By Mason Braasch | Photography by Hillary Schave
Alicia Pelton has been an athlete all her life. Her experiences in high school track and basketball, running track at UW-Madison and playing professional basketball in Sweden for a year opened her eyes to the importance of leadership for girls in youth sports and beyond. In 2014, she started the Athletic Leadership Alliance, where she would give talks throughout the state; work with coaches and players on empowering athletes and helping them build courage, confidence and character; and did “behind the scenes” work on raising up female athletes and coaches.
Through all of this, Pelton has always emphasized the positive effects of girls’ participation and leadership in sports. Now, as the athletic director at Madison West High School since 2019, she has been working to bring equity to high school athletics by actively working to diversify the coaching pool, and educating coaches on how to coach girls’ teams.
Pelton is also a mother, and has raised her 17-year-old daughter to be able to use her voice and be an advocate within her sport. Pelton says that the key to raising strong, independent daughters is simple — listen to them, advocate for them and stand beside them when they make mistakes.
“I think that the biggest thing is listening to girls and helping them advocate,” says Pelton. “I have a daughter who’s 17 who speaks up. I give her that ability to say something and I have her back, and she knows I’m always gonna love her.”
While raising an empowered daughter, Pelton emphasizes the importance of letting them make mistakes, and teaching them how to learn from those mistakes in the future.
“Sometimes we don’t understand that when we teach young girls [to use their voice], they don’t always get it right,” Pelton says. “My daughter doesn’t always get it right, but I’m so proud of her for being able to have a voice. I think the biggest thing is just making sure that you support and love them and give them that opportunity to speak.”
Alicia Pelton shares her key takeaways of working in the field of girl’s and women’s athletics.
Girls Versus Boys in Competitive Play
“ The big difference … is that boys like to play [sports] to feel good, [whereas] girls need to feel good to play sports, which means they need to feel good physically, mentally, socially and emotionally to play well. Boys tend to play when they’re not in a good situation — so they play to feel better.”
Keeping it Equal
“Parents should go and play with girls — basketball, soccer, whatever it is — and include them in that. Playing with your kids in the same way is important.”
“When you see something that’s not equitable, whether it’s in a youth sport or game time, acknowledge it and talk about it, because kids notice. They’re aware, especially girls, and it starts to weigh on them over time. If girls feel they’re not valued and don’t feel good, they just don’t want to participate [in sports]. It’s important to acknowledge when there’s an inequity, and how that makes someone feel.”