To celebrate National Girls and Women in Sports Day, the WNBA announced a new partnership with Voice in Sport, a global sports company and community-based platform offering digital services in mental health, nutrition, sport science, and mentoring from pro athletes to keep girls and women in sport.
12 current WNBA players will participate in 144 live virtual sessions throughout the year with the goal of reaching 50,000 girls in sports by the end of 2024. The players named as VIS mentors in Wednesday's announcement include:
- Ariel Atkins, Washington Mystics
- Aliyah Boston, Indiana Fever
- Alysha Clark, Las Vegas Aces
- Natasha Cloud, Phoenix Mercury
- Izzy Harrison, Chicago Sky
- Lexie Hull, Indiana Fever
- Betnijah Laney-Hamilton, New York Liberty
- Haley Jones, Atlanta Dream
- Nneka Ogwumike, Seattle Storm
- Satou Sabally, Dallas Wings
- Katie Lou Samuelson, Indiana Fever
- Erica Wheeler, Indiana Fever
Not all WNBA markets are represented via the 12-player panel, and some of this might have to do with theunderway now.
There was also an intentional blend of players early in their careers with veterans players. Among the player mentors, there are six WNBA championships (three belong to Alysha Clark alone), two WNBA Rookie of the Year winners, and most importantly, athletes who've been committed to mentorship.
"Sports is a way to express yourself and to feed your passions," Atkins said in a statement. "It's a way to build long-lasting relationships, and community, and learn how to work with others effectively."
Atkins also added the program will be an opportunity for herself, the other VIS Mentors, and the youth participants to be, at times, vulnerable.
"Sharing a piece of yourself with the world is always a little scary, but it's so necessary because I can guarantee there is one person in the world who will hear your story and feel inspiration or belief in knowing you're just like them," Atkins said.
Data shows that girls and women face unique challenges that make them susceptible to prematurely leaving sports. Although not everyone wants to be an athlete, barriers preventing girls who want to continue in sports often exist. According to Voice in Sport, boys get 1.13 million more opportunities in athletics.
"Our goal is to help change the experiences of young girls that they are currently having today in their sport journey, and prevent them from dropping out of sport at the age of 14, which unfortunately today they're dropping out at two times the rate of boys," Founder and CEO of Voice in Sport Stef Strack told CBS Sports on Monday.
To that end, the WNBA Changemakers Collective identified mentorship, as well as coaching and playing, as its key strategic areas of impact. The WNBA established the WNBA Changemakers partnership platform as a catalyst to drive change for the WNBA and the larger women's sports ecosystem.
"When we were looking for fulfilling our mission, partnering with the WNBA and the WNBA Changemakers as a collective has been a key priority for us," Strack said. "When we look for a partner that is looking to take action and to drive change for young girls around the world. That is what the the WBA Changemakers is also set out to do with their mission."
The WNBA Changemakers' commitment to mentorship ensures the sessions with WNBA VIS Mentors will be available at no charge for anyone on the Voice in Sport platform. Currently, Voice in Sport spans across 20 countries and has services available in English and Spanish, with the hopes of making more languages available in the future.
While the sessions will be virtually on the Voice in Sport platform, the partnership will also help launch a new activation during the WNBA All-Star Weekend. "The while the details of this day are still being developed, it will really be a Day of Service where we're able to give back and contribute to the growth of youth sports in the Phoenix community," WNBA chief growth officer Colie Edison told CBS Sports on Monday.
The working idea is to expand the All-Star activations to hit all the strategic areas of impact identified by the WNBA Changemakers.
"We really see Her Time to Play clinics, which will exist during WNBA All Star Weekend, as tapping into that play," Edison said. "And then we see the Changemaker Day -- which will likely put a live this mentoring session -- as tapping into that mentorship."
So, what will success look like for the VIS partnership?
"I think absolutely success is making sure that young women athletes everywhere know who we are and what we are trying to accomplish with this partnership and with our platform," Strack said. " ... There's proven fact that if young girls are mentored, that they are 75% more likely to take on leadership or sit position in sport."
Strack also pointed out 94% of women CEOs played sports, and 50% of them played in college.
"While the immediate goal is to provide awareness and get as many young girls on the platform and access to our free content on mentors on mind body nutrition ... our long term goal is also to develop future leaders in the sports industry and beyond," Strack said.
Success for the WNBA will primarily be about scale and collective power.
"We want to celebrate all the work that we've done to date, but really, this is what we're calling Changemaker. 2.0," Edison said. "So, this launch and being able to reach our goal of 50,000 [youth served], but also to put amazing content forward and at the same time supporting our athletes and what they're doing off the court."
The WNBA is the first professional league to invest in virtual mentoring and educational content at scale for young girls and women athletes, and Voice in Sport hopes this partnership will lead to collaborations with other sports leagues in the future.