Desiree is a 12-year-old soccer player at an afterschool sports program in Berkeley, CA. At a recent clear but cold Saturday soccer practice, she ran around with the other members of her co-ed team, stretching, practicing drills, and even getting in some scrimmage time. What’s her favorite part of being part of a soccer team? “Making a really nice pass,” she says, “And then once you pass it to a person, they score.”

Research shows that girls like Desiree who play sports have higher self-confidence, better body image – and are less likely to engage in risky behavior. Sports also teach valuable lessons that translate into life off the field, like how to work as a team. This is something Desiree says she likes about soccer. “Everybody helps each other,” she says. “You can get help and you don’t have to be all alone, taking all the blame on yourself.”

Desiree works hard at the Saturday practice, listening to her coaches offer advice and running up and down the field, her long brown braids swinging as she battles for the ball against another teammate. It is clear that she is gaining many benefits from playing and having trained coaches. And she’s having fun, too.

What’s her advice for kids who want to play sports but are nervous about getting in the game? “It doesn’t matter if you’re good or bad,” she says. “The coach will train you either way.”

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