bbach@mercurynews.com

SANTA CLARA -- Like the 49 other athletic girls who filled the 49ers Clubhouse cafeteria Friday, Allie Swartz loves sports. But the 17-year-old Irvington High School senior, who swims and plays water polo and soccer, has spent hours sidelined by a series of injuries, most recently a broken hip.

So the Fremont student said she was delighted four years ago, when she first attended the 49ers T.H.I.N.K. Gold! Conference, to meet 49ers head trainer Jeff Ferguson, who taught the girls the importance of proper training and injury recovery. He later agreed to mentor Allie, who joined "Fergie" on the job for a day.

"This program is what really helped me discover what I want to do," Allie said Friday as she attended the leadership conference, organized by the 49ers Foundation and the Bay Area Women's Sports Initiative (BAWSI), for the fourth time.

The T.H.I.N.K. Gold! Conference -- the acronym stands for Training, Health, Inspiration, Nutrition and Knowledge -- is an annual event that selects 50 top female athletes from the Bay Area to spend the day in Santa Clara, where they work with the 49ers staff and meet other athletes including former Olympians. Athletic directors at their schools nominate the girls, who represent sports ranging from lacrosse and soccer to track and fencing.

On Friday around noon, the girls, most sporting ponytails and gray T.H.I.N.K. Gold! Shirts, vied to win raffle prizes, such as soccer balls, during a keynote speech by Tina Syer of the Positive Coaching Alliance, while beefy, tattooed football players came inside to grab lunch.

Syer, a former Stanford field hockey player who now works with the Mountain View-based PCA, stressed the importance of bouncing back from mistakes and embracing good sportsmanship, such as shaking hands with officials, even if they had made a few bad calls.

Earlier, they practiced working as a team and communication while building marshmallow and raw spaghetti towers. Joanne Pasternack, 49ers community relations director, said that exercise aims to teach resilience and how to lose gracefully.

The girls also practiced football drills with 49ers Youth Football Manager Jared Muela.

Elisa Cooney, a junior at Bay High School in San Francisco who plans to continue playing soccer in college, said she learned the importance of reaching out to her teammates and supporting others during a game.

"You have to make sure you are pushing your team forward and shake off mistakes," Elisa said.

Pasternack said she strives to recruit girls from both rich and poor school districts and to ensure the girls spend most of the day with athletes they didn't know before.

Kimberly Taylor, 15, foreground,  practices strength and conditioning drills on the 49ers practice field in Santa Clara, Calif. on Friday, April, 25, 2014.
Kimberly Taylor, 15, foreground, practices strength and conditioning drills on the 49ers practice field in Santa Clara, Calif. on Friday, April, 25, 2014. (Gary Reyes/Bay Area News Group)

Now in its sixth year, the conference began as an expansion of a 49ers community activities program for boys, Pasternack said. As a former athlete and mother of a young girl, she said she felt the girls would also benefit from a program stressing health, persistence and leadership. After working with leaders from BAWSI, the sports initiative started by soccer phenom Brandi Chastain, the 49ers launched the conference.

Pasternack said the girls keep in touch after the conference through a closed Facebook group and are encouraged to take their skills back to their teams and their schools.

"In high school sports, it's hard to think of where to take it," Elisa said. "It's good to see that there are opportunities."

Contact Becky Bach at 408-920-5862. Follow Becky Bach at Twitter.com/troutbach.