Exclusive Little League® Interview: Jessica Mendoza - Former USA Softball Olympian, Women’s Sports Foundation President, and Little League Mom
A force on and off the softball field, Jessica Mendoza has championed the advancement of women in sports, both during her playing days with Team USA and the National Pro Fastpitch softball league as well as through her work with the Women’s Sports Foundation, the National Education Association Foundation, and ESPN.
The two-time Olympic medalist, co-chair of the Women’s Sports Foundation Athlete Advisory Panel, and Little League® mom, recently took some time to speak with the Little Leaguer®.
Little Leaguer: How do you feel softball or sports in general has helped shape your life?
Jessica Mendoza: Softball has allowed me to handle failure. Softball has more failure then success naturally built into the game... You can hit .400, be a great hitter and you are still failing 6 out of 10 times. Failing hurts and can make you quit, but it created something inside of me to handle failure in all aspects of my life.
LL: What is your favorite softball memory?
JM: Winning Olympic gold at the 2004 Olympic Summer Games in Athens, Greece. That feeling of passion for the sport you play, plus a deep love for the country that is across your chest...there’s no other feeling like it.
LL: What advice would you have for female athletes in the game or just starting out in sports?
JM: Stand out! Do not try to fit in. Don’t be what you see on TV, not what is posted on Instagram, but be the real, unique you. So be different; be stronger, smarter and more successful than everyone around you.
LL: What advice would you have for parents considering placing their children into Little League?
JM: I just signed my son up for Little League for the first time this year, and I am beyond excited. I know I might seem biased, but of all the sports to choose from, baseball and then softball is where my first memories of sports, friends, and fun were made. Watching my little one take the field (in California's Moorpark Little League) with a huge grin on his face, makes me excited for the future smiles this sport, and Little League, will continue to bring.
LL: What work have you done with the Women's Sports Foundation to help improve opportunities for young females?
JM: We are creating more opportunities for girls to experience sports and being physically active. There are a lot of places where access to sports is not available for girls. Sports have been proven to provide more physical, social and emotional benefits to girls and women who are active versus those who are not. We want to make sure that opportunity is there for every girl who wants it.
LL: Any recommendations how youth programs can encourage additional female participation?
JM: Make it affordable for all demographics. The more girls we can reach to play, the more of their friends, neighbors and cousins will want to play too. Baseball and softball has become much more of a challenge to afford because of the cost of the equipment that comes with it compared to other sports. The more ways we can get sponsors, donations, community support for all girls to play, the more interest will continue to come.
(In 2015, the cost to charter with Little League Baseball and Softball has been reduced to $10 per team. There are nearly 7,500 Little Leagues worldwide with an average of 25 teams per league, and any community, anywhere in the world, can charter a league on an annual basis. For a typical Little League, the cost to charter and purchase Little League insurance is less than $5 per player, and no child can be denied the opportunity to play because of financial constraints. In Little League, girls have the same playing options as boys and can play either baseball or softball from the age of 4 through 18.)
LL: How has women’s sports changed over the past 10-20 years?
JM: When I was growing up, if you were a female athlete you were a "tomboy" or "one of the boys." You could not be seen as being female and athletic. Now, we are consistently seeing successful female athletes in the limelight from all sports. Plus, it is really cool to be a female athlete now. Whether you are an actress, musician, or scientist, girls and women want to be seen as athletic and good at sports.
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Jessica is an official spokesperson for Dudley Softballs, Little League’s official softball sponsor which donates thousands of softballs each year to assist with Little League programs and events.