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A dad's role in women's sports

By Brian Maurer

Jessica Charman with her dad

My daughter was born nearly two years ago, and since that day my life has changed. It feels like my previous life is being shed away as I grow into a new way of viewing and thinking about the world. My life has become a rotation of these three questions: How am I showing up for her today? How am I acting around her today? And how are my decisions affecting her today?

These questions rotate in my head as I spend time singing, reading, and building forts with her. A far cry from what my life looked like just a few years ago.

Recently, I have been spending my early mornings watching the ninth Women's World Cup with her. Questions that keep coming up for me are who were all the supportive fathers that were there for their daughters as they made their way towards this world stage moment? In what ways can a father’s role help women pursue sports?

Being passionate

One is passion. For many men, sports are an invaluable, passionate, and fanatical experience. This becomes an opportunity for fathers to share that personality as a way to connect with their daughters.

In a recent conversation, Charlotte FC radio broadcaster Jessica Charman reflected on how she connected with her father through the beautiful game as a child. “I had a season ticket to watch Reading [FC] with him,” said Charman. “He always found time for us to connect through the game…that was the quality time that we got to share”.

I also spoke with Carroll Walton, who writes the column "Fútbol Friday" for the Charlotte Ledger, about how she was introduced to sports. “Watching football with my dad, I was a big Cowboys fan, and I started watching games when I was four. He was a football official, he reffed high school games, he was a back judge,” reflected Walton.

Carroll Walton (right) with her dad and sister Louise

Both women share a common bond in how they acquired a passion for sports. Their fathers played an essential role in passing down this passion to them.

Writer and outdoorsman Steve Rinella spoke about the importance of parents sharing their passions with their children on The 1000 Hours Outside Podcast. “That thing you love…you need to bring your kids out to have them see what it’s like to be with someone that loves this thing, like, demonstrate the enthusiasm,” stated Rinella.

The value children can gain from seeing their parents’ passions is clear and can have a lasting impact throughout their lives. In sports, daughters can gain a massive boost if they can observe their father’s passion for them.

Showing up

Another important role for fathers is showing up. Both physically and emotionally. “He literally supports everything I do, you know, that guy gets up to listen to the broadcast, and you gotta imagine a five-hour time difference, so he’s waking up at midnight to listen to everything I do,” Charman says about the active role her father has played during her broadcasting career. This activity was a role he started when she was far younger.

“He used to write almost like articles about me…it was almost like my dad was a journalist for my games,” Charman recalls.

Walton had similar vivid memories of her father coming to her games. “I remember him coming to a field hockey game of mine and rather than sitting in the bleachers with the other parents, he came and kneeled down on the sideline…he did that a couple games…I didn’t realize at the time how proud he was, it was a reflection of that”.

Showing up is important. But fatherhood is more than that. These women’s stories show that their fathers had an enthusiasm for the way they showed up for them, providing the vividness of their memories and the support and strength that can come from that.

Providing encouragement and challenge

Providing positive encouragement is another critical aspect of fatherhood. Alongside encouragement is the importance of providing challenges and allowing children to take risks. This second piece can trigger a lot of fear.

Charman mentioned her parents’ role in encouraging her as well as allowing her to take risks and challenge herself. “They never made me feel like it wasn’t possible to come to America,” she said. “It’s a scary thing, right, to imagine, and they were okay with me at 18 years old getting on a plane and moving to Georgia as scary as that is as a parent, as hard as that is as a parent…I think without them supporting…then I’d have never been able to stay in sports”.

She said that her parents allowed her to take risks and be pushed, even if it was difficult for them to observe. “I think it must have been hard emotionally for my parents at times to see coaches stigmatize or see some of the opposition boys’ teams say nasty things about me but at the end of the day like you say those life lessons have come back and benefitted me ten-fold,” Charman says about her parents letting her play with the boys’ team when she young.

Charman also mentioned the value of losing, “I to this day remember playing QPR…one of my first seasons with the women's team…We lost 20 nil, man, 20 nil like I remember it..and I still remember though coming off with a smile on my face because I made like 50 saves,” she said. “It was the resilience it taught me in that moment… that's how you get better.” Her parents allowed Charman to challenge herself even if that challenge also included some pain. The result was resiliency and strength.

Walton remembered a story from her college days when her father encouraged her to change directions in her career pursuits. “Coach K [Mike Krzyzewski] was entertaining leaving for the Boston Celtics…and I stayed up one night writing a letter to Coach K why he shouldn’t go,” Walton said. As a Duke fan, she was inspired to write the letter but decided it was not worth sending. Her father read the letter and encouraged her to send it to him. Coach Krzyzewski responded to the letter. “That was the first time that I think I realized I had a knack for writing,” she recalled.

Later on, Walton’s father helped her get her start in journalism. “Dad got me a meeting with Rolfe Neill…no experience writing, and he gave me an internship on the health page,” she said. Her father’s encouragement would prove vital again when she was considering the Beat Writer position for the Atlanta Braves. “I was intimidated…completely overwhelmed…I remember calling Dad, and he was like, ‘You absolutely gotta do this! You can do this!’ meant a lot because of the man he was.”

This pivotal challenge from her father paid off for Walton. “It led to my real dream, which was writing a book with Chipper Jones…I’ll never forget the night I signed and found out what the dollars were going to be and what it really meant, and we went over and had dinner at his house and just drank wine, celebrated…it wouldn’t have meant as much if I didn’t have him to celebrate with”.

Charman and Walton had fathers who encouraged and challenged them by creating an environment within which it was safe to take risks and explore. This led them to successful careers in an industry that has historically been dominated by men.

“One thing I do think is important to have that male leadership in this field is that my dad and my brothers taught me how to be around boys and men, whether they meant to or not I have thick skin, you know, I can let things roll, I can take a joke, I can tell a joke, you know, I’m a little rough around the edges…that was something that really helped me I think throughout my career,” reflects Walton.

Lessons from sports

Sports provide a valuable opportunity for kids to learn teamwork, resiliency, and a whole host of other life lessons.

Charman specifically highlighted the resiliency she learned from losing and playing with the boys’ teams. She also mentioned the connection she gained with her father over the mutual passion of following Reading FC. Social connections and resiliency are similar traits to what Walton feels are the benefits of sports.

“The thing that sports do I think as well as anything, is teach you the power of hard work and discipline…what you put in is what you get out. Friendships, you know, that’s the stuff I would never replace, whether it was riding a bus to an away game as a junior on the field hockey team or going out to Chipper’s ranch in Texas and talking to him about deer hunting…it’s a great way to get to know people” says Walton.

Dads can play a valuable role in their daughters gaining these different skills and lessons from sports. Michael Voepel said in an article for ESPN, “And all of this leads to something I strongly believe: Fathers' love for their daughters always has been and will continue to be one of humanity's strongest forces for positive social change.”

I have always been a fanatic about sports, all I have to do is be myself around my daughter, and she will at the very least, see what passion and love for something looks like. Ideally, she will learn to apply that passion in her way throughout her life. I hope that many more dads have that same experience with their kids. Dads around the world can play a critical role in the growth of women's sports.