Growing up fast: How success on the court breeds America's female leaders

Growing up fast: How success on the court breeds America's female leaders

Girls Sports Month

Growing up fast: How success on the court breeds America's female leaders


There has never been a greater premium on female empowerment than now. With the rise of the #MeToo movement buttressed by a new commitment to wage and general gender equality, the next generation of female leaders has plenty of role models.

Of course, that’s assuming they need a model. Some have already become role models because of their success in basketball, still the most high profile of girls sports.

As detailed in a series of interviews with USA TODAY High School Sports, nearly all of the 2018 McDonald’s All-American girls basketball selections expressed both comfort and acceptance with the knowledge that a host of young girls look up to them.

Emily Engstler (Photo: McDAAG)

“I always grew up with my mom telling me that if I’m going to do this I’m going to be a role model to women,” St. Francis Prep (N.Y.) wing Emily Engstler told USA TODAY. “From that day on I took it pretty seriously and they look at you and see themselves doing the same way. I’ve had younger teammates look at me and tell me that they look at me. I look up to Sue Bird and Elena Della Donne. It’s important to act correctly and do what you do off the court to help younger people do the same thing one day.”

Regardless of who is watching, part of the point is that someone is always watching. That can bring a whole new level of stress, with the knowledge that the crowd is taking notes of what they’re doing both on and off the court.

There’s no escaping that level of responsibility, whether a teenage athlete is ready for it or not.

“I know a lot of people are watching me,” Duncanville (Texas) guard Zarielle Green said. “I feel like it’s a big role, so anything I do I have to do it right. I can’t make mistakes because people are looking up to me and I have big responsibilities. I just have to make sure I’m doing it the right way.”

If they are doing things the right way, the players will lead by example, by default. As Lovett School (Ga.) point guard Jenna Brown noted, “If someone is emulating me, hopefully they’re doing what they should be doing.”

Jenna’s DREAM Champions are her parents, Matt & Sophie Brown. (Photo: McDAAG)

More often than not, that’s the case. Still, a sense of responsibility, even if born out of prior ignorance, has served to further empower some of the nation’s best high school basketball players.

“It’s been amazing to be a role model,” Ridgeway (Tenn.) forward Elizabeth Dixon told USA TODAY. “It’s helped me a lot too because it’s made me more confident and helped me work on my leadership skills to help me and my community. If I can do it, people think they can do it too, and maybe even better.”

Success breeding success. Just what the demanding coach ordered.


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