Las Vegas forward A’ja Wilson recently earned WNBA MVP honors
(Photo by Dan Stark / ESPN Images)

Nike hosted a virtual panel on Wednesday about the importance of girls playing sports. The panel consisted of decorated athletes: newly crowned WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson, Olympic Medalist and Nike coach, Shalane Flanagan, Team USA long-distance runner Marielle Hall, and Portland Thorns FC forward Sophia Smith.

Nike general manager of Social and Community Impact Caitlin Morris was the moderator of the panel. Last month, Nike released the “Made to Play Coaching Girls Guide,” a resource that helps coaches to encourage girls to stay in sports.

By their teenage years, twice as many girls drop out of sports than boys. The guide focuses on five pillars that enforce a safe space for girls to compete and learn.

“The coaches continue to make all the difference and help level the playing field for young girls,” Morris said. “Girls face more barriers to play in sports and get fewer sport opportunities than boys in some parts of the world.”

The panelists shared anecdotes of their youth, their relationships with their coaches, and advice on how to keep girls interested in being an athlete.

All panelists played sports at a young age, Hall played kickball and basketball with the kids in her neighborhood while Smith played soccer and basketball with her two sisters. Wilson was coached by her father and Shalane had parents who were runners.

Wilson noted how having a connection with her college coach, the reigning Naismith Coach of the Year Dawn Staley, has helped her. She called Staley her “second mom,” the welcoming environment that she administered made Wilson want to play for her.

“When you have someone like that or a coach that’s constantly just having your back, it makes you want to play for so much more,” Wilson said. “It’s one of the reasons why I chose South Carolina it’s because she’s someone that has done everything that I wanted to do.”

The Made to Play Coaching Girl guide (Courtesy of Nike)

Hall competed in the 10,000m event at the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics. She emphasized the importance of allowing girls the freedom to make their own decisions when it comes to competing and choosing a sport.

“One of the things that my parents and I felt like my coaches really gave to me was my own meritocracy of what I wanted to do,” Hall said. “I think kids are really smart and they know what they want and they know just giving a little bit more credit for them to make decisions and have some ownership and responsibility, that’ll go a long way.”

Smith forwent some college to become a professional soccer player. The move is not common among female pro athletes.

“There’s a lot of barriers that female athletes face that our male counterparts don’t have to face,” Smith said. “People just don’t think female athletes are capable of achieving great things.”

Four-time Olympian Flanagan is a coach of the Nike-sponsored Bowerman Track Club in Portland, Oregon. Hall moved to Portland to train with Flanagan.  She knows that athletes should not focus on comparing themselves to others.

“It feels good to progress in anything in life and especially in sport,” Flanagan said. “We try to keep it fun as much as we can.”

The Made to Play Coaching Girls Guide focuses on giving girls a supportive environment where they can focus on progressing and a sense of bravery over collecting wins. For more information, visit