What Caitlin Clark is Doing for Our Sons…and Our Daughters

I grew up with two brothers, and between us we played every sport offered at our school and park league. While I was a good athlete, I was outstanding at nothing in particular, but I loved sports for the feeling it gave me of being part of a team, something bigger than myself.

ESPN YouTube interview after game with Elite 8 game with LSU.

I’m watching the shift in women’s basketball

Now I’m sitting years later, watching a shift in women’s athletics like nothing I’ve ever seen before, all thanks to Caitlin Clark, the phenom basketball player who grew up in Iowa, playing with the boys because her father couldn’t find a girls’ team.

Admittedly, I have an extra bias in my admiration for Clark, having been a Hawkeye myself back in the 1990s. But the girl athlete in me can’t help but do what the entire country is doing: watch her on the court and shake my head in awe.

Social media is exploding with reels and GIFs featuring Clark, and not just from women, but also men, from everyday dads to Hollywood actors to NBA players. Fathers all over the country are learning new ways to connect with their daughters by watching Clark and her team, taking their girls to basketball games and local parks so they too can practice winning 3-point shots.

There’s a shift in women’s basketball with Caitlin Clark. (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

We need to make this a movement, not just a moment

Women’s sports have never been on a bigger stage than they are with her today tearing up the basketball court. But as a mom and former girl athlete, I think we need to harness that for our kids and teens; we need to play a part in making it a movement, and not just a moment.

My mother’s station wagon logged more miles traversing the streets of the Milwaukee suburbs, going from gym to field to court with bags of cleats, rackets, helmets and sliced oranges. Even when she went back to school for her master’s degree, her class schedule was planned around my brothers and our activities. I can’t recall a single game or match in which I played where she wasn’t on the sidelines.

As a mom of boys who played sports starting at age 4 and continued in college, I know the demands and exhaustion of it all: the early morning alarm clocks, the missed vacations, the endless outpouring of money on equipment, tournament fees, and hotel rooms in cities you would never otherwise step foot in if not for your child’s athletics. And with multiple kids, there is always the ‘divide and conquer:’ so many weekends not spent together as a family, but split up between two different fields, parks or gyms.

Caitlin Clark after ELITE 8 WIN vs. LSU 🗣️ ‘THIS A LITTLE DIFFERENT!’ | ESPN College Basketball

Clark is breaking athletic records but she’s also making it okay to be a female athlete

But what’s the alternative? To say no to a girl wanting to play sports is like tying just one hand behind her back. telling her that the glass ceilings she is supposed to break someday in the real world can’t be broken everywhere.

Clark is admirable not only for having broken through those ceilings with her athletic stats, but also in the ways she is making it ok to be a female athlete who is strong in body and leadership. She is unapologetically aggressive, but humble off the court.

She shows sportsmanship without weakness, and makes no excuses. Clark is a team player, and boldly knows her worth. She is writing her own story, and her voice is one that speaks to girl athletes everywhere. 

Let our daughters believe they can be extraordinary athletes

Our daughters may not have the same athletic gifts as Caitlin Clark, but at the heart of it, that doesn’t matter at all. Let a girl bang a tennis ball for hours against the garage, pretending to be Serena Williams; let her practice 100 free throws in a row, imagining she is in the Final Four.

Let our girls believe they can achieve extraordinary things both on and off the playing field. Just as importantly, teach our sons to support them. Let them see the values that female athletes have to offer in the world of sport, and that the lessons they can teach can have worth and meaning in their lives.

One of my sons is at a university where the men’s basketball team has a long-standing reputation as one of the best in the country, but he and his friends will gather to watch women’s basketball just to see Clark and her wizardry on the court. The girl athlete in me loves the grit and the grace that Clark shows on and off the court. But more importantly, the boy mom in me loves what Clark is doing for sons like mine, showing them that girls can reach the same heights, attain the same goals, break the same records.

We need to harness that magic she brings to what she does; to do anything less would be a disservice to women everywhere, on and off the athletic playing field. 

More Great Reading:

The 15 Powerful Lessons Teens Learn From Sports

About Betsy Rathburn Hegan

Betsy Rathburn Hegan’s writing has included 3rd grade short stories, college literary magazine essays, freelance editorial work and finely crafted emails to her children’s teachers in middle school. A midwesterner at heart, Betsy lives in Jacksonville, FL with her husband, adorable dog, and (occasionally) two boys who attend colleges further away than she would like.

Read more posts by Betsy

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