ZGiRLS kicks off national campaign
June 2, 2015
When Libby Ludlow, a Seattle native who now calls Park City home, was in law school in Seattle, she started ZGiRLS, a program that helps empower young girls through sports. Ludlow, who spent 10 years on the U.S. Ski Team, competing in the 2006 Olympics and a few World Championships races, knew how important sports were to developing her confidence and self-esteem and wanted to find a way to pass that along to the next generation of young female athletes.
On June 1, ZGiRLS launched a nationwide campaign looking to find more female mentors for groups of girls around the country. Ludlow said the program, which has already helped more than 550 girls in the Seattle area where it started, is about making sure girls have the confidence and skills to be successful in life.
"ZGiRLS is kind of like mental fitness for girls in sports," she said. "We build girls up with all the tools they need to succeed not only in their sport, but in life. It comes down to two main things — one is mentorship. We pair girls with a female athlete mentor who is usually college-level or even better. We also have a curriculum that teaches girls life skills — everything from confidence building and positive self-talk to stress management and goal setting. It kind of gives girls all the tools they need to navigate the challenges or adolescence and sports."
Girls drop out of sports at a higher rate than boys, Ludlow said. Therefore, it’s important to reach them earlier.
"Sports are a tremendous vehicle for girls to build confidence," she said. "There are tons of studies that say girls who participate in sports are more likely to go to college, make better decisions about their bodies, have higher self-esteem and they tend to excel more in leadership roles when they’re adults."
The ‘Z’ in ZGiRLS stands for ‘zero limitations,’ Ludlow said. The goal is to help girls navigate societal pressures as they mature.
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"We want girls to be able to live with no limits and break down barriers both external and internal," she said.
For Ludlow and her co-founder, Jilyne Higgins, sports were a familiar way to help give back to girls in communities across the country.
"It’s just tough to be an adolescent girl, whether you’re an athlete or not," Ludlow said. "We use sport as a vehicle for empowerment. I’m an Olympic athlete and my co-founder is an NCAA All-American — we know that sports are a great way to empower girls. Beyond ski racing, I participated in almost every sport imaginable growing up — from soccer and softball to pole vaulting and diving and gymnastics. Obviously sports are a huge part of my life and who I am. I just felt this really strong desire to give back and the best way I knew how was through sports. While I am a good ski coach, I felt I could do so much more by way of mental and emotional development. That’s stuff, as an Olympic athlete, I didn’t learn until my 20s."
ZGiRLS works by gathering girls into groups called "circles," where they then meet with their female athlete mentor once a month from October to May (coinciding with the school year). Girls go through the program’s curriculum during those meetings. Each circle also has a host, who is also a parent, who coordinates circle meetings at parents’ houses.
Ludlow said the national campaign is focused on not only raising funds, but also toward finding mentors and setting up circles across the country.
"We just converted to a nonprofit in the fall," she said. "We need funding and it’s great we’re getting funding, but we’re trying just as much to start circles and recruit mentors. The girls look up to [the mentors] and develop a really great rapport. That’s a really meaningful relationship. It’s great because it’s not a parent and it’s not a coach. If it comes from someone they respect and regard as a near-peer, they’re more likely to internalize those lessons."
Ludlow said she hopes the Park City community embraces ZGiRLS, especially since there are an abundance of athletic youth players and a large community of top-level athletes.
"It has been Seattle-based, but since we’re launching nationwide, anybody, any group of girls across the country, can start their own ZGiRLS circle," she said. "And, since this is where I live and this is my community, there absolutely will be circles here. It will be something I really hope to cultivate and grow in Park City, but also across the country as well."
Ludlow hopes to recruit 100 mentors over the next few months and start circles for each of them. Though she admits that goal is ambitious, she said it’s important work that has a real impact on girls’ lives.
"I hope communities rally around this movement," she said. "You can talk about empowering girls and building their confidence, but it doesn’t mean anything if you’re not out there doing it. It needs to be built over time and through experience."
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