Welcome to SPORTY GIRL BOOKS. At SPORTY GIRL, we want to give all girls the chance to love, watch, play, read, and write about any sport that interests them. We look forward to the day when the words, "You play like a girl," is the biggest compliment anyone can receive.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Learning from Sister Bear and my baseball-playing mother

I've always been a fan of The Berenstain Bears, but this book is my hands-down favorite. In Go Out For The Team, Sister Bear determines to try out with Brother Bear for the one vacant spot on the town baseball team. It's a big step up from playing in the field, but Sister Bear is bold and up for the challenge. When Brother Bear fakes an injury because of the pressure that she might make it and he won't, Sister is the one to tell him she's as good as she is because he's taught her so much. She convinces him to practice with her and still try out. I appreciate Sister Bear's can-do attitude. She is one confident bear. Add her athletic skills, and she becomes the new player on the town team. (In Berenstain Bear fashion, the coach also wanted Brother Bear, and his amazing hitting skills, so both Brother and Sister make the team).

I also appreciate seeing that even back in 1987, books encouraged girls to believe in themselves, try out, and compete with the boys.

My mom pitched on an otherwise all-boys baseball 5th and 6th grade team in 1953. She let me interview her for Sport Girl Books:

Can you tell me how the team came about?
I grew up in a small farming community of Laketown, Utah. When a teacher came to town expecting to teach tenth grade, but was given 5th and 6th grade class instead, he determined to make a baseball team.

So how did you get on the team?
We were so small that there weren't enough boys to field it, so they had to let me play.

Right, but they could have stuck you in right field, how is it that you pitched?
I grew up playing with these boys. We'd play baseball in the street in from of Grandpa's house. I couldn't imagine piano practice, not when the boys were playing ball.

So the boys knew I could play, already. I pitched for organized recess. That was our "baseball" practice time. The other girls in the school batted and ran bases because they needed a team to practice against. Lake town Elementary played the two other schools in the county (Garden City and Randolph) and won.

We had a field day afterward with races, broad jump, and high jump. I didn't win the the broad jump, but I won the 100 yard dash. I beat out all the 5th and 6th graders, boys and girls.

Did you have to wear a skirt?
I did have to wear a skirt, but I wore shorts under it.

Did everyone have a glove?
Everyone had some version of one. I played with my dad's mitt. It had four fingers and a thumb, with not leather in between. It was a pancake glove.

Now in Jr. high and high school I pitched for the softball team and gave my mitt to Lana, because she was the only one willing the catch for me.

So you pitched without a glove? I've caught a ball hit hard off the bat without a glove and it sure stings.

That it does.

Thanks for being on Sporty Girl Books! When growing up (I pitched softball, as well, but found my home on first base), when anyone asked me how I learned to play ball, I proudly told them my mother taught me.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Interview with Laurel Snyder, author of Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova

Today I am so excited to be interviewing Laurel Snyder, the author of Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova. Here's Swan's Amazon blurb: One night, young Anna's mother takes her to the ballet, and everything is changed. So begins the journey of a girl who will one day grow up to be the most famous prima ballerina of all time, inspiring legions of dancers after her: the brave, the generous, the transcendently gifted Anna Pavlova. Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova is a heartbreakingly beautiful picture book biography perfect for aspiring ballerinas of all ages.

Congratulations on writing such a beautiful book. What inspired you to tell the story of Anna Pavlova?

Thank you!  It's a funny story, actually.

I was in LOVE with Anna as a kid. I was a dancer myself. But then at some point I bought an old used book, that had photos of her in it, as well as a section of her diaries, about her childhood. I'd sit and re-read that section, and stare at the photos. And sometimes I wrote things in the margins.

Years went by and  I forgot all about that book. Until recently, when I found it in my mom's basement. When I saw my own kid-handwriting, I had this rush of memory. My old obsession woke back up!  So in a way, it feels like I write this book with my childhood self as co-writer.

I loved how you started with Anna’s experience at the ballet. Most biographical picture books I’ve read start with birth. Why did you decide to start with this moment in her life?
Well, the details of her life are fuzzy. I've read a lot of biographies on her at this point, and her parentage and early life aren't well documented. So honestly, I just never thought about it. The story begins for me when she goes to the ballet for the first time.

You have so many interesting details about Anna Pavlova. How did you learn about her?
I did a lot of research, to be sure I wasn't making any mistakes, but the truth is that the book is deeply rooted in those initial diaries I read. They capture her spirit and voice so well. The later details of her life (and death) aren't in them, and for those I had to turn to secondary sources.  But I tried hard to carry the tone of that personal narrative into the later half of Swan.

Did anything about the illustration of the book surprise you?
Bizarrely, no! This was an unusual book in that way. Almost always, the illustrator sees my thoughts differently. But this was a rare case. I got the sketches and burst into tears, because Julie really did peer into my brain and pull out the pictures I'd imagined.

How long did it take you to write this book?
The first draft for this one came very easily, but the editorial process took a while. I think we revised and tweaked for about a year. But it was a very careful sort of revision. The book is so spare that any little changes felt massive. We were working with tweezers, my editor and I.

Tell us a little about your own journey. When did you decide to become a writer?
I was eight. For the record, I also wanted to be a dancer, and I failed at that (which is one of the reasons that Swan is so satisfying.)  But yeah, I started writing little books (and self-publishing them with a stapler) when I was eight.  My best friend and I wrote together some, and I wrote a lot of poems. And then in high school I started working on the literary magazine staff. From that point on, there was never any question, really. Just lots and lots of rejection and revision.

Is there anything about your journey that you were able to connect to when writing about Anna Pavlova’s life?
That's an interesting question. I don't think I really thought about it like that. I find Pavlova inspiring and passionate.  I wanted to be like her as a kid, with that kind of singleminded purpose, absolute conviction. But I don't think I'm very much like her. I'm amazingly distractible.  

Did you have a favorite book about dancing when you were little?Oh, good question! YES!  I was in love with Ballet Shoes, by Noel Streatfield. I still have huge sections of it memorized. It's a great book, but I don't think it's very widely read anymore.

Everyone should go read it now, right this minute!!

I agree. It was one of my favorite books too. Thank you so much for talking to us about Swan. To learn more about Laurel and her books you can visit her website at http://laurelsnyder.com. And make sure to check out Swan online or at your local bookstore!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Wonderful World of Coaching

Junior Rowers help with boatyard clean up.

This spring I started coaching, and I have loved every minute of it. I rowed in high school and then picked up the sport again as an adult. I became a "captain" for our small community club with which came safety responsibilities. Later, I took on the task of program coordinator. For the last two years I've been scheduling coaches to teach adult classes for the club. At the same time I've been writing and revising (and revising, and revising) a Young Adult novel about a rower and her coach. The research for the novel allowed me to delve deeper into coaching theories. The more I learned the more I wanted to coach. 

I developed a spring junior rowing curriculum and piloted the program for 25 girls this year. Many of the girls were hooked and we continued to row throughout the summer. After one of their first long power pieces I called through the megaphone, "How you doing? Getting blisters?" 

The rower in two seat waved with a bright smile. "I've got two! It's like Christmas over here!"

With school starting I expected academics and other more traditional sports to take precedence but these girls wouldn't quit. (An crucial quality for a rower.) 

As I've coached them, the TV, movie, and yes, YA plot of the mean, conniving, and ultra competitive teen girl has been squashed.  My rowers are kind and supportive. I give them space to help make choices and they rise to the occasion every time. Yesterday we had three people show up for four or two spaces. I had them chose who would row when and they came up with fair solution.

Perhaps the kindness I've witnessed in my rowers stems from the fact that we are not a competitive crew. At this point my focus has been on teaching the technical and safety aspects of the sport. There was never any try out, no seat race, no first and second boats. I believe deeply that coaches can build self-esteem in their young rowers by waiting to race them until such time that the rowers will experience success. By success, I do not mean that they win a race. Instead, I mean that at the end of a race a rower should be able to feel that they have given all they can for themselves and their crew. A crew that is unstable in their technique or safety is often too filled with anxiety to enjoy the competition. This anxiety can lead to anger and to rowers blaming their coxswain or each other at the end of a bad row.

On the water yesterday, there was wind and little waves licked the hull of the double. My rowers were learning the basics of sculling (two oars) for the first time. Despite the tippy boat and the disequilibrium that comes with a new learning situation, all I saw were smiles and concentration. 

Back on shore we reviewed the schedule for the next practice which would be a week later and after school, but they wanted more. They wanted to row before school too. "How about 5am they asked?" My jaw dropped. I'm an early bird but five is not my favorite hour.  We settled on 5:30 and I know that I'll happily get out of bed to coach them.

The author in three seat.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Meet Olivia, Amanda, and Coco: Up-and-Coming Triathletes, Paratriathlete

September is finally here! And top American women triathletes and cyclists will be competing in the ITU World Triathlon Championships in Chicago, Ill., from September 15-19 and the UCI Road World CyclingChampionships in Richmond, Va., from September 19-27.

American women have dominated the world triathlon scene this year. They are led by Gwen Jorgensen, the reigning ITU world champion, and Sarah True and Katie Zaferes. Paratriathlon, a multisport competition for those with physical challenges, will debut at the 2016 Paralympic Games, and U.S. contenders competing in the Windy City include Hailey Danisewicz and Melissa Stockwell.

While a few women have already qualified for a coveted spot on Team USA for next summer’s Olympic and Paralympic Games, others are still vying for remaining slots. Cheering them on are three sporty girls, Olivia, Amanda and Coco, who are coming up the ranks and chasing championship titles at the Youth and Junior level.

Olivia Wade, 14 and a freshman in high school in California, competed at the USAT Youth-Junior National Championship this past summer finishing fourth in the Youth Elite division. She began running in second grade and has found her niche in triathlon. Needless to say, the run segment of the race is her favorite. Olivia is a member of the Formula Endurance Team based in San Diego, California.

Do you have a favorite female triathlete?
I am always excited to see Gwen Jorgensen race because no matter how much pain she is in, she always manages to put a smile on her face. I look up to Gwen because her ability to run as well as she does which pushes me to try my best and conquer the run in all my races.

Olivia’s Favorite Books: My overall favorite book is WONDER by R.J. Palacio. I enjoyed this because it showed how everyone should be able to be happy and have friends who love them for who they are no matter what they look like. A couple of my other favorite books are BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY by Ruta Sepetys and TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee.
Reading in general: A good sports book I would recommend is WITH WINNING IN MIND by Lanny Bassham. When I was injured [hit by a car four years ago] and couldn’t compete for a long time I remember reading a good book, A CORNER OF THE UNIVERSE by Ann M. Martin.

Amanda Becker is 10-years-old, lives in Wisconsin, and just started the 5th grade. In 2012, she joined the Chicago-based Dare2tri Paratriathlon Club and has competed in eight races to date. A highlight this past summer was representing the Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association (GLASA) at the National Junior Disability Championships in the swimming competition.

What part of the race is your favorite?
Swimming. Even though I can bike and run in races, they make my leg and hips hurt more than swimming.

What female paratriathletes do you admire?
If I have to pick one favorite, it would be Melissa Stockwell [shown above in photo]! I want to be like her someday, and my dream is to go to the Paralympic Games, too!

Would you like to see girls in books who have a prosthesis like you?
I think it would be great to see more girls with prosthetics in all different sports. Maybe if there were more books or news stories about what we can do there would be more girls getting out and playing like me.

Amanda’s Favorite Books: I love all of the JUNIE B. JONES books by Barbara Park and DORK DIARIES by Rachel Renee Russell.
Reading in general: My mom was reading part of the Rudy Ruettiger story to me — he's the guy from the movie Rudy who played football at Notre Dame and overcame challenges. On our way to the National [Junior Disability] Championships in New Jersey, we stopped at Notre Dame and that was neat to see.

Courtney “Coco” Diemar is 11-years-old and in the 6th grade. She lives outside of Chicago and has already won national triathlon and cycling titles. In 2010, at the age of six, she won the IronKids National Triathlon Championship. Last month she was featured in Sports Illustrated’s “Faces in the Crowd” for winning the 11-year old USAT Youth-Junior National Championship. Coco competes for the MMTT Mach II Triathlon Team and Junior Twenty16 Cycling Team. Her favorite part of the triathlon is biking.

Cycling races have different events – what do you like/dislike about them?
Overall, I like bike racing because I can draft [tuck in close, behind other competitors] and I have to think about what kind of moves I am going to make. I like criteriums the best because they are usually short, fast, and often have tight turns plus little hills that make them fun. In road races, it can be sort of boring if you are in a race in the middle of nowhere. Time Trials are hard because you are by yourself and if it's windy you cannot draft off of other people.

Since you live so close to Chicago, are you going to watch the ITU Triathlon events?
Yes, I can’t wait to see all the USA women compete since right now they are the best in the world. I have never seen a women's or men's pro race, it will be exciting!

The UCI Road World Championships are in Richmond right after the ITU Worlds – are you going to be following that, too?
I am so excited that my Twenty16 teammate Chloe Dygert will be racing in the Junior Time Trial and Road Race. She won cycling nationals and is really FAST! Kristin Armstrong is also on Twenty16 and competing in the Pro Women's Time Trial, she was a triathlete before being a cyclist, so she is like me.

Coco’s favorite books: LAND OF STORIES Series by Chris Colfer, THE SELECTION Series by Kiara Cass, and MORTAL INSTRUMENTS Series by Cassandra Clare.
Reading in general: I like "fantasy" type books. I love to read before I go to bed. It gives me a good a break before I go to sleep. We also have a subscription to Sports Illustrated Kids that I read every month. My swim coach sometimes will send emails with articles he would like us to read, but usually my sister, brother and I ride our bikes to the library or bookstore and pick out our own books. I also have a Kindle, so I am always downloading books.

USA Triathlon KidZone
USA Cycling

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Back to School

School starts in my town this week. I know it's already started in many other towns across the country. Sports are gearing up--and if you haven't started back at practice, you soon will. I love fall; the crisp air, sipping on hot chocolate, sitting in the stands watching your favorite team. Or better yet, playing in the game!

This summer has seen two women elevated to positions never before held by women in professional sports. Sarah Thompson is the first female official in National Football League (NFL) history. Jen Welter is the first female coach in NFL history--she's an assistant Coach with the Arizona Cardinals.

They are both athletes in their own right. Sarah played basketball in college, and has been officiating football games for twenty years. Sarah says, "You want to be known as an official -- not as a female official -- because that's going to put you in a separate category," Thomas said. "We don't want to do anything that will enhance that. So when a coach looks at you, he just sees an official."

Jen Welter has a a master’s degree in sports psychology and a doctorate in psychology--in addition to having playing on a professional women's football team. One of her hallmark coaching strategies is leaving notes of encouragement for her team. She says about her experience, "We showed little girls that even in the final frontier of sports that anything is possible,'' she said. ''That is breathtaking to me. It's something that I never thought was possible.''

Get out there and play like a girl, just like these two groundbreaking women!