A Celebration of Participation: 15 Years of Dreaming Big
Aug. 28, 2006
She doesn't have to be the best player on the team. Or score the most points. It doesn't even matter if she wins or loses. What matters is her and the leadership she longs to bring to her team. What matters is her desire to compete, to try, to feel good about herself. Building her confidence and helping her to learn that trying is sometimes more important than getting it right. What matters is her future. Her future begins with sports. That is what "Dreaming Big" is all about.
In June 1992, the Big Ten Conference adopted Phase I of a Gender Equity Action Plan (GEAP) with the intention of achieving a 60/40 percent male/female athletic participation ratio within five years. This mission was accomplished in June 1997 which led into a second five-year section (Phase II) of the plan; a progressive community outreach and media plan focused on the value of women's intercollegiate athletic competition, the "Dream Big" campaign.
Originally envisioned by Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany, "Dream Big" was intended to target girls in kindergarten through eighth grade with positive messages about sports and to encourage their involvement in athletics for numerous lifestyle benefits including achieving an overall healthy well-being - physically, socially and mentally. In efforts led by Delany, the values of self-esteem and confidence, a healthier mind and body, and the joy of competing and succeeding were delivered through the campaign's theme "Her Future Begins with Sports."
According to research done by the Women's Sports Foundation in 1989, girls who participate in sports are less likely to get involved with drugs, less likely to get pregnant in high school and are more likely to graduate from high school than those who do not play sports. In 1991, the Ms. Foundation found that girls and women who play sports tend to have higher levels of self-esteem and lower levels of depression.
These statistics were one of the influential factors in the Big Ten's mission and implementation of the GEAP. An effort to create a public awareness was put into action to encourage youth to "Dream Big."
During the first year of Phase II, the "Dream Big" program reached out to young girls and their parents and coaches throughout the Big Ten region. Young girls participated in "Dream Big" clinics, while information kits were sent to schools and youth organizations to help provide tips on getting girls involved in sports. The "Dream Big" public service announcement (PSA) was shown on nearly every conference television broadcast, including the Rose Bowl game on ABC Sports.
In years to follow, the focus of "Dream Big" was shifted to demonstrate to young girls the benefits of participating in sports. Radio and television PSAs were used during Big Ten events, clinics were held at various conference events, and print advertisements and posters were utilized to reach as many young girls as possible.
A "Dream Big "website was implemented in the fourth year of the plan that included updated profiles on girls and women in sports and additional resources for young girls, parents and coaches. The website also launched a "parent forum" for the 2000-01 year. This portion of the website allowed parents and coaches the opportunity to communicate with one another and discuss the benefits of athletics in the lives of young girls, as well as a way to seek additional options to keep their daughters/players involved in sports.
In 2001, the Big Ten announced the first "Dream Big" Sports Clinic Scholarship in conjunction with its "Dream Big" awareness program. Open to girls that were in grades 5-8, the scholarship provided the winner to select and attend any "Dream Big" sports clinic offered at a Big Ten university closest to her home.
Commissioner Delany points to the GEAP and the advent of "Dream Big" when highlighting the increase of female participation in sports over the past 15 years.
"I have always been very proud of our Gender Equity Action Plan that has been developed over the past 15 years," he said. "Our `Dream Big' campaign is an essential element of the plan. It has proven to be one of the most effective awareness campaigns that aims to stimulate the interest and healthy pursuit of participation in sports by girls, kindergarten through eighth grade. Combined with the Big Ten brand, `Dream Big' continues to help build equity in athletics and encourages our youth to be actively involved in that process."
The Big Ten was one of the first major intercollegiate athletic conferences in the nation to begin sponsoring conference championships in women's athletics. Today, the Big Ten sponsors 13 championships in women's sports, including basketball, cross country, field hockey, golf, gymnastics, rowing, soccer, softball, swimming and diving, tennis, indoor track and field, outdoor track and field and volleyball. Today, 47 percent of all Big Ten student-athletes are women. This could not have been achieved without the growing awareness and increased enthusiasm in women's athletics. With the help of outreach campaigns such as "Dream Big," these numbers will continue to grow.
One of the most noticeable changes in female athletics however, is the increased awareness and involvement of men. These individuals have experienced the relationship of women and athletics in an entirely different way than their fathers and grandfathers. In today's society, we see young girls playing right alongside young boys in a game of kickball at recess. We see just as many high school boys at a girl's basketball game as girls are at a boy's basketball game. We see fathers taking their daughters to women's sporting events just as those same fathers entertain their sons with athletics.
"Dream Big" found success at the grassroots level by providing useful information to parents, teachers and coaches and aiding them to shape a young girl's future through sports and help build self-confidence and self-awareness.