GAALS: Girls Athletics And Life Skills℠

My Story

How GAALS was born

When I was a child, I was an overachiever in school in every class, except gym. I wasn’t coordinated and was a bit chubby. I didn’t know how to play sports and lived in fear of embarrassing myself.  

As I got older, regardless of successes in other areas of my life, those feelings of inadequacy – in terms of athletic competence and body image – resurfaced time and time again. While this insecurity may seem compartmentalized, it permeated my life. Whether it was rollerblading through the park, shooting hoops in someone’s driveway or playing frisbee or catch on the beach, these everyday casual, fun activities were things I avoided at all costs. I did not want to look like a fool. The problem was that isolating myself only exacerbated my strong negative emotions, and made me upset with myself.

After college, for the first time in my life, I began to care about my health and my body. I became more conscious about my food choices and began to exercise. While I was proud of my decision to make positive changes, it didn’t have much weight on my self-esteem.

Five years later, I fell in love with and married a 6’4″ athlete who weighs 165 lbs and has a career in sports. Even though I wasn’t overweight at the time, I looked fat next to him. And if that wasn’t enough to prove that opposites attract, why not try guessing his career – Sports Marketing. He strongly believes that those who play sports are more prepared for life given the valuable skills learned through their participation. Based on his strong sentiment, it was important that sports were a part of our lives. 

When we became parents, we were committed to helping our two daughters develop into strong, confident, courageous girls. For me, it was vital that they developed positive feelings about being physically active, as well as the ability to love themselves, and their bodies. I did not want them to follow in my footsteps.

However, somehow – without even knowing about my lack of confidence when it comes to sports – my daughters got off to the same start.  When at friends’ houses, they refused to participate in activities others were playing – soccer, basketball, kickball, ping-pong…it didn’t matter the sport or physical activity.  When I’d ask them why, it was like hearing myself as they answered, “I don’t know how to play.” Or, they would say, “The other kids know how to play.” (My daughters always assumed everyone was better than them – I vividly remember having that same sentiment).  My husband and I agreed that we had to expose them to sports quickly!  

We enrolled our girls in various structured athletic programs. Regardless of the sport, they didn’t enjoy it and often refused to participate. I was determined to figure out why. One week, at my daughter’s basketball class, I watched the boys playing on one side of a gym and girls on the other. I quickly noticed that their lessons were identical, yet their responses couldn’t have been more dissimilar. The girls just didn’t seem as comfortable with the ball.

When I inquired with my daughter to see if she was going for the ball because she was afraid of it, she answered,

That was my a-ha moment! I realized that girls often approach life from a more emotional and social perspective. And when it came to sports, that fundamental difference seemed to hold true.

Given this new realization, I began seeking active programs that also focus on what girls are going through socially and emotionally, and how that factors into their behaviors. 

During this time, I also grew determined to finally shed the monkey off my back and trained for a triathlon – something I was NEVER  interested in and NEVER thought was attainable. At age 37, (my daughters were 3 and 6) I placed 49th in my first triathlon, which not only changed how I felt about myself, it reshaped how I saw myself. This further fueled my desire to find the right extra curricular programs. But I came up empty-handed.  

I emerged as a mom on a mission – a mission to prevent as many girls (and children) from growing up feeling inadequate. That’s when I created GAALS: Girls Athletics And Life Skills, an organization that I wish I was a part of as a kid. And through my work, I became the person I always wanted to be, a strong, confident woman who believes in myself and sees my self-worth.  

Dawn Berkowitz-Ader

Mom on a Mission

Founder + President, GAALS + PAALS

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