Early childhood participation in sports and activities builds a foundation for healthy adulthood, two-time Olympic Gold Medalist and World Cup champion Abby Wambach told a packed audience Monday during the Clinton Foundation’s Health Matters conference at Renaissance Indian Wells Resort & Spa.
Donna Shalala, president of the Clinton Foundation, engaged Wambach in a wide-ranging conversation about pick-up versus organized sports, Title IX, leadership, and safety and sports following a panel discussion – about the quest for longevity – moderated by former President Bill Clinton.
Shalala stepped in to replace Chelsea Clinton, who was unable to travel due to severe weather conditions.
As the youngest of seven children, growing up with four older brothers and two older sisters – all who were very athletic – was very impactful for Wambach.
“I watched and learned from their successes and their failures,” she said. “I was able to put myself into environments – all the time – where I was always playing, was always in the backyard.”
She said her mom would lock the kids out of the house so she could have some time to herself, with the send-off, “Go and play – don’t come back until dinner’s ready.”
The days of children playing outside after school and all day on the weekends is pretty much a thing of the past. Just a few decades ago, there were few distractions that could pull a child away from the ballfield or playground. The advent of the personal computer and myriad video games led to less outdoor playtime.
“I sometimes get sad for this new generation of kids – not just because of the video games. My philosophy – things that I talk about when I talk to kids – is ‘look up,’” she said. “Children need to look up and they need to be, almost forced, whether it be by policy or by parents … to be outdoors.”
“The reality is, when you’re an adult and you’re trying to retrain or break bad habits – it’s really hard, so if you, as a child, are learning the best healthy habits – exercise,” Wambach said, breaking off mid-sentence, then musing, “Why do we call it ‘working out?’ Why is ‘work’ even part of it? It shouldn’t have that word in it – because that’s like a negative. So we have to come up with other ways to inspire, to get people to get out and get active.”
Shalala asked Wambach’s opinion on pick-up games versus organized sports.
“One of the things that those of us that care about – young women, healthcare is our concern that it’s too organized, it’s not just soccer – but that you have to get into an organized sport as opposed to the old pick-up games and having facilities available so kids on Saturday morning can gather with their friends and play softball,” Shalala said.
“You’re right – and it’s annoying,” Wambach said. “When you look at a park – you don’t see kids playing very often without their parents watching every second. Some of the most amazing moments of my life – and the most life-changing times of my life – were when I had to figure stuff out on my own. That, I think, has been lost.
“It’s really important to let your children go – your kid will be successful because of your kid – the way they deal with these coaches and teachers.”
Shalala talked about the importance of Title IX – the 1972 law that was passed to prohibit sex discrimination in education and create more opportunities for girls and women in classrooms and on the playing fields.
“I’m a byproduct of Title IX,” Wambach said. “I’m literally what legislation can do. Growing up, I didn’t really didn’t know anything about Title IX, but I went to the University of Florida and, because of Title IX, they created a women’s soccer team to become compliant. Four years after the Gators started their women’s team, we won a National Championship – I was able to go on to play professionally.”
She said playing pro – on a team with 1991 and 1999 World Cup champ Mia Hamm – helped get her to the national team,
Wambach, 35, retired in 2015 after a sensational 14-year run on the U.S. women’s soccer team. She holds the all-time record for goals scored (184) in international competition. No male or female soccer player has scored more goals in international play.
“I feel honored to have had the experience and opportunity to represent my country, but now … it’s like, now what? What do I want? What did I gain and what can I do to push the needle even further?”
Wambach knows she is in a unique position to make a difference – to find more and better ways to get kids active and encourage them to maintain a healthy lifestyle into adulthood.
“It really is up to you, the leaders of these diverse industries, of these diverse companies … if you have a voice, if you have a platform, you have to use it,” she said to the audience.
“And if you can make change, whether through policy or if it’s just one conversation you have with your child today – that matters – and that’s why I’m here, because I know that when this ends and I get in my car and I go home, I know that … I’ve done something. That is so important, and that’s what soccer gave me. It gave me the confidence to stand behind the president a few months ago and hear him call us (awesome). And me being like, ‘that’s cool.’ ”
Denise Goolsby, The Desert Sun
Source publication: The Desert Sun