Play like a Girl


girl - rowing

I was a sporty girl. Tough, competitive and dedicated to swimming, rowing and waterpolo. I really liked to win and I trained hard, from the age of about 10 to my early 20s. But when I think about it, I never read a single YA fiction book growing up that spoke to my athleticism. That featured a female athlete I could relate to and aspire to be like. Nada. Zip. Zero.

Recently there was a Booklist post in the US about the best sports books for kids. Scanning through the list, a few people, including high profile US author Kate Messner, noticed that the list was made up of all boy protagonists. Kate, and others, like Australian author Simmone Howell, spoke up, saying there were great sports novels with girls at the forefront. Suggestions flooded in and another post was put up to redress the imbalance over at The Booklist Reader  And what do you know, Head of the River made the cut. My girl, Leni, lifts weights, sweats, runs and competes her guts out. And there are more like her. Girls who hit home-runs, run, ice-skate, shoot hoops, shoot goals and more.

I wanted to find out a little more about some of these books on the list so that if there’s a sporty girl out there looking for a hero she can find one here.  Please let me know if I’ve left out any YA sports books with female MC. Especially Aussies!

Babe Conquers the World, by Rich Wallace and Sandra Neil Wallace

Babe Didrikson Zaharias had one driving goal: to become the greatest athlete who ever lived. And she made good on that promise with a meteoric rise to famed basketball player, Olympic medalist, and top female golfer.

Being Sloane Jacobs, by Lauren Morrill

Sloane Emily Jacobs: a seriously stressed-out figure-skater from Washington, D.C., who choked during junior nationals meets  Sloane Devon Jacobs, a spunky ice hockey player from Philly who’s been suspended from her team for too many aggressive hip checks. They meet and decide to trade places.

Blue Forty Two, by Faith Nhira

To Seventeen year old Paula Benson football is much more than a game. . . 9 months after the worst day of her life Paula is ready for a new start, which includes getting back to the sport she once loved but gave up. She’s back and ready to prove that she is not only good enough to play for the Smithville Trojans but that she is a contender for a coveted full ride scholarship to the University of Alabama.

Breathe, Annie, Breathe, by Miranda Kenneally

Annie hates running. No matter how far she jogs, she can’t escape the guilt that if she hadn’t broken up with Kyle, he might still be alive. So to honor his memory, she starts preparing for the marathon he intended to race.

But the training is even more grueling than Annie could have imagined. Despite her coaching, she’s at war with her body, her mind-and her heart. With every mile that athletic Jeremiah cheers her on, she grows more conflicted. She wants to run into his arms…and sprint in the opposite direction. For Annie, opening up to love again may be even more of a challenge than crossing the finish line.

Gracie Faltrain series, by Cath Crowley

Goal-kicking, super-girl, soccer star. Gracie Faltrain is on her way. To the National Championships. To Nick. To everything she’s ever wanted. Or so she thinks. Gracie’s about to find out that life is messy. And hard. And beautiful.

Crossing the Ice, by Jennifer Comeaux

Pair skaters Courtney and Mark have one shot left at their Olympic dream. They vow not to let anything get in their way, especially not Josh and Stephanie, the wealthy and talented brother and sister team.

Forward Pass, by Lorna Schultz Nicholson

Podium Sports Academy’s star goalkeeper wants nothing more than to play on Canada’s National Team. Parmita works hard at school and on the pitch, so if it seems like she’s avoiding boys, she hopes everyone will think it’s because she wants to be the best, and not because she’s secretly attracted to girls.

Gold Medal Winter, by Donna Freitas

Esperanza Flores is “America’s Hope for the Gold!” in this sweet novel about a figure skater who gets the chance to achieve her Olympic dreams. After years of practice and competitions, of sit spins and perfect poses and thrillingly high jumps, Esperanza Flores will be skating for the United States. But with the excitement of an Olympic shot comes new attention — and BIG distractions.

Hoop Dreams, by Lorna Schultz Nicholson

Playing ball is what keeps Podium Sports Academy’s basketball captain going when things get rough. When there’s trouble back home, Allie turns to basketball. Ditto when her relationship is in trouble or when she’s at odds with her friends. But then tragedy strikes: an old knee injury resurfaces and Allie is told she might not be able to play again.

In Deep, by Terra Elan McVoy

Ultracompetitive Brynn from The Summer of Firsts and Lasts craves swimming victory—and gets in over her head. Nothing else matters to Brynn as she trains her body and mind to win. Not her mediocre grades and lack of real friends at school. Not the gnawing grief over her fallen hero father. Not the strained relationship with her absent mother and clueless stepdad. In the turquoise water, swimming is an escape and her ticket to somewhere—anywhere—else. And nothing will get in her way of claiming victory.

Love Match, by Monica Seles

The Academy is the sports school everyone is talking about. But for Maya, it seems getting in was the easy part. It’s staying there that’s tough. To succeed it takes more than just talent. You need fame . . . After a star performance in the semi-finals at a tennis competition, Maya is labelled The Next Big Thing and books a high-profile modelling job.

On the Road to Find Out, by Rachel Torr

On New Year’s Day, Alice Davis goes for a run. Her first ever. It’s painful and embarrassing, but so was getting denied by the only college she cares about. Alice knows she has to stop sitting around and complaining to her best friend, Jenni, and her pet rat, Walter, about what a loser she is. But what she doesn’t know is that by taking those first steps out the door, she is setting off down a road filled with new challenges—including vicious side stitches, chafing in unmentionable places, and race-paced first love—and strengthening herself to endure when the going suddenly gets tougher than she ever imagined, in On the Road to Find Out by Rachel Toor.

Pick and Roll, by Kelsey Blair

Jazz Smith-Mohapatra is the toughest and best player on her basketball team–and this year she’s determined to lead the team to a championship win. But in the last game of the regular season, Jazz sets an offensive move called a pick and roll, sending her opponent onto the floor. Now Jazz’s position on the team is in question: there’s a Fair Play Commission, and her teammates are suddenly questioning her physical style of play.

Racing Savannah, by Miranda Kenneally

He lives in the estate house, and she spends most of her time in the stables helping her father train horses. In fact, Savannah has always been much more comfortable around horses than boys. Especially boys like Jack Goodwin—cocky, popular and completely out of her league. She knows the rules: no mixing between the staff and the Goodwin family. But Jack has no such boundaries. With her dream of becoming a jockey, Savannah isn’t exactly one to follow the rules either. She’s not going to let someone tell her a girl isn’t tough enough to race. Sure, it’s dangerous. Then again, so is dating Jack..

Spiked, by Steven Barwin

Eighth-grader Emma is the tallest person in her class. She used to be into sports in a big way, but now that she’s hanging out with her new best friend, other things have become more important—like clothes and makeup and fitting in. When Emma gets roped into volunteering for the girls’ volleyball team, she feels the urge to play again.

Take Me On, by Kate McGarry

Champion kickboxer Haley swore she’d never set foot in the ring again after one tragic night. But then the guy she can’t stop thinking about accepts a mixed martial arts fight in her honor. Suddenly, Haley has to train West Young. All attitude, West is everything Haley promised herself she’d stay away from. Yet he won’t last five seconds in the ring without her help.





  1. says

    Thanks for posting this! I too was a rower and a sporty girl and, like you, when I was growing up there were no books on girls who played sports. I would have devoured them if they had been written. Thanks for including my two books: Forward Pass and Hoop Dreams. Now I need to go order Head of the River!

    • pipharry says

      Hi Lorna! Great to find another rower/YA author…I can’t wait to read Hoop Dreams and Forward Pass and to recommend them to sporty girls in Australia. I’ll keep adding to this list and hope it grows and grows. Thanks for stopping by 🙂