Olympics Have Big Impact on Women's Sports
‘Mom, Can I Play with Your Gold Medals?’

Nowhere have the transformative effects of Title IX on women’s sports been more evident than at the 1996, 2000 and 2004 Olympic Games, where American women swept team sports such as basketball, softball and soccer, as well as excelling in individual sports. Leah O’Brien-Amico was part of all three Games as a member of the triple-gold-medal-winning U.S. Women’s Softball Team. O’Brien-Amico had already known success: She was named NCAA Arizona Woman of the Year in 1997, and still holds the Women’s College World Series record for best batting average in a tournament (.750 in 1994). She also became the first mom to play on the U.S. squad after her son Jake was born in 2001.

“I started playing at age 7,” she says. “My parents were completely supportive. I was kind of naive about the lack of opportunities for girls in other areas of the country until I reached college.”

When she began playing with older athletes, such as Dot Richardson, her eyes opened.

“As an athlete, I know that through team sports you learn from success and failure, what commitment means, about accountability. And you achieve self-confidence,” she says. “That’s why these opportunities are so important.”

O’Brien-Amico coaches girls in sports camps and sees parents sometimes emphasizing winning over participation.

“It’s so sad when kids say, ‘I can’t handle the ride home.’ Success comes from making every player better,” she says. “Only 15 people make the Olympic softball team, but if you try, you will experience success.”

Jake, age 3-1/2, recently had his first soccer practice. “He’s a very active little boy,” his mom says. “We’ll see if he has the attention span for it.”