle school girls in our programs with female leaders in the fintech and motorsports industries. 

We round out our summer schedule by introducing golf to a group of girls who have never stepped foot on a green. With help from several professional women golfers and Play Like Girl alumna Emma Clonan, we will kick off the Play Like a Girl On the Green charity golf scramble with a free Junior Girls Clinic powered by LPGA Girls Golf.

Proceeds from the tournament will provide even more exciting and unique opportunities to get girls involved in sports, connect them with powerful women role models and mentors, and, ultimately, keep them in the game.


Fighting Gender Stereotypes in Sport

When Summit panelist Amy Bream discovered boxing, she got so much more

Amy Bream knows what it means to face challenges. Born with a limb deficiency, she’s never known what it’s like to have two legs. Being fit for a new prosthesis meant learning how to walk all over again. Walking with a prosthesis meant drawing attention to herself in ways that were uncomfortable in a whole different way. And yet, Amy is one of the fiercest athletes we know.

She lifts, she boxes, she rock-climbs, she paddle-boards, she runs, she inspires. She’s also the operations director for TITLE Boxing Nashville and the creator of One Leg to Stand On, where she shares frank observations and encouraging stories about her journey.

Amy will be joining us at the Women’s Leadership Summit on March 19 for a panel discussion about the role of sports in activating potential. She’s definitely qualified to speak on the topic, because it was the discovery of sports (boxing, in particular) that activated her “anything’s possible” mentality. Keep reading to see why you won’t want to miss Amy at the Women’s Leadership Summit.

PLAY LIKE A GIRL: Looking back on your career so far, what is one of the greatest challenges you have faced, and how did you overcome it? 

AMY: Learning how to calmly handle fast-paced, stressful environments without negatively affecting the staff I manage. Most of my management positions have been in smaller companies that are prone to lots of last-minute changes and constant adjustments, which is difficult for my Type A personality who prefers to stick to a schedule and well-organized plan.

I learned to be flexible and deal with situations calmly by looking at the “bigger picture” when I wanted to stress or panic. Now, I am much more capable of taking a step back from the details of the moment to see the most important factors and make the best of every situation. On the most stressful days, I take breaths and remember that life will always go on, there will always be 24 hours to every day, there are lessons to be learned from every stressful situation, and tomorrow starts fresh.

PLAY LIKE A GIRL: What do you believe is lacking in your industry in terms of opportunities for women? And how do we change it?

AMY: In fitness in particular, I think the biggest obstacles are in addressing the stereotypes that come with women in the fitness world. These stereotypes can prevent women from being taken seriously as knowledgeable, capable fitness professionals. Things like oversexualizing women in fitness, promoting an unhealthy body image and lifestyle, and combating the stigma that women in a gym setting are catty and tear each other down—all of these things need to change.

Like most things in life, I think the most powerful way of addressing an issue is to live by example. If I don’t like something but am unsure of how to change the big picture, the very first way I can promote change is to live out the change I want to see.

Fitness for me is about gaining confidence and inner/outer strength rather than sexual appeal. I present myself that way in the way I speak about myself, what I wear, and how I interact with people in the gym.

I work hard to promote balance, hold myself accountable to a balanced lifestyle, and be honest with others when I’m struggling or when I see an issue.

And I make it a point to encourage other women in the gym. When I want to make an assumption about a woman I encounter in fitness, I try to have a conversation with her and get to know her. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I realize my unfair assumptions were incorrect.

PLAY LIKE A GIRL: What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received? And does it still ring true today?

AMY: My parents instilled the ideas of hard work and integrity in me since I was a child. They’d always tell me that someone is always watching, whether or not you realize it, and if you’re given a task, do it with integrity and to the absolute best of your ability. I’ve had several conversations about this with current coworkers and one of my bosses, especially as I stepped into a management role and it was suddenly my turn to oversee and watch how the employees I managed handled the seemingly small tasks I assigned to them.

PLAY LIKE A GIRL: What career advice would you give your younger self today?

AMY: Be open to change. Don’t put yourself into a box of what your ideal career path or role should be. Wise people you encounter in your life may be able to see qualities in you that you haven’t seen before—listen to them and don’t tune them out. 

Follow Amy on Instagram for instant inspiration, and don’t forget to secure your spot at the Women’s Leadership Summit on March 19. Proceeds underwrite scholarships that let any girl, regardless of ability to pay, participate in Play Like a Girl programs.