Soccer Star Shares Story at Second-Ever Girls on Track Workshop

Girls on Track Workshop panelists encourage girls to stay active (L-R Amanda Phillips, Kendall Johnson, Alex Rudd, Chris Van Wagner).

Girls on Track Workshop panelists encourage girls to stay active (L-R Amanda Phillips, Kendall Johnson, Alex Rudd, Chris Van Wagner).

HOOD RIVER, Ore – Kendall Johnson, who helped the Portland Thorns capture their first-ever NWSL Championship as a defender in 2017, has been out of soccer for the past year. Johnson has battled a nagging concussion she suffered three years ago.

It reads as a setback for the former Portland Pilots and Lincoln High star. Johnson, though, said the opposite on Wednesday.

Johnson served as a guest speaker for TrackTown Youth League’s second-annual “Girls on Track: exploring the positive power of sports for girls and women” workshop at Hood River Valley High School. Before 50-to-75 parents and girls ages 7-14, Johnson said her concussion rehab has reminded her of a valuable lesson she was taught while running track in high school.

Johnson helped the Cardinals capture a state title in the 4x400m relay midway through high school, but felt unfulfilled afterward. She realized that she wasn’t enjoying track as much as she did soccer and other sports and decided she needed to make a change.

“When I was younger, I didn’t play to achieve a certain result,” Johnson said. “I played just because it felt good.”

From there, Johnson focused solely on soccer. She became a two-time Oregon Girls Soccer Gatorade Player of the Year winner and earned a scholarship to play for the Pilots.

Now that her career is at a crossroads, Johnson said her time away from playing professionally has helped her regain her passion for sports.

“I really believe that my concussion happened because I had lost sight of the lesson I learned when I decided to step away from track,” she said.

Reflecting on her youth sports experiences, Johnson told the girls in attendance to play and enjoy as many sports as possible.

Johnson was also one of four speakers who participated in a panel discussion with parents. The workshop aims to address root causes impacting the dropout rate among female youth in sports. National statistics show that females are six times more likely to quit sports by age 12.

Other speakers who joined Johnson were:

·      Amanda Phillips, PE teacher and coach at The Dalles Middle School. Phillips has run a 2:39.00 marathon and will compete at the Marathon Olympic Trials in February.

·      Chris Van Wagner, Providence Health and Services executive director of sports medicine.

·      Alex Rudd, program manager for community impact at Oregon Sports Authority.

Johnson said an increasing pressure for middle and high school-aged athletes to specialize in one sport and a lack of female youth coaches can make female participation in youth sports feel restrictive. Most, if not all, of her youth soccer coaches were men, and national statistics indicate that about 72 percent of all youth sports coaches are males.

Other issues brought up included forcing girls to try out for a sports team at a young age and a dearth of PE classes being offered. Phillips made the move to teaching and coaching eight years ago after she was inspired to foster more athletic opportunities for youth.

“I want everybody to learn how to find health and happiness in their life,” she said. “And I really, truly feel that the more we move our body and feel healthy inside, our relationships follow.”

Phillips is now an elite-level runner, but played basketball and volleyball in addition to running cross country and track while growing up. She acknowledged that adding more PE and after-school athletic programs is a possible solution to keep girls involved in sports.

Van Wagner thinks that having impactful youth coaches may be a lynchpin to encourage female athletic participation.

She coached youth boys basketball for 15 years in Astoria and is involved with Portland’s Positive Coaching Alliance. To this day, Van Wagner says she is approached by former players of hers in public and almost always receives a “hi coach.”

“Really good coaches can really make a difference, and they can become a great role model for your child,” Van Wagner said.

While parents and the panelists engaged in discussion, girls in attendance engaged with two coaches from Positive Coaching Alliance in an activity-based workshop.

Offering twists and turns on normal games such as Red Light, Green Light and Rock, Paper, Scissors, the girls learned how to develop positive exercise and sportsmanship habits. Both coaches said the takeaway the girls received was to do some form of physical activity at least five days per week.

Positive Coaching Alliance and Providence Health and Services helped sponsor the event alongside Oregon Sports Authority. The two-hour workshop concluded with a raffle of three separate prizes – two goodie bags of athletic equipment and four tickets to a Thorns match in July.

TrackTown Youth League intends to offer this workshop to the Hood River Valley community again in 2020 and offer similar programs and workshops across the state later this year.

In the meantime, consider sending your child – boy or girl – to one of TrackTown Youth League’s all-comer track meets across Oregon. No registration fee or equipment is required to participate, and anyone between the ages of 7-14 and of all ability levels can compete.

Registration information can be found here.

TrackTown Youth League has 16 meets remaining, including a state championship meet on June 29 (location TBA). The full meet schedule is below:

Prairie City: 11 a.m. on Apr. 27 at Prairie City School

Coos Bay: 4:30 p.m. on May 2 at Marshfield High School

Willamina: 4 p.m. on May 3 at Willamina High School

Hood River: 9 a.m. on May 4 at Hood River Valley High School

Hillsboro: 9:30 a.m. on May 11 at Hillsboro High School

Medford: 1 p.m. on May 12 at St. Mary’s School

La Grande: 4 p.m. on May 14 at La Grande High School

Warrenton: 3:30 p.m. on May 21 at Warrenton Grade School

East Portland: 4 p.m. on May 29 at David Douglas High School

Hermiston: 4 p.m. on May 30 at Hermiston High School

Klamath Falls: 4 p.m. on May 31 at Klamath Union High School

Bend: 1 p.m. on June 1 (location TBA)

Salem: Noon on June 9 at Willamette University McCulloch Stadium