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Play Like a Girl

Though it’s not volleyball-specific, we at PrepVolleyball honor Sarah Fuller and the inspiration she gives us to “Play like a girl.” (Photo courtesy of Vanderbilt University Football.)

Vanderbilt University senior Sarah Fuller was the first woman to play in a Power Five Conference football game over the weekend after coming off of a women’s SEC Soccer Championship this fall for the Commodores as the team’s goalkeeper. On the back of her helmet were the words: Play like a girl.

Fuller was named the SEC Co-Special Teams Player of the Week after kicking off the second half of the game and became the first to make her mark on the men’s field at the highest collegiate level, inspiring young girls everywhere that they can achieve anything. Every sports and news network was talking about what a historic achievement Fuller had reached. Strangers online tweeted about, liked, and applauded the young woman for playing like a girl, for other girls.

“All I want to do is be a good influence to the young girls out there,” said Fuller in a post-game interview, “because there were times that I struggled in sports but I am so thankful I stuck with it. It’s giving me so many opportunities and I’ve met so many amazing people through sports. I just want to say, literally, you can do anything you set your mind to – that’s the number-one thing.”

Years ago, this possibility was hardly thought about. Girls didn’t play football. Girls are not as strong, as skilled, or as successful, so they have said. Suited up in uniform and surrounded by young men on that field this weekend, Fuller reminded us that we want to play like a girl and it doesn’t have to be compared to how the boys do it.

It wasn’t just Fuller that has helped inspire us to think about what could be done in sports; to break barriers and push the limits of what has been the precedence of men earning the most money and the most fame, respect, and accolades.

Long before Fuller earned her spot as a kicker with Vanderbilt were historic milestone-makers such as Billie Jean King who won the “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match in 1973, a year after Title IX was introduced. Wilma Rudolph, Kathrine Switzer, Danica Patrick, Venus and Serena Williams, and members of the USA Women’s Soccer team, among others, have pushed to advance women’s sports. More recently, women have been hired as coaches for male sports teams and Kim Ng was named the General Manager of the Miami Marlins baseball organization.

We used to play like a girl because it’s the only way we were allowed to. Before Title IX offered fair opportunities for young women to play sports, we could cheer on the “real athletes” – the boys. Playing like a girl is no longer sweet, or cute, or neatly wrapped in a box. There are limits to be tested and sweat to be earned. There are barriers to break and no time to doubt if the bar is too high or if there is room for us, too. We can find our spot at the top, by winning and by losing, if only we continue to play like a girl.

These accomplishments have come not because it’s time to let a girl in. It is time. But it’s also because these notable women have earned it. They’ve gotten tired of being looked over and, instead of quitting because it’s too much, they have simply decided to keep going. We keep going despite the criticism and doubt, and we instead turn our dreams into our wildest realities.

We keep going because our sisters and our daughters are watching. We remember women of the past do the unthinkable. They shatter glass ceilings and there’s a tiny voice in our heart that says, “Maybe I’m destined to achieve the impossible, too.” If only you play like a girl.  

Fuller and these other strong, capable, and resilient women are the ones we can point to and say, “See? She did it!” But there is an “and…” And… she’s holding the door open for you. And… you can prove that more is possible. And… you don’t have to be just like them to play like a girl.

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I am honored to be a woman writing about other young women for PrepVolleyball. Every day, I get to hear stories of overcoming, of incredible grit, and different definitions of female success. It’s a responsibility I do not take lightly to not only be a keeper of your stories and personal experiences but to find a way to connect those with you. I am inspired by the vast number of female athletes that push the limits of defining female strength… and those who play like a girl.

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