Sports 4 Life Delivers Big Benefits for Girls of Color

Sports 4 Life is a national initiative co-founded by the Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF) and espnW. It was established in 2014 and seeks to increase participation of girls of color in youth sports. It has so far impacted over 60,000 girls of color, and its recently released report shows gains in girls’ leadership, self-esteem, confidence and perseverance resulting from their participation in the program.

(Photo Credit: Sports 4 Life)


2020 has been defined by the COVID-19 pandemic and calls for racial justice. Improving the physical and mental health—and leadership capacities—of girls of color is one way to help them navigate COVID and beyond. The WSF and espnW (“a voice for the woman who loves sports”), Sports 4 Life partnership is funding local sports programs, filling in the gaps to access and opportunity that often confront girls of color.

“As a long-time supporter and new board member of the Women’s Sports Foundation, I’m a big believer in the transformative power of sports,” said LaChina Robinson, ESPN Studio Analyst and Sideline Reporter. “I’m excited to see that more than 86 percent of Black and Hispanic girls who participated in the Sports 4 Life program see themselves as leaders as a result of sports. Sports have positively impacted my life in so many ways, both on and off the court.”

The initiative is now seven years old, and Sports 4 Life has released its Communities at the Forefront Report documenting the program’s impact. Surveys of program leaders and participants demonstrated that girls’ physical, mental and social health improved when participating in Sports 4 Life-funded programs. The dimensions surveyed included perseverance, self-efficacy in sports and exercise, leadership and athletic identity, and body image. Findings include the following:

  • 97% of the girls agreed that they keep trying until they reach their goal.
  • 96% believed that they could be really good at a new sport if they tried it.
  • 92% said they believed their body was getting healthier through their sports program.
  • 86% said that they saw themselves as leaders.

Sports participation offers tremendous life-long benefits, including improved physical health and self-esteem, better grades in school and enhanced leadership skills; however, girls of color have been disproportionately excluded from these opportunities. By increasing participation and retention of African-American and Hispanic girls in developmental youth sports programs, Sports 4 Life seeks to expand the benefits of sports and physical activity across as wide a spectrum as possible.

Specifically, the Sports 4 Life initiative has increased sports opportunities for young girls of color through its grant making, leadership training and capacity-building efforts. Sports 4 Life has reached 157 community organizations in 34 states (plus Washington D.C. and U.S. Virgin Islands). It has awarded over $1.4 million dollars in grants reaching 60,000+ girls in 34 sports.

Earlier this year, Sports 4 Life announced their class of 2020 grant recipients which will help African American and Latino girls overcome barriers to sports participation. Twenty-five organizations based in 13 states and Washington, D.C. received the awards which totaled $175,000. The grants aim to augment and diversify sports opportunities for more than 7,700 middle and high school girls, and included funding for programs representing 23 different sports.

Related: Sports 4 Life Grants Aim to Increase Sports for Girls of Color

Sports 4 Life founding partner, the Woman’s Sports Foundation (WSF), is a 501(c)(3), which, since its formation in 1974 by tennis legend Billie Jean King, has advocated and organized to promote equal access to sports and physical activity for girls and women. The WSF has relationships with more than 1,000 of the world’s elite female athletes, and has impacted the lives of more than three-million youth, high school and collegiate student-athletes.

ABC’s Localish program recently featured Sports 4 Life’s community partners Beat the Streets, which brings wrestling to underserved Philadelphia youth, and Lost Boyz Inc, which received a grant to advance girls’ fastpitch softball in Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood.

“The Women’s Sports Foundation exists to enable all girls and women to reach their potential in sport and life; to unlock their limitless possibilities through the power of play,” says WSF President-elect, Phaidra Knight, a Black female attorney, World Rugby Hall of Famer and entrepreneur. Knight adds, “We are proud of the positive impact Sports 4 Life is having on girls across the country, and we are grateful to espnW for helping to create this initiative.”

How Celebrating Women in Sports Bolsters Women’s Leadership

Data collected from program leaders indicated that after a single season of sports participation, girls showed impressive gains in non athletic areas:

  • 66% reported that girls were likely to be participating regularly in extracurricular activities (up from 27%)
  • 56% reported that girls were likely to be involved with community-based groups (up from 20%)
  • 73% reported that girls were interested in being leaders at school or in their community (up from 15%)

Many community partners funded by Sports 4 Life focus on empowering girls through gender-informed programming and developing a strong community of female and racially diverse coaches. Parent support is also crucial to girls’ success; 91 percent of programs indicated that they work to get parents actively involved.

Related: More Sports Funding for Girls? Yes, Please!

The pandemic has put many independent community programs in jeopardy, and youth in under-resourced communities are being hit hardest of all. Sports 4 Life is rising to these challenges by funding organizations that are expanding and sustaining sports opportunities for girls of color.

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Philanthropy Women covers funding for gender equity in all sectors of society. We want to significantly shift public discourse, particularly in philanthropy, toward increased action for gender equality. You can support our work and access unlimited and premium content with one of our subscriptions.

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Author: Tim Lehnert

Tim Lehnert is a writer and editor who lives in Cranston, Rhode Island. His articles and essays have appeared in the Boston Globe, the Providence Journal, Rhode Island Monthly, the Boston Herald, the Christian Science Monitor, and elsewhere. He is the author of the book Rhode Island 101, and has published short fiction for kids and adults in a number of literary journals and magazines. He received an M.A. in Political Science from McGill University, and an M.A. in English from California State University, Northridge.

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