It’s no secret that times are changing, and so are the ways we choose to teach and coach our children. The impact early authority figures can now have on young females and their perception of the world is substantial compared to what it used to be, especially considering the widening array of possibilities continuing to unfold itself for young, motivated women and girls. Now more than ever, it’s crucial to instill confidence and belief in self into our children, especially our young girls, and that starts with working on her skills, hobbies, and abilities the same way you would any other child. Here are some ways to cultivate the passion and energy of a young female athlete in the making.

The Early Advantage

With some children, when you first get them involved with something can be just as important as what it is you get them into and how. Young girls can be as impressionable as they will ever be, so their first experiences in sports or team activities can very much determine how they respond to those types of activities or situations in the future. That’s why it’s important to encourage a child’s interests no matter what the social norm may place in the way. Signing a young girl up for traditionally-male sports like football and baseball (as opposed to softball) can be a way to ensure that she is shown her ability to hold her own in co-ed situations. There can be some backlash from some male kids on the teams, and it’s unfortunately still likely that your child will have other young athletes question her abilities or legitimacy in the activities in which she’s involved. It’s just as important to support and reassure your young athlete in times like these as it is to encourage them to prove their naysayers wrong, instead of trying to rationalize to them why other children are choosing to react in this way.

Involving your child at a young age with other children with the same interests also helps to break these barriers down for them and those around them. The more often other children see certain athletes commingling regardless of gender, race, creed, or anything else that can predetermine early opinions, the sooner they can become surrounded by like-minded or supportive teammates and friends. Again, these conceptions of team activities and sports being limited by gender either implicitly or explicitly are on their way out, but present today nonetheless. It’s important to prepare your child for these experiences and put them in the best position to succeed regardless of their surroundings.

Cultivating the Mind

Besides throwing them directly into the action, there are still other ways to teach your young athlete to catch like a girl. If you’re raising or coaching a child that’s showing a strong and legitimate interest in a sport, it’s important for them to be able to see that sport played on a professional level. This begins to instill an understanding within them of the work, time, and effort it takes to succeed at the game they love so much, which will hopefully translate within them over time to be a universal display of how hard work and dedication can ultimately lead to success. So if your child clearly has a vested interest in baseball, but there aren’t any softball leagues around or that fit your athlete’s needs for whatever reason, it can be completely eye-opening for them to see a professional (or even college) softball team play. Seeing a field occupied solely by competent, athletic women can be a completely new and exciting sight for a young female athlete in training, as it opens them up to the idea of women finding that same success in hard work and perseverance.

Likewise, it’s just as important to take these kinds of things into consideration when raising or coaching a young male athlete, as well. If you see that a boy is going to be involved with girls in their team activities, take the time to talk with them about it. Hammer home the idea that boys and girls are all capable of the same things, and that includes sports. While the idea of boys being inherently stronger or better at sports than girls is certainly diminishing with time, it’s still prevalent and a strong indicator toward some of the more common issues we as a society have with masculinity today. Teaching a child to accept the equal abilities of their peers regardless of gender, race, or creed is crucial toward their development and how they perceive others as they mature. Doing so will help create a more open and accepting environment for all players trying to learn and devote themselves to a team activity, and hopefully ultimately foster a more productive and interconnected team environment.

We may not be all the way there, but the strides we’ve taken in raising the next generation so far has proven that the old adages and beliefs in the differences between men and women are fading fast. To that end, there’s never been a better time for coaches and parents to try to break more barriers and have their children participate in activities together, boys and girls alike. We have the power to continue changing the way young female athletes are treated and cultivated, and with some proper pushing, we can have a whole generation of powerful women in the making as we speak.