This topic needs more voice, because what I see isn’t as much a roadblock to participation, but more a lack of understanding to where the root of our problem lies.
I overhear coaches telling me all the time that when they coach girls it’s so much harder to get them to compete, to get their focus, that they care about their hair and their apparel. I hear that when they coach boys it’s different. I can’t argue with that, in many cases it absolutely is harder to get girls to compete, play hard and focus.
Is it in the DNA of females that we are that way or do we need to get honest here and take a look at what we are feeding into the minds of female athletes from the very beginning? In case you’ve never been a female athlete, here’s just a few things I’ve observed:
1. Youth girls’ middle school soccer team: Referee made a show out of his job, was joking with the girls during play instead of making serious calls, and mocking their kicks by imitating them and looking at the parent sideline and laughing. At one point I heard him say, “you gotta love girls sports.” I wish I could say this was an isolated incident but I could write a whole blog of similar examples from several sports.
2. We tell our girls, we tell the world, girls sports don’t bring in money, girls sports don’t bring in fans, girls sports get bumped for the boy’s sports, girls sports aren’t as competitive.
3. Girls scheduled practices being bumped from facilities due to a boys unplanned sport practice or event.
4. Lack of role models to see playing from high school through professional with easy access because there is almost no coverage of many female events on tv.
5. Recognition and praise for a female athlete comes with a trail of comments about their bodies, looks, or how their sport is a joke. Articles focused on how female athletes are beautiful and ignoring or minimizing their talent. Sexualization of the athlete to turn them back into an object.
6. Female athletes who play sports well are accused of being too manly. You’re not a real girl if you play well and you’re a joke if you don’t.
7. Coaches and organizations put a focus on apparel and looks. Encouraging matching bows, hairstyles, etc. I’ve never seen this brought up on my sons’ teams other than wearing khakis and ties on game days to school. Girls naturally think it’s part of being on a team because it’s put there for them starting at a young age.
8. We treat female traits as weaknesses. Girls want to know why, they want to connect with their teammates and coaches, they bond well, unite well, and don’t hide feelings the way boys are taught too. This has been considered a weakness. Coaches have tried to make girls lose those traits which ends pulling the team apart. I’d argue that it’s a strength when nurtured and celebrated. Ever see a bonded female team? Try and break that…
9. Many times programs hire coaches for the boy’s teams, use volunteers for the girls team and don’t bother to see if they are qualified. Carry a girls team because they have too, give it almost no money, let problems destroy it because it’s easier to let it implode and go away.
10. We talk about girls being athletes, but we still don’t treat them like athletes. I saw an add for a local summer camp today that had a boys camp where they would run and construct with other boys. Then a girls camp where your precious ones can play together. We haven’t changed our message.
How do we expect our girls to take themselves seriously when the message we are giving them is that either no one else thinks their sport matters, they aren’t real athletes, or that if they do succeed they won’t be accepted as a real female anymore. We have to change the message we give them if we want them to believe in their athleticism.