Transcending Sport

Changing the Game for Girls to Play

I Play Like A Girl

Play Like a Girl is playing a pivotal role in teaching middle school girls to play and develop an active lifestyle beyond their school years

Transcending Sport is presented by Chris Stafford

Podcast length: 32’12”

Dr. Kimberly Clay

Dr. Kimberly Clay

Dr. Kimberly Clay is the President and CEO of Play Like a Girl, a non profit organization which is creating programs and events to inspire middle school girls to get out and play.  Their mission is to advance the health and empowerment of girls through the transformative power of sport and physical activity and to leverage the collective power of women to deliver the early, positive experiences middle school girls need to develop a lifelong commitment to play. Statistics show that all too often girls drop out of sports at the age of 14 so by creating after school programs the goal is to keep girls active in the hope that they remain physically engaged in activities throughout their life. As their organization evolved it became clear from research that something needed to be done about overweight and obesity in the female population so they shifted their focus specifically to the 11-14 age group.  Kim share the story of the organization’s development, their progress so far and plans for the future.

LISTEN to more episodes of women who are making a difference in sport HERE


Play Like a Girl website



[00:00:01] Hi Kim welcome to the program.

[00:00:04] Thank you. Thanks for having me. Super excited.

[00:00:07] Well we’re looking forward to hearing all about your organization Play Like Girl – as the President and CEO does that mean you’re part of the founding team for this organization?

[00:00:19] Kim Yes crazily I am. I actually started the organization back in 2004 while a doctoral student in Alabama and started in my living room actually with seven other women who were in doctoral programs across the spectrum of public health. And since that time we’ve evolved into a much broader and larger concept and program in organization than we ever thought was possible it was nothing we intended to do that was actually a passion project to give back to our local community. And people really responded well particularly mothers of girls. And that’s really where things began to normalize for us. So in 2006 we were officially deemed a corporation with non-profit status from IRS and have been functioning as such ever since what has been your main goal than Kim.

[00:01:19] Has it changed since you sat around your living room there with the idea.

[00:01:25] Yeah we’ve definitely evolved in our goal more specifically even in our mission when we first started out back in 2004 in Alabama we were facing racial and ethnic and gender disparities in health. And we wanted to really make a dent in cancer outcomes in particular with women breast and cervical cancer because in the Deep South particularly the Alabama region of what’s called the blackbelt women of color were disproportionately impacted with new diagnosis of breast cancer. But even more disproportionately impacted by the death rate mortality rates associated with poor outcomes from those diseases. And so that’s where our work initially began. And so over the course of several years we began to recognize the research that was really pointing us toward more cancer prevention and control work. And so a lot of our messaging and our work was a bit focused at that time. We’re joined live activations to an average of 30 marriages between underaged mothers and daughters in a single setting several times a year at major national awareness days.

[00:02:47] In particular October of course around Breast Cancer Awareness Month and realized that as we were intensifying our work and prevention. The thing that continued to show up over and over again and at that time we weren’t operating under the same name. But this informed our rebranding to play like a girl and that was that our audience was continuing to grow as it related to overweight and obesity. And so we saw it as really critical to our work to begin to intervene earlier. Shifting our focus on the daughters of those mothers we have in the audience and to also really become strategic in our attention around doing something to combat the overweight and obesity issue with that population and thus the change in our name and our focus. And even since then we’ve evolved into having a much more clear direction around how we want to use play and how play more specific to sport can be utilized not only for the health benefits but also some of the natural properties of leadership and confidence and teamwork that young women can glean from and take into other areas of their lives including life and career. So our mission today is to ensure that girls actually meet and reach their full potential. And we are using sport and physical activity as a conduit to do that and that includes health but it also includes other areas of life with particular focus on changing the statistic that by age 14 girls are dropping out of sport at one point five to two times the rate of boys and that their confidence is also plummeting.

[00:04:35] So we have critical work to do and those beginning days back in the early 2000s really helped to inform the type of work that we’re doing now and which age group are you primarily targeting Kim.

[00:04:48] And part two of that question is Where are you getting your best responses to this movement.

[00:04:54] Yeah we shifted our focus to more strategically based on girls in the 9 to 13 age range. Back in 2014 women Nike designed to move report was released subsequent to that was the Aspen Institute Project laye report and then Ernst Young and ESPN W released a report looking at the role of sports in its long term impact on women in the C suite. And so what the. Many other reports and also shown was again that statistic that we are losing girls as it relates to sport but also physical activity so active play before age 14. And so we recognize that if at that critical age of 14 most girls are going into their ninth grade year some girls ending their ninth grade going into 10th grade that we’ve got to get them early. So our focus began to shift on the younger age group of middle school girls between the age of 9 to 13 for that primary purpose to introduce and deliver early positive experiences in sport. This collectively for these girls who otherwise wouldn’t have access to sport and then to also help to reintegrate everyday play into everyday life. You know going back to double dutch and hula hoop and some of those types of things through some programs that we introduced our two primary programs are our after school program play locker girl clubs where we rely partner with rely on and partner with volunteer coaches who happen to be moms P.E. teachers individuals from peak PTA and pantyhose in communities and schools who partner with us to start and leading coach girls in a sport of their choice.

[00:06:47] So we’ve got Abby who is an avid volleyball player and yoga instructor who lead a club specifically in her sport volleyball also introducing the girls to yoga in the after school setting. Others may be you know specialty their specialty or love may be for running or soccer or any of the other sports that have low cost equipment requirements and those types of things because we want to limit the barriers to girls to girls continuing to play into their high school years. Our biggest focus right now is getting girls and and keeping them in the game whether that be them going on to pursue sport professionally throughout high school college and then into the professional sector or for them to just remain active in including sport as part of their active living regimen over the course of the lifespan. Because what we recognize out of the ESPN wives work is that 94 percent of women in the C Suite meaning the leading business minds of our world are women who participated in sport at some point in their lives and 52 percent of those women actually participated in sport through the college level. And so we recognize that it’s important for girls to be active for the physical and health peace.

[00:08:11] But also there are some other natural benefits as I talked about earlier around confidence and teamwork and leadership skills that girls are able to take from sport and then apply those skills and their lives are second primary program has been in what we’ve called our pop up playdates is where we partner with community organizations and schools where there are no play locker girls clubs to go in and introduce the concept of our work to communities schools parents and the girls of course where we literally provide for them a day of old fashioned filled day Clay. And we’re super excited this year to be expanding it to include a corporate version of that. So we’ll be offering an adult field day in Nashville this year as well. Our best. I would say reaction and response to the work has certainly come from mothers but also school administrators and principals in particular who want to brain programming into their schools that address the needs of their girl populations in particular. Recognizing the issue with overweight and obesity both from the perspective of you know budget cuts to their programs the competitive nature of their sporting programs that then eliminate the opportunity or option for girls to participate in sport and then the issue of access for many girls who can’t access for outside of the school setting as well being able to offer a player like a girl club or a popular play day which we now call pop play like a girl games. We’re actually going through a rebranding. I’m super excited about it. And so bringing our game into those schools as well as our clubs is really where we’ve been able to I think make a lot of headway partnering with schools administrators MPE teachers in particular and we’ve actually done a lot of work to also represent those populations of decision makers and stakeholders on our national board of directors and so being able to reflect back to the community that we hear their calls for us to continue to expand programming in such a way that we’re also you know bringing those people onto our team as well.

[00:10:37] Explain your network. Because presumably you are a national organization now. How you reach and extend your network who do you rely on and if it’s not the schools. Just talk a little bit about the logistics of it all and who you are working with primarily and how your extending your network.

[00:10:57] Yeah absolutely. So as I mentioned earlier we’re going through a strategic rebranding of the organization because we are indeed trying to intentionally position ourselves to grow in a much more strategic way to reach more of our national audience.

[00:11:17] We are a national organization but not necessarily on purpose like the evolution of organization the evolution of our growth and our reach was also unintentional very early on. Back in 2010 or so where college women started reaching out to us wanting to bring player like girl clubs onto their campuses. And so it was that structure that allowed us to then start to play like girl clubs in states across the U.S. including program even in Canada particularly specifically at Queens University and our largest chapter in the U.S. being a Fairfield University in Connecticut. So with those programs college students basically. Visit our web. They go through a process of completing an application to start a chapter on their campus. They then position themselves within their university get the approvals necessary either through their student life office or their student government association to start a new student organization just like you would a sorority or intramural sports team or something like that. Once they’re proved their apartments as it relates to how much they engage with girls. The structure of their organization by charter and bylaws we then deem them a fully approved collegiate chapter of our play like girl clubs. They then convene their members around physical activity and sport in a club format on a regular basis throughout their academic semester or year or you know some programs on quarters and then they also together go into boys and girls clubs community centers as well as middle schools and close proximity to their campus to deliver the play like a girl club program as well as the pop up days or the games in those settings.

[00:13:19] One of the things that we’re doing as a part of the strategic rebranding is also our 2022 strategic planning where again adding the intentionality we’re starting to look at you know where we’re getting most or more of our request for expansion is starting to steady those markets to understand the markets the needs in those markets how we can reach through school partnerships in particular. That’s always our first focus school partnerships at the middle school level to be able to go into those communities that are asking us to bring programs. It’s the same process where typically it’s either a school administrator or a school teacher. Mostly teachers or athletic coaches and then PTO PTA and parents who reach out to us through our website complete the application to start a club or to lead a club and we then go through a process of back and forth determining what the sport will be if the location is a perfect fit for us and in doing this we are also actually in the process of developing for the first time ever our copyrighted curriculum. We have been for several years funded by the Women’s Sports Foundation out of New York and have used their Go go go curriculum and absolutely love it. I learned a lot of things with it but I know that they are actively revising and updating their curriculum and so we saw it as an opportunity for us to take what we’ve learned through survey and focus groups with our girls to create a curriculum that is uniquely playing like a girl. And so we’re super excited about that.

[00:15:04] And we’ll have some new marketing strategies around how we expand more internationally into new markets in the next two to three years introducing new programming as well as using our new curriculum.

[00:15:19] I’m interested in the cultural engagement that you’ve heard if there’s been any particular sectors but have engaged more than others. And what kind of retention you’ve had beyond school to keep these girls from falling out at the age of 14. Yeah.

[00:15:34] So our primary focus is giving girls exposure access an opportunity to play sport not from a competitive perspective but almost recreationally such that they will find the sport that they love and hopefully continue in that sport either you know pursuing sport through out high school into college and the like or that they will continue to be active in some area of their lives either through an intramural sport a club or recreation sports or will just adapt to fit physically active lifestyle to continue. When we look at our demographic across the U.S. and Canada it’s often interesting because we get the question you know are we targeting the inner city girl. Because it is you know quite likely that those girls are the ones who are in greatest need. And yes we serve that population of girls. But believe it or not we have a very wide variety and of girls that we serve when we look at our demographics we’re probably serving right at about 80 percent Caucasian girls. And we’ve been able to reach that population through Title 1 schools in particular partnership through communities and schools which is a national kind of collaborative school of Hantman academic enhancement program that partners with schools and takes programming into the school to help enhance the academic pursuits of children as well as the other lifestyle and social skills types of needs that schools need. So 8 percent Caucasian girls. We then have about a 5 percent to 10 percent group of Hispanic girls because we have had a lot of programming in Texas prior to Nashville we were headquartered in Texas for several years. So we saw huge growth in our Hispanic population there.

[00:17:40] And then I would say third would be our African-American population. We were able to grow our African-American population with funding from Women’s Sports Foundation their sports for all sports for Life program which is squarely focused on being able to engage girls from African and Hispanic descent to sport and engaging them in opportunities around physical activity as well. So we saw our greatest growth in that population in the last I would say three to five years. As we’ve continued to expand our footprint.

[00:18:20] And you have events as you mentioned earlier and we’d like to hear about the upcoming event in February and that is a national girls and women in sports day. So tell us about this.

[00:18:32] Absolutely. So every year across the nation organizations and groups and athletic teams. Every level takes a moment to reflect and pay tribute to women in sport and the accomplishments and achievements of the many of them that women athletes coaches and executives in the industry have led. On behalf of women and so we also participate as a part of that. We’re this year returning for a third annual play like a Girls Summit and we’re super super excited. This year we’ve expanded to two days over the course of a weekend February 16th and 17th here in Nashville. We’ve partnered with Belmont University Women’s athletics as well as the women’s sport dome festival out of L.A. And we’re bringing to our stage two remarkable female athletes A.J. Andrews The first woman to ever receive the Rawlings Golden Glove Award who also last year graced the pages of ESPN magazine’s body issue. She’ll be talking about body image and confidence and what role that it’s played in her her career as a young professional softball outfielder. And then we’ll also have Schimek Hall’s claw whose life story will be told on the screen. There were private screening of her film mind games the quiet journey of an equal Huls claw. Her story is that she actually played right here in Tennessee as a Tennessee volunteer under you know the renowned Pat Summit went on to become a W NBA champion legend in fact and went onto the Olympics but actually struggled with mental illness particularly bipolar disorder and clinical depression which ultimately cost her her career. And she has since used it as a rally call an opportunity to educate.

[00:20:47] And at the same time call to action women and girls around self care and mental health. And so we’re super excited to be able to share their stories along with. We have a host of women from every single professional sport team here in the city. We’ve chosen a woman executive who is going to come and lead what we call a mentoring session where our girls and we’ve actually also brought in high school girls so we have 200 girls we’ll be able to participate that day including both middle and high school girls and so they’ll be talking about career choices college course selections in high school and the importance of women being at the board at the boardroom table as it relates to the sport industry. And then we have remarkable women here in Nashville who happened to also be the wives of two Tennessee Titans players Ryan Casey and Alex Jones who will share what they’re doing for social good how they’re leveraging their connection and sport the you know the careers of their player husbands to actually make meaningful impact in the lives of national youth. So I’m super excited about what we’re able to do this year with the summit. We’ve grown from an audience of about 125 girls last year on a weekday to now being able to accommodate 250 girls 200 girls sorry over a weekend. So super super excited about that.

[00:22:25] A lots to look forward to. Funnily Kim my question would be really way you see the organization going say in ten years time what would you like to look back on and see what you’ve really achieved.

[00:22:39] Yeah. So for us right now we’re doing something I think that’s groundbreaking. Game changing and that is that we are introduced introducing science technology engineering and mathematics in sport as a part of our after school play soccer clubs program. I am super excited about being able to bridge sports with those academic pursuits that we talked about a little bit earlier where we’re able to show girls how sport can open and create opportunities for them beyond the field. And so we are so excited. I was just on a call yesterday with ESPN Wu and Gatorade who’s leading the way in this work to really be able to respond to the reasons why girls are dropping out of sport and what Gatorade is reporting in a recent study that they’ve conducted with refinery 29 is that girls are pessimistic about their future in sport whether they will have the ability to go pro in sport in addition to that girls also began to shift their focus to being more academically driven. At about that age of 14. And so if we want to keep girls physically active if we want to keep them participating in sport keeping them in the game then we’ve got to figure out a way to address that issue of pessimism that issue of not quite having the interest as one would earlier on the non academic side of sport and being able to bridge the gap and so we’re going to be doing that through stem and score and showing girls opportunities for career exploration and aspirations that allowed them to tap into the STEM fields and even art as well in utilizing sport as a conduit to future success.

[00:24:38] So we’re super excited about that in the near future as we roll out our new curriculum for the 10 year guage. We’re actually really really interested not only in growing our footprint nationally of course we want to be in every middle school you know every community center. We’re partnering with Girls Incorporated and YWCA here locally. We want to continue to do that. Moving into other markets however placard girl for the last 14 years has been 100 percent volunteer lead and run organization and that Mike as capital. It’s earlier in the conversation with academics. I am a Cancer Survivorship researcher published in that area for several years. I was on the tenure track as a professor at the University of Georgia and Morehouse School of Medicine Lana and eight years ago left my career because I don’t lead to this column to do this work. Having grown up in rural Mississippi where Post Title 9 sport was not an opportunity or option for me to do the work full time and so I’ve done it now eight years without compensation or benefits. And we recognize that in doing the work over the last 14 years we’ve had wonderful volunteers but it’s time for us to shift to a paid professional staff and that’s my biggest vision for the organization in the next 10 years is to have a fully staffed organization with leadership at the helm that really sees down the road. Think strategically with the support of a governing board that will help us to get to that ultimate goal in 20 by 2028. I guess yes so I want to see our girls as alumni coming back to work for us.

[00:26:32] I think that is really the vision that we should be casting as an organization. We’ve been able to retain you now for graduation rates of our girls. We retain about 97 percent of girls in our programs but 100 percent of them have graduated our programs and graduated high school. And so I want to be in a position in 10 years to be able to report what happened. You know if we’re truly wanting to close the gap set girls on the path of lifelong success and career and life I want to be able to map their their path forward and be able to report back to stakeholders and donors that you know what that 94 percent of women in the C Suite now represents a portion from playlet could grow or the opposite ocher girl represents a portion of that 94 percent so that would be my big goal and that those girls are coming back to work for us.

[00:27:27] We love that. It’s fabulous work that you’re doing Kim and we applaud you here. This certainly speaks to our mission as well to keep girls in sport for all the benefits and all the reasons that we’ve witnessed so we’ll. Thank you. And finally how can people find you and follow you on social media. Kim.

[00:27:44] Yeah. Everywhere we are. I play like a girl. Our Web site is I play like a girl dot o r g and on Facebook Instagram and Twitter we’re at. I play like a girl. You can also follow the hash tag. I play like a girl. It often confuses people because our official legal name is Play Like a girl with an exclamation point. No I. We are registered trademark but I want to explain why on social media and web where I am. Because when we rebranded with the name we recognize that the name had been you know an insult and a taunt for many girls for many generations. And we wanted to take it and make it a declarative statement of which we would be proud. As women unify girls all across the country. And so we took Play Like A Girl you play soccer girl back and we now declare I play like a girl. So that’s how you find us on every social media profile as well as our website. We want girls to really be proud to declare who they are in the game and that they’ll stay in the game and empower other girls to do the same.

[00:28:56] We hope so too and post posted on generations to come. Kim thank you very much for taking the time to come on the program and show what you’re doing and your vision and the very best of luck with it. Thank you Chris for having me.

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