The thought never even crossed Carli Lloyd's mind.

She would play sports, lots of them. And the opportunities? They'd always be there for her to fulfill her potential.

Growing up it was never a question for Lloyd whether she would play sports. The Delran native, 29, never questioned her opportunity or access to athletics; the fact that they would both be there was just assumed.

Born a decade after the passage of Title IX, Lloyd started playing a variety of sports at a young age, unaware of the legislation that made it possible for her to do so. It wasn't until college when she started to understand the law.

"It never crossed my mind that there would have been a time when females couldn't play sports," said Lloyd, starting center-midfielder for the U.S. women's soccer team. "I think I'm more grateful for it now and more aware of it. It wasn't something talked about when I was younger."

Title IX, a statute that bans sex discrimination in any educational program that is federally funded, was signed into law June 23, 1972.

Just 37 words long, the law encompasses many aspects of education, including promoting the protection of students who are pregnant, parents, bullied, or sexually harassed. While the law does not explicitly focus on girls and women in athletics, Title IX is primarily remembered for the advancements in female athletics since the law was enacted.

After becoming a professional athlete, Lloyd was constantly approached by mothers of young girls who were avid fans of women's soccer. They had just one complaint - that soccer wasn't around for them when they were their daughters' ages.

For Lloyd the idea that men were allowed and encouraged to play soccer while women weren't really hit home.

"I don't think I really understood the full effect of what went on," Lloyd said. "Now I'm at a stage of my life and an age where I realize how big it really was.

"I wouldn't have been playing if there was no Title IX," the Rutgers grad added.

According to data compiled by the National Federation of State High School Associations, only 295,000 girls competed in high school sports when the legislation was passed, as opposed to 3.67 million boys. In the 2010-2011 school year the number of girls who participated in high school sports was 3.2 million, while 4.5 million boys competed.

Competition has exploded for women in collegiate athletics as well, and becoming a female professional athlete is something to which many young girls can aspire. In the same period of time, opportunities have also increased for boys.

In regards to athletics, Title IX requires schools to provide male and female students with equal opportunities to participate in sports, as well as comparable athletic scholarships, and equal benefits or services. This means that schools must provide similar athletic facilities, publicity or marketing, and hire coaches with similar abilities or pedigrees for men's and women's teams. Schools must prove to be in compliance with the law in order to maintain their funding.

Title IX also protects pregnant girls from discrimination, and all students from gender-based bullying.

For Lloyd, Title IX is the instrument that allows her to participate in her second Olympic Games. The squad leaves July 10 for London and plays its first match July 25.

Lloyd has scored eight goals for the national team in 15 games since Jan. 20. Her 134 appearances with the national team rank fifth on the current roster and 17th all-time, while her 36 career goals rank 11th in squad history.

And thanks to Title IX, Lloyd will return to the grand international stage of the Olympics, where her overtime heroics in the 2008 championship game gave the United States its second straight gold medal.

"I'm living my dream," Lloyd said, in describing how grateful she is for the policy. "I'm doing something I love."