'Come and try a new sport': U of A Pandas helping Edmonton girls find their game
When Pandas wrestler Taylor McPherson entered the sport in Grade 7, it was to make a point.
"I was like, 'Oh, I can be tough, too. I'm just small, but I can be tough,'" the 4'11" 22-year-old recalled, laughing.
"It was a thing I kind of used to prove myself."
And over the years, she did make a point, perhaps to herself more than anyone else.
"It's made me stronger. It's given me a lot of life skills I can carry forward into a job," she said.
"Confidence wise, you know, it helps build it – but then sometimes it breaks it down. But then you have to rebuild it again. You don't always win…If you don't, it's a learning opportunity"
These are the lessons she and her teammates are trying to pass on to the younger generation through a free drop-in program for girls.
For Girls By Girls is a federally funded partnership between University of Alberta Pandas Athletics and the City of Edmonton that aims to introduce girls to different sports.
Once a week at the Terwillegar Recreation Centre, Pandas athletes will teach the basics of their sport to girls aged nine to 15.
The first session of the four-month program was hosted Jan. 10 by members of the Pandas' women's soccer team, including former midfielder and recent education graduate Megan Duro.
"The first rule: no hands, obviously… And then we did passing, we tried out different parts of the body that we use on the soccer field, and then at the end, we explained the game rules and got them to experience a game as well," Duro told CTV News Edmonton of the first clinic.
"It was so admirable to see them never touching a soccer ball before but were so willing to learn and try new skills."
In part, Duro attributes that enthusiasm to the pandemic, which has affected in-person learning and activities. But the pair of Pandas athletes also believe their students' excitement is the result of being given an opportunity to play and learn in an environment that doesn't have any financial or experience obligations.
"The drop-in program gives them the opportunity just to come and have fun," Duro said. "There's no expectation or certain skillset that you need to have either, so it just gives them a fun and inclusive environment just come and try a new sport."
"We keep seeing numbers go down in girls sport participation, and we want to see those numbers go up. In every sport," McPherson added. In 2021, a study found one in four Canadian girls who participated in sports at least once a week before the pandemic were hesitant about returning to it. It also found girls drop out of sport in their adolescent years at three times the rate of boys.
McPherson said she "jumped" at the mentoring opportunity.
"There's not as many women in wrestling as men, so I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to share the sport of wrestling with young girls."
Canadian Women & Sport, behind the 2021 study, suggested making sports more available to girls.
More information about For Girls By Girls is available online. Clinics are run as first come first served.
With files from CTV News Edmonton's Touria Izri
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