The Contradiction of Girls and Boys in Sports

My two oldest daughters are playing t-ball right now. If you’ve never witnessed a kid’s t ball game before, it’s pretty much as hilarious as you’d expect. Five-year-olds just don’t have the dexterity to hit a ball, run bases, & field grounders. They wind up hitting themselves with the bat, throwing the ball at each other’s faces, and they spend a good majority of their time in the field drawing pictures in the dirt, or rubbing the chalk from the base lines all over themselves.

It’s equal parts adorable, hysterical, and maddening.

At a recent practice, we were teaching the girls how to throw the ball to us with correct form (rather than shot-putting the ball at us,) I heard some intense yelling from a coach on the field next to ours. Not encouraging yelling, but more of a “WHAT ARE YOU DOING? WHY WOULD YOU THROW IT THERE? RUN FASTER!” type of yelling. I assumed that due to the nature of the yelling, these boys had to be at least in middle school. I mean what kind of coach would scream like that at grade school kids?

But I was wrong. They were no older than eight.

As I was lying in bed later that night, I got to thinking. I was thinking about sports and competitive culture and the societal differences in the way we treat boy’s sports and girl’s sports.

It struck me as odd that the primary message we give our girls when they play sports, at least at a young age, is simply “have fun.” I’ve been a girls’ soccer coach for the last two years and on the very first day of practice, the first thing I tell my group of girls when I get them in a huddle is that the number one rule in soccer, the thing that is most important, the thing that matters more than anything else, is to have fun.

So why is it that we engage girl’s sports with an attitude of “oh they’re trying their best that’s all anybody can ask” but when it comes to the boys, we scream and yell and belittle and mock? Could it be that because at a societal level, we just don’t think that the girls are as capable of actually playing a sport well as the boys? That “trying” is simply the best they’re capable of?

Why is it that WNBA games are viewed by less than a quarter as many people as men’s’ games? Those women are doing something that neither I nor probably anybody else watching are capable of.

Why is it that even though the 2015 Women’s World Cup final was the most viewed soccer event in US history, the women still make less than 40% of what their male counterparts make?

I don’t have data to back this opinion up, but I have a sneaking suspicion that we just simply, as a society, don’t place as high a value on female athletes as we do men. The men are real athletes, and the women are “trying.”

Thankfully, there are some female athletes that are breaking this barrier. Serena Williams is the greatest tennis player of all time. Abby Wambach did incredible things for women and the sport of soccer. Though it is tough, I think now is the best time to be raising girls who play sports, because though we still have a long way to go, I think we are slowly turning a corner. There are women I can point my daughters to. There are women who are breaking barriers and doing things that nobody thought a human could do, let alone a woman.

So let’s encourage our daughters. Show them that they can compete. They can want to win. They can play a sport and play it as well if not better than the boys.

It’s time we start taking our girls seriously.