Dawn Berkowitz-Ader, founder and president of Girls Athletic and Life Skills (GAALS), never played sports or played on a team as a child. Berkowitz-Ader wanted her daughters to have a different experience with sports than she had. Berkowitz-Ader and her family have lived in Manhasset for three years and her two daughters attend the Port Washington schools.
Her husband, an athletic person who works for ESPN, also wanted their daughters to play sports. “My husband wanted them to learn the life skills that he learned playing sports.” But their daughters seemed to have the same experience as she did as a child. They didn’t enjoy team sports. “I needed to get why they hated it,” said Berkowitz-Ader. She realized that boys and girls were being coached the same way. A local program director summarized it best. “He said, the difference between boys and girls is this. For girls, in order to play well, they have to have fun. And for boys, in order to have fun, they have to play well.” Berkowitz-Ader figured out that for girls, taking the ball from your friend could impact the friendship. “My daughter was afraid to take the ball from someone because she thought her friend would be mad at her,” said Berkowitz-Ader.
“I searched for a program that was different for girls, a program that would teach fundamental skills of both traditional and non-traditional sports, while allowing the girls to have fun and communicate, and I couldn’t find one,” said Berkowitz-Ader. “That’s when I realized I needed to create a program that teaches sports skills, as well as life skills, for girls. Girls need time to talk, set goals, and feel comfortable and confident playing and succeeding, no matter what the environment, be it at recess, a friend’s house or camp.”
And so, GAALS was founded. “We try to expose the girls to a variety of activities every week,” said Berkowitz-Ader. “We do team building and life-building skills every week.” The activities range from traditional sports, to non-traditional activities and games that build life skills, such as the ability to communicate, compromise, lead, build sportsmanship and set goals. “The play activity usually prompts a conversation. Every week is a different skill. Strengths and weaknesses are different every week. Girls are encouraged to try new things and set goals for themselves,” she said.
The program she created is offered weekly, but she also offers workshops, holiday events, and birthday parties. Berkowitz-Ader rents space at the Lutheran Church and the United Methodist Church in Port Washington and has programs at Sportime in Syosset. The programs are for girls in kindergarten through fifth grade. She’s also starting a program for preschoolers after spring break at the Sid Jacobson JCC in Greenvale. For more information about GAALS, go to www.gaalsusa.com.