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Should I Let My Daughter Play On the Boys' Team?

Factors to Consider

"If my father hadn't treated me like my brother - always telling me I was capable of the best in whatever I did - I would never have made it to the Olympic victory stand" ~ Donna de Varona, Olympic Swimming Gold Medallist

Soccer dad with daughter

When my first daughter was born, 28 years ago, I was a very young, very optimistic woman. I was determined my daughter would not be gender-stereotyped. After all, it was the early 1970's; I had been doing my marching in Washington to ensure that she would have parity with all the little boys in anything she pursued. I returned each and every pink outfit we got as presents. I bought my newborn Tonka trucks and basketballs. It was symbolic. I was making a statement about gender equity.

Here I am again - making a statement about the role of females in a male world. Of course I'm wiser now (and older). Experience has taught me that there's no denying the differences that do exist between girls and boys in the world of sports. But most of these differences are still socially imposed. Let's look at some basics.

  • Up until puberty - there are no differences in strength, endurance or speed.

  • After around age 13, there is good reason to think carefully about (but not rule out) contact and collision sports for a co-ed team.

  • Most sports, though -- primarily require skill, agility and coordination for success.

  • Girls are just as capable as boys of dealing with intense sports competition.

  • There's no avoiding it - some girls will be ashamed of their own power and some boys will feel their masculinity threatened by a co-ed situation.

  • There's more damage done to the self-identity of an aspiring athlete -when she's told that she can't play -because she is a girl!

  • Gender stratification in sport is socially constructed - not inherited. Before the 1970's, girls who played sports were often considered unfeminine and indecent.

  • Traditionally, boys are encouraged to get early experiences in sports.

  • Girls, starting skill training later -are at a disadvantage both sport-wise and confidence-wise.

  • Girls, too, need to learn how to be an assertive, achievement-oriented team-player

  • Parents need to look at the gender messages they send to their children - aggressive play for boys and passive play for girls begins very early in life.

To co-ed or not to co-ed

There are advantages and disadvantages. The same-sex team will most likely offer a very different experience. It will probably be less intimidating. It may be easier for some girls to take the initiative as leaders and build their sports skill levels. Overcoming the gender barrier - may not be the athletic role she wants to take on.

So the decision, for a parent and an aspiring young female athlete will be based on her age, her size, her skill level and her reasons for participation in her sport. Is she pretty adept at the fundamentals? Are her skills on equal footing with the boys? Does she thrive on the competition? Is the coach gender-blind - giving equal opportunities to every one? Is it an environment where masculinity and femininity are not questioned?

If you can answer yes -- then let her play! At a time when a young woman is asserting her independence and seeking new, healthy challenges - what better way than to play on the team of her choice. Supportive parents will need to be on their guard -looking out for teasing, inequity in playing time, and bruised egos.

I will also tell you that most elite female athletes I know, at the Olympic and professional level, have trained and competed with and against the boys - and are better for it. They have had to prove their worthiness. They gained a sense of competence in their skills, developed self-assuredness in their risk-taking ability, and were pushed to their full potential -- all within a higher level of competition.

Oh - and now my little girl wears a pink suit to the law practice she works at. What a rebel!


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