8 Influential Women Who Grew Up In Sports

At i9 Sports®, we are passionate about helping kids find and sustain their love for sports. Participation in youth sports has long term benefits, especially for girls, as studies continue to show that girls who grow up in sports are more likely to graduate from college, secure a job, and find success especially in male-dominated industries. You may not even know it, but some of your favorite women role models attribute a lot of their prosperity to the life skills that they learned growing up in sports.

February is National Girls and Women in Sports Month, and February 3rd is  National Girls and Women in Sports Day, so we are sharing some of our favorite stories about influential women who grew up in sports.

1.Maria Sharapova

Maria is a Russian tennis player who became number one in the world at the young age of 18. She is an Olympic medalist who has won a total of 36 singles titles and 3 doubles titles throughout her tennis career. Sharapova’s father, also a number one ranked tennis player, gave Maria her first tennis racket and showed her how to hit the ball at the age of 4 years old. Due to her success, she is sought after by many big brand sponsors and has now been a United Nations Development Program Goodwill Sponsor for almost 15 years, mostly within the Chernobyl Recovery and Development Programme. Most recently, in 2018, she launched a mentorship program to guide women entrepreneurs.

2. Megan Rapinoe

Megan is a professional American soccer player who is on both the National Women’s Soccer League and the United States National Team. As captain, she led her team to win gold at the 2012 London Summer Olympics where she became the first player (male or female) to score a goal directly from the corner. Megan began playing soccer at three years old and spent her childhood playing on many youth sports teams until she got into high school and club teams. Today Rapinoe is sponsored by many big brands like Nike. Recently in 2019, she co-founded a gender-neutral lifestyle brand and made Time Magazine’s list of 100 Most Influential People in 2020.

3. Kim Ng

Kim is the first woman to ever serve as a general manager of a team in the Big Four Leagues of North America and the first person, male or female, of East Asian descent to become the general manager of a Major League Baseball team. She realized her interest in baseball as a young child when her father began to teach her about various sports and played “stickball” with her. She played softball all the way through college and was named MVP infielder at the University of Chicago. Today she is the general manager of the Miami Marlins and the highest-ranking female baseball executive in the game.

4. Val Ackerman

Today Val is the commissioner of the Big East Conference which is a collegiate athletic conference that competes in NCAA Division I sports. She had grown up immersed in the life of sports as both her father and grandfather worked as directors of athletics. Throughout her youth she participated in not only basketball and field hockey, but also track and field. Val was one of the first women to receive an athletic scholarship at the University of Virginia and there was twice named Academic All-American for the women’s basketball team. She then went on to become a lawyer and eventually a sports executive for which she was named “Champion in Sports Business” by Sports Business Journal.

5. Venus Williams

The woman with a name we all know was discovered by another professional tennis player at the age of 7 for her immense potential. Every sports business person wanted Venus and her sister Serena to be in intense training from a very young age, but their father made sure they were always treated like kids and allowed them to be little girls. Clearly, this worked in their favor, as they now have both been number one in the world for singles and doubles and are known for ushering in a new era of power and athleticism for women. Today Venus is CEO of her own interior design firm, has launched her own fashion line called “EleVen”, became part owner of the Miami Dolphins, and released her first book “Come to Win; on How Sports Can Help You Top Your Profession”.

6. Mia Hamm

Mia has become an absolute soccer icon as the face of the Women’s United Soccer Association, two-time Olympic gold medalist, and two-time FIFA Women’s World Cup Champion. As a toddler, Hamm wore corrective shoes after being born with a clubbed foot. Regardless, she excelled at soccer from a young age, typically on boys teams, and eventually played at the 1987 Olympic Festival as the youngest player ever on the United States Women’s National Soccer Team. Today Mia is a co-owner of the Los Angeles FC, a global ambassador of FC Barcelona, a member of the board of directors for Serie A club A.S. Roma, and author of Go For the Goal: A Champion’s Guide to Winning in Soccer and Life”.

7. Pusarla Venkata Sindhu

Pusarla is the first Indian to ever become the Badminton World Champion and the first Indian Woman to win an Olympic Silver Medal. She was born to two national level volleyball players, so she was influenced by the benefits of sports from a very early age. She tried out a few sports and decided to go down her own path and play Badminton at the age of 8. The most striking feature she became known for in her game was her positive attitude, resilience, and desire to be great. Pursarla broke into the top 20 of the Badminton World Federation at only 17 years old and made Forbes list of Highest Paid Female athletes at age 22 and 23.

8. Dawn Staley

Today Dawn is known as a three-time Olympic gold medalist and American Basketball Hall Of Fame Player. She started playing basketball at a very young age and was already making great strides by highschool when she was named the national highschool player of the year. She played at the University of Virginia and quickly went on to the Olympics and the WNBA where she was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. When she became head coach of the women’s basketball team at the University of South Carolina, she improved the program over six consecutive seasons and lead her team to achieve the program’s first #1 ranking. In 2020, Staley became the first person to ever win the Naismith Award as both a player and coach.

Clearly, these women have achieved incredible feats throughout their lives and careers, but they are certainly not the only women who continue to break glass ceilings in all that they do. Be sure to take the time to give the girls and women in your life the encouragement and appreciation they deserve, not only during Women In Sports Month, but every day of the year. 

Your kids will love the endless support they are given to achieve anything they set their minds to when they play with i9 Sports®. As a parent, you will love the positive impact sports have on your family as a whole. Get started today.