It's not easy being a young, female athlete, but it is more than possible.
For those who love sports, it is safe to say that everyone has that one athlete that they find imperfectly perfect. You somehow manage to bring this athlete into every topic of conversation, almost to the point where you can physically feel the eye rolls from your friends and family sitting on the sofa opposite you. I could sit here and write about all the famous athletes there have been in sports: Kobe Bryant, Usain Bolt, Serena Williams, Simone Biles, and the list would most certainly go on. Firstly, I do not know how to hit a tennis ball, run more than 100 meters without needing to sit down, nor do a somersault, let alone on a balance beam. However, playing basketball? I guess you could say that is my thing. So, who is an athlete that inspired me, you ask? Well, that’s simple. Gigi Bryant.
I started playing basketball when I was 13 years old, the same age as Gigi Bryant was, when she died alongside her father, Kobe Bryant, in a helicopter incident. Starting to play any sport is difficult, however it is certainly not made easier as a young 13-year-old girl in a stereotypically male dominant sport. Over the past year, I have been fascinated by young girls, like I was, playing basketball. I've watched countless social media videos of Gigi playing basketball and read a great deal about her being the Women's National Basketball Association’s (WNBA) Honorary Youngest Draft Pick for 2020. For me, seeing Gigi, playing at such a high level for her age, gave me more than just encouragement and motivation. It made me realise that I was setting my own boundaries on what I can achieve based on the fact that I am a woman, rather than my talent or potential. I realised that I resented going to training when it was mixed, and when I did have the courage to show up, I was always more reserved. I felt that I did not have the "right" to dribble down the court or that I was not capable enough to take a shot. I remember one specific situation during training, I was the captain of my school’s basketball team at the time, and we were sharing the court with the men’s team. The men’s coach came up to me and asked, “Can you girls stop training and wait on the side-lines for 20 minutes because we need the full court to do sprints?” I stood there completely stunned and politely said no. I came away thinking, what makes your training time more valuable than mine? Honestly, this was the first time I decided to speak up and actively break gender-norms.
"...seeing Gigi, playing at such a high level for her age, gave me more than just encouragement and motivation."
When Kobe Bryant was asked if Gigi wanted to play in the WNBA, he said, “She does for sure. Fans will come up to me and she will be standing next to me. They [fans] will be like: "You got to have a boy, man, you got to carry on your legacy, the tradition." She would say, "Hey I got this.” I then realised that in reality, I’ve got this, you’ve got this, we've all got this, because at the end of the day, you always have yourself and you are always going to be there for yourself. You are the one that chooses to show up to training, to work a little bit harder than last time, to run a little faster, or sprint a little longer. With that mindset, I grasped the opportunity to play in the men’s team with both hands, to become better, stronger and scrap the gender-enforced boundaries. The goals you set should be based on you, not on those around you.
"The goals you set should be based on you, not on those around you."
In anything you do, whether that be sport, work or academics, sometimes you get to a point where you feel stuck in a rut and can’t seem to move forward. Seeing Gigi being successful in basketball, not letting age be a barrier to what she can achieve nor how hard she can push herself, it subconsciously rubs off on you to also give that extra drive and determination to do better.
That said, you can train all you like, watch as many videos on YouTube as you want, but as soon as the whistle blows and the ball is tossed up in the air, it’s time to face the music. It’s time to face the immense amount of pressure, whether that is from your coach, your family, your teammates or the crowd that is rooting for you. One thing that I especially admire about Gigi is that despite the fact that Kobe Bryant was the coach of her basketball team as well as her dad, she was not focused on and fazed by his success nor how to live up to his legacy, but instead she wanted to build her own legacy. When an interviewer asked Gigi how much it would mean to play in the WNBA, she said, “It would be absolutely everything.” She wanted to create her own success story that she could be proud of away from that of her father. Kobe described Gigi as “extremely competitive, fiery, and backed down from no challenge” admitting that she was better than he was at that age. As difficult as it is, you must understand that you are only in competition with yourself, not how good your teammates are. You define your own success.
It is safe to say that playing a sport is intense, but all the baggage that comes with it, makes it worth it and makes you a stronger person. Now, my aim is short and sweet, keep pushing myself to get better. But what I want you to take away from this is to take a page out of Gigi’s book, do not let society’s stereotypes and barriers stop you from achieving your goals and doing what you love!
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