Youth Sports Can Be Life-Changing—Here’s Why Everyone Should Get to Play

On a warm October day in 2019, Rebekah Bruesehoff sprinted across a large field in New Jersey. She was gripping a yellow-and-black field hockey stick, ready to strike the ball in front of her. So far that season, her team was undefeated and Bruesehoff was excited to be part of a squad that worked together both “on and off the field,” she shared on Instagram.

“I am a midfielder. So I’m sort of in the middle of it all, which is super fun. It’s exciting, it’s fast, and we’re all working toward a common goal. And we win together, we lose together,” Bruesehoff recently told SELF.

Bruesehoff was assigned male at birth but has “deeply” known that she is a girl from a very young age. She socially transitioned by changing her name and pronouns at the age of eight—a decision that both her family and medical professionals supported. Now 16 years old, Bruesehoff is living as her authentic self. “When I’m on the field, nobody cares that I’m trans. I’m really just like any other player.”

Many young athletes feel a similar sense of happiness and belonging when they’re out on the field, court, or track with their peers, whether they’re building camaraderie through diligent training or resilience through friendly competition. It’s well-known that getting regular movement can be integral to kids’ physical and emotional well-being, yet trans youth like Bruesehoff are being systematically targeted by state lawmakers through a wave of bills that attack trans rights, including trans kids’ access to sports.

Currently 22 states ban trans students from simply existing as themselves while participating in the sport they love, according to the Movement Advancement Project. A law in Texas, for example, requires a student to play on a sports team that corresponds with the sex listed on their birth certificate, which must have been issued near the time they were born.

Conservative lawmakers are also targeting trans youth, particularly trans girls, at a national level. In April, the US House Committee on Education and the Workforce passed the so-called Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act. The bill would amend Title IX—a civil rights law that prohibits schools that receive federal funding from discriminating based on sex—and require students to compete in sports “based solely on a person’s reproductive biology and genetics at birth.”

As a society, we’ve generally agreed that sports are positive, healthy, and valuable activities that contribute to a well-rounded educational experience for kids, says Elizabeth Meyer, PhD, an associate professor who researches gender and sexual diversity in K–12 schools at the University of Colorado Boulder. So it is vital that all kids are welcomed and accommodated, she tells SELF. Here are just a few of the many reasons that politicians should take a back seat and let them play.

Trying a sport is often a fun way for kids to stay active.

Sprinting around bases as a crowd cheers, shooting the game-winning basket, and spiking a volleyball with everything you’ve got don’t always feel like a grueling gym workout. Sports can make exercise feel exciting, and that’s crucial during kids’ formative years.

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