INSPIRATION | CONFIDENCE | SUCCESS

Sports bra boost for the global grassroots

Players packing their kitbag for game day often follow the same routine.

Football boots? Check. Shin pads? Check. Match kit? Check.

For female players, a well-fitting sports bra can be added to the list of essentials, too. But for many around the globe, it is a luxury they just can’t access – making a simple piece of equipment that a lot of players take for granted a barrier to participation for others. The Sports Bra Project is setting out to change all that.

Founded in 2018 by soccer coach Sarah Dwyer-Shick, following an eye-opening trip to Africa, the Sports Bra Project has pinpointed the expense and limited availability of sports bras for many young girls and women, exacerbated by societal expectations and opportunity gaps.

Women’s Soccer Coaching caught up with Sarah to learn more about the project, how its work has impacted females over the last three years and how clubs and individuals can offer support and get involved.

Young players in Africa have been helped by the Sports Bra Project

WSC: What inspired you to found The Sports Bra Project?

SD-S: “I brought a couple of dozen sports bras with me on a 2015 trip to Africa, thinking I could provide them as gifts along the way as we travelled.

“When I had the opportunity to meet with members of the Namibian women’s national team in Windhoek and learned they had need of such a basic piece of equipment, it was a very eye-opening moment.

“The realization that the lack of a sports bra could be an additional barrier to sports participation around the globe was both obvious and shocking.

“Reaching out to coaching allies after I came home, we realized that by simply
collecting and distributing sports bras, we could have an immediate impact on access to sports and have a positive impact on the lives of girls and women.

“Our first few shipments were of 30 to 40 bras and the Sports Bra Project has grown from there. To date, more than 7,000 bras have been collected.”

WSC: How does the Sports Bra Project work?

SD-S: “New sports bras donated to the project are given to non-profit organizations working in areas where girls’ and women’s access to sports is limited by cultural, financial or logistical barriers.

 

“When I learned they had need of such basic equipment, it was eye-opening…”

 

“The organizations we support know the needs of their communities and use their local knowledge to provide sports-based programming to meet the needs specific to the areas in which they operate.

“A recent example is a shipment of bras sent to Goals Haiti. When the bras arrived in Haiti, they were received by a young woman who had participated in their programs as a youth and who is now working for the organization.

“Using her experience and knowledge of the community, she distributed the bras to athletes and coaches participating in Goals Haiti programs.

“Here in the US, we have partnered with Levelling the Playing Field, which collects and redistributes used sports equipment to programs operating in areas of need.

“The new bras we donate are picked up by coaches and administrators as part of their equipment packages.”

 

WSC: How do you measure the impact of The Sports Bra Project?

SD-S: “In simplest terms, one sports bra equals one opportunity to participate.

“Thanks to the efforts of almost 100 contributing teams and organizations, the bras have helped support 55 different organizations operating in more than 25 countries.”

 

WSC: The Sports Bra Project is about more than just distributing new bras, right?

SD-S: “Yes. As important as addressing a physical barrier to participation is the opportunity for female athletes of all ages and levels to take on leadership roles and see their peers in these positions.

“While sports bras address an immediate equipment need, the ability for athletes to know that they can take on leadership roles and have an impact is essential.

“In sports, where the number of women in decision-making positions is vastly out of proportion to those playing, the experience gained and the expectation that, as girls and women, they can be leaders is critical.

“The Sports Bra Project creates leadership opportunities, as each group that works with us designs a drive that resonates with them and draws on their unique resources.

“No two sports bra drives are the same and we love seeing the creativity the athletes bring to their projects.

“As part of a social justice class, a first-year student from the University of Wisconsin- Oshkosh mobilized her team, and other teams in their conference, to host a drive.

“Youth teams have hosted drives where each player donated one new sports bra. One women’s soccer team annually kicks- off their winter season with a sports bra collection.

“In 2021, Yardley Makefield Soccer hosted both an in-person and virtual drive in conjunction with their annual Mother’s Day tournament.

“College teams have had a huge impact, with athletes involved individually, and department-wide efforts through their Student Athlete Advisory Council, often offering free admission to games with the donation of a bra or hosting an event in conjunction with National Girls and Women in Sports Day.”

 

WSC: What advice would you give to male coaches looking to support their players around sports bras?

SD-S: “Recognizing that a sports bra is a piece of equipment is the first step. Just like shorts or a jersey, female athletes would not play without one.

“In general terms they can be sized much as you would a t-shirt or jersey – small, medium and large. For a more accurate fit, particularly with larger sizes, reach out to a female coach or player you feel comfortable asking for additional guidance.

“In addition to treating sports bras as pieces of equipment, the most important thing is to begin to get comfortable around the needs and experiences of female athletes.

“The more comfortable coaches, administrators and athletes are in talking about the needs and experiences of female athletes, the more normal these conversations will become for everyone.”

 

WSC: How can coaches advise their players on picking a sports bra?

SD-S: “Sports bras can come in standard sizes – small, medium or large – or be sized like a more traditional bra, with a band and cup size.

“Which is the right one for an athlete is a personal choice that will vary based on a player’s age, size and sport demands.

“In general, the most supportive bras have a band that fits snugly around the chest – this is where most of the support comes from – and offers coverage higher up on the chest which helps to limit bounce.

“The less stretch to the fabric the more support. For a good online resource look at www.bravolution.com.”

 

WSC: What final message do you have for our readers?

SD-S: “In addition to addressing a physical barrier to participation, it is the mission of the Sports Bra Project to push forward conversations that normalize the experiences and needs of girls and women in all areas of sports and sports leadership.

“If we are going to create an inclusive space for all athletes, acknowledging and actively dismantling barriers must be our first steps.

“This is not something that can be done in isolation, and we hope you will join us to ensure that soccer, and all sports, are welcoming and truly inclusive places.”

 

For more information, visit www. thesportsbraproject.org; follow them on social media @thesportsbraproject; or sign- up for their seasonal newsletter by emailing info@thesportsbraproject.org.

 

JEAN DELAREE JENSEN

“Jean was a new arrival at the Namibia Football Girls Elite Centre in Windhoek earlier this year.

“She had participated in a rural community sports festival in December 2020 and had done so well in both netball and on a boys’ football team, that we recommended she try out for the women’s football elite programs.

“She immediately started training with the Galz & Goals FC. Before one of the training sessions, her coach alerted us that Jean was uncomfortable when she was running and that this might be because of something personal.

“After the next training session I received a message from her mom asking if I could help and buy her daughter a proper sports bra that she could use for training and games. Her mom offered to pay us back when they were in a position to do so.

“We always keep at least five extra sports bras from The Sports Bra Project for emergency situations and luckily we had one left that fitted her perfectly.

“Since then, Jean has been working hard in the gym, going for early runs and her coach informed me that she is totally confident now.

“She even shows off a bit now and then in the dressing room, because most girls do that when they are comfortable and have a quality bra.

“Having a quality sports bra makes the girls more physically comfortable when they are playing and helps them perform and train to their potential.”

JACKIE GERTZE

Namibian Football Association National Manager, Galz & Goals Centre

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