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Should boys and girls compete against each other in organized team sports?

POSTED: July 27, 2017 9:11 a.m.
Arianne Brown/

Arianne Brown's son (not pictured) plays in a game against a team with a female athlete (left).

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During a recent soccer tournament, I watched as my 9-year-old son and his team meticulously moved the ball up and down the field in what was shaping up to be a solid game that would give them yet another win toward gold.

Minutes later, the opposing team called for a substitute, and when I looked up, I knew that the game was about to change in a big way. On the field stood a girl with a long, blonde ponytail and a face that said it all: She wasn't scared of the boys and was ready to play some soccer.

As I watched her maneuver in and out of players both with and without the ball, I felt a sense of pride for little girls and all girls everywhere who can hold their own against the boys. I saw myself in her, as I thought of the many times — even now — when I have wanted a good challenge that can only be found by playing with the boys.

Even with those feelings of pride and solidarity, I wasn’t exactly thrilled to see her on the field.

From the second she stepped on the field, the mentality of the game changed. The boys were suddenly aware that there was a girl, and were less aggressive when it came to guarding her. This was very apparent the first time she got the ball, when three of our players — one of them my son — instinctively went to get the ball, then immediately hesitated with each waiting for the other to make a move against her. Ultimately, nobody made a move, and she was able to make her way down the field and dish it off to a teammate for a goal that tied the game.

The remainder of the game was very different than we were accustomed to watching. Our normally very aggressive players were suddenly timid. And a game that would have likely ended in a win resulted in a tie that was kind of sad to watch.

As I thought about the game, I had several things going through my head. Part of me was bummed that our team didn’t step up and treat the girl like any other player, and part of me was pleased to see young boys treating her with respect — as in not wanting to physically harm her.

My mind then went to the unfairness of the game, and not just to my son’s team. Here this extremely skilled female athlete was on a premier level club team for her age as the only girl. She was likely there because she wasn’t getting the level of competition that she needed to progress in a sport she loved.

This left me with the question if a girl playing on a team of all boys, against all male teams was helping her or not? After all, she was being tiptoed around and given several free passes. And although she could obviouslyhold her own, she really wasn’t given the opportunity to do so.

So, should girls and boys compete against each other in organized team sports? If so, how can it be done fairly? Do we teach boys to go hard regardless of who is on the field, even if it is a girl, then balance that with enforcing tenderness toward them off the field? After all, the girl my son played against showed no signs of holding back.

This is a fine line to walk, and I’m still not sure where I stand. But it does cause you to think, doesn’t it?
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