March is Girls Sports Month, and as part of USA TODAY High School Sports’ third-annual Girls Sports Month celebration, we’re speaking with some of the most influential female athletes, coaches and celebrities in the sports world. Current UConn sophomore superstar and former USA TODAY All-USA Player of the Year Katie Lou Samuelson joined us to speak about transitioning to being a national star and how basketball has empowered her.
USA TODAY: When did you first know that you wanted sports to be a critical part of your life?
KATIE LOU SAMUELSON: I started playing basketball when I was about five years old. I started then because my sisters were older than me, and once they started playing I just wanted to copy them.
I think around middle school was when I started playing more self aware by myself. People started saying I had a lot of potential and I thought I could do something with this. I started getting more competitive and wanted to do something with myself.
USAT: Why is participation in sports so important for girls today?
KLS: For me personally, I’ve made some of the best friends I have in sports. I’ve always felt empowered playing basketball and going out and playing against the boys. Doing things that they don’t expect of you. People do tend to negatively portray girls when they are playing sports. That just empowered me growing up.
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I think the negative conceptions come from really early in life where girls do some things and boys are supposed to do some things. You get put in categories; it’s society’s way of molding things. When girls do play sports it’s a great way to break those expectations.
USAT: What was your favorite sport growing up, and why?
KLS: Definitely basketball was my favorite sport. I liked it because my sisters were playing it, but I loved how competitive it was, and I loved how you could play up or play with other people. you had people to play with and so many different types of players. I can be my own player but still play the same sport as someone who doesn’t play anything like me.
USAT: What is the biggest life lesson you took away from your own competition?
KLS: I think the biggest thing is to never give up on yourself. There will always be people who doubt you or don’t think you can do something. If you put your mind to something, you can push yourself as far as you want to go.
USAT: In what was has sports made you prepared to be a strong student?
KLS: I think sports helped me prepare for being a student because in the classroom you have to push yourself hard as well. You always want to improve. That’s true in life, too. You always have to push yourself and overcome obstacles. It’s like injuries on the court, there will always be things that come at you in life that you don’t expect.
USAT: Why is being a role model for younger girls so important to you?
KLS: I don’t think I ever realized I was a role model in high school, but once I got here you can see the little girls who come to every game. IT’s really humbling as a person and it makes you want to make sure you’re always doing your best and you don’t take anything for granted. Many can’t be in this situation or might not even aspire to be in this situation. There are little girls who look up to me and this team specifically, so you have to know that there are always people watching you and you’re always putting your best foot forward.
USAT: What should girls do who don’t have access to sports they want to play?
KLS: I know that sometimes people are in really difficult situations and it’s harder to get access to what you need. You have to seek out any possible way to get people to help you get where you need to go. You don’t need big brand or set ups, you just need someone to start. You can just play at the YMCA in basketball, you don’t need to play for a big club or sport.
USAT: What else do you think is important for girls to know about sports and participating in them?
KLS: I just think people should know it’s never too late or too early to start doing something you love. There will always be moments where you feel put down and people may not appreciate how hard you work. It really does bring you closer to so many people around you, so it’s always worth it to work as hard as you can and go as far as you can with a sport.
I never dreamed I would hit 10 threes. It was completely subconscious to keep shooting them during the game, too. I didn’t even know I had made all my threes when a teammate asked what I had shot. I was kind of shocked because I didn’t remember hitting that many and I was sure I’d missed one (She hadn’t; Samuelson became just the second player in NCAA history, men’s or women’s, to go 10-for-10 from three-point range in a game).
And don’t ever be ashamed of the sport you play or that you’re a girl playing a sport! You should be proud of it and love doing it.
See more amazing girls and women at women.usatoday.com