Monday, October 17, 2011

Another Reason Why Competitive Girls Should Play Sports with Boys

The Women’s Sports Foundation supports a position that girls and boys should be encouraged to compete with and against each other in sports whenever possible:

"Prior to puberty, there is no gender-based physiological reason to separate females and males in sports competition. In fact, research demonstrates that girls who participate with boys in youth sports are more resilient. ... After puberty, coeducational competition should be encouraged at all levels where there are rules that require equal numbers of females and males on both teams and also rules that maximize fair competition between the sexes."

The Women’s Sports Foundation cites numerous benefits for girls who play sports with boys. But here's another one that I didn't see mentioned on the foundation's related position paper.

In my last post, I discussed the benefits of "Playing Up". For strong, competitive girls who want to Play Up against better competition, they have a unique option. Beside playing against other talented girls, they can also Play Up against boys.

Not only will girls more easily locate good competition, but they will probably find that they need to adapt their game to compensate for boys’ greater physical strength and power (on average). This, in turn, will provide these girls with the opportunity to develop new and different skills, adapt to a faster game, and learn how to play with even more intelligence to offset any physical disadvantage. Playing Up against boys has another benefit—it can provide girls with a competitive advantage when they play against other girls.

Here's some advice that you may want to give to your daughter to better prepare her for when she first plays with boys:
TIP 1: "You may initially face resistance from certain boys who don’t want to play with girls. You may be teased, much the same as a boy who is somehow “different”. Don’t let this deter you. You can either ignore the teasing or calmly look the boy in his eye and “name his sin.” Many other boys will respect your talent and want to play with you. Try to form allegiances with them. They will likely support you if the teasing gets out of hand."
TIP 2: "Remember that boys value competency in team sports—especially as it relates to you knowing how to play a role that can help the team win. With most boys, your play will define whether you’re accepted in the group or not. Show a willingness to initially play a team role and select one you can do well. Once you're accepted, your roles will grow based on your ability." (This is the same approach any new boy would take playing with other boys for the first few times.)
TIP 3: "Boys are sometimes confused about how they should play competitive sports with girls. If you’re intent on improving your game, you should insist that boys treat you the same way as they would another boy. You may need to challenge some boys to do so. In these situations, talk yourself up. For example, suggest to whoever is covering you that he 'can’t handle your game.' On defense you might say, 'You can’t get past me.'"

Copyright © 2012 Jeffrey S. Rhoads. All Rights Reserved

The Joy of Youth Sports

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Copyright 2009-2012 Jeffrey S. Rhoads; All Rights Reserved


Jodi Murphy said...

"With most boys, your play will define whether you’re accepted in the group or not."

That's probably the truth in a lot of circumstances. If you can prove that you can hang with the boys, they'll let you in almost immediately. The hard part is getting girls to believe that they are good enough to play with the boys in the first place. It takes a very confident girl to fight for her spot.

Jeffrey Rhoads [Inside Youth Sports] said...

I agree Jodi—having the confidence to engage with a different group can be challenging for many kids (and adults).

But I'm not sure that this is an issue specific to girls. Consider the young boy who wants to "Play Up" with older kids in his neighborhood. He will likely face rejection at times from boys who don't want to play with younger kids. He may also initially face a crisis of confidence (e.g., Do they want to play with me? Am I good enough?)

The young boy, if he's intent on playing with this group, would hang around the edges of the group's games. When they need a player, he might get a chance to play. If he's humble, plays a team role well, it's likely the group will begin to accept him.

Is this same approach workable for reasonably skilled girls who want to Play Up with boys to improve their game? Is there some other issue that makes it more difficult for these girls to engage in competitive sports play with boys?

Athnet (Twitter) said...

I understand the concept and have seen this first hand many moons ago when I was a youth soccer player. My younger sister spent her entire youth soccer career playing 2 divisions up and with the boys. I admit, in many instances she could hold her own and was a better player than many out there but I don't believe this works with every sport.

In many sports, as the males mature they grow stronger, faster, bigger. This stands as a massive disadvantage to any female because the competition level is heightened and sometimes they cannot compete equally. In some sports such as wrestling where male v. female matches are common, the women have advantages. All the female needs to do is say the male opponent touched her inappropriately and the match is forfeited; seems unfair but it happens. Sports such as Track & Cross Country show common patterns with females being very fast early in high school but peaking early as well. They can compete with boys maybe 9th and 10th grade because boys don't develop as early. As the strength and endurance increases over the last two year of high school for boys a significant gap is created.

I also think that it creates a disadvantage for college recruiting. Yes, if they practice against males and play against females I see the benefit but if they are always playing against males and getting beat then college coaches have no real idea of the athlete's talents.

I also see females trying to compete with males as a distraction from being good among their own sex first. Take Michelle Wie for example, she continues to compete against the men on the PGA tour and loses while she continues to get beat by the women on the LPGA tour. In this case, as great an athlete as she is, she is not good enough to beat the girls consistently let alone step up onto an entirely different playing field with the men.

Jeffrey Rhoads [Inside Youth Sports] said...

Thanks for adding your thoughts to this post!

I see Playing Up with boys as simply another option for a strong, competitive girl to improve her play. It's especially suited to pick-up play in certain sports.

I didn't mean to suggest that it replace playing with other girls, attending Showcase camps, etc.. And if a girl's play occurs entirely in a high-level organized sports setting (AAU, Club, High School)—an approach I don't support—Playing Up against boys may not be the best choice.

I agree with your point that Playing Up with boys makes more sense in some sports than others. Those with large amounts of physical contact (wrestling, football), or ones more dependent on physical attributes than skills and tactics (track, cross-country), are less likely to provide girls with a competitive environment that will benefit their play. Still, exceptions occur and Playing Up should be an option.

But for many other sports, especially those involving complex sets of different skills and highly interactive play (basketball, volleyball, soccer, lacrosse, and tennis), Playing Up with boys can help a girl improve her ability to play a sport well. She can learn different ways to play and succeed as I described in the original post.

It's too bad about Michelle Wie. But I think that her unfortunate path probably had more to do with spectacle and money than providing her with the best venue for personal development. Also, golf is more dependent on stand-alone, individual play than interactive competition with an opponent (think Tennis).

Anonymous said...

If the girls can play with the boys then we must open the doors for the boys to compete with the girls.

Jeffrey Rhoads [Inside Youth Sports] said...

Hello Anonymous! Yes, the Playing Up principle works both ways. In some situations, a boy may have the opportunity to play with better girls. It's all about finding better players to play against.

I personally know one male tennis player who Plays Up against a talented female. He benefits from this opportunity to play against better competition.

But the opportunity to Play Up is usually a numbers game. The current reality is that there are many more boys playing certain sports than girls—especially in pickup games. For example, in pickup basketball games at my local YMCA there is rarely, if ever, a pickup game that consists of only girls. On occasion, you will see one or two girls playing basketball with a group of boys.

Even discounting any male physical advantage (on average), the likelihood of boys locating better competition against girls in certain sports seems much less likely. Returning to my YMCA basketball example, there is absolutely no reason why girls can't use the facility to play games. But for whatever reason, they don't. Meanwhile, dozens of boys are regularly showing up, organizing and playing their games, having fun, and improving their skills.

Jack said...

Boys and Girls can learn from play with and against each other. Boys approach team sports by playing strong and direct; girls by learning to work well with each other. Mix genders and boys love playing with girls who play well because they share the ball, pass to whomever is in the best position to help the team and are more interested in working well with teammates instead of trying to show they are a great player. Mixed gender teams of highly competitive athletes almost instantly earn each others respect and quickly learn from each other.

Anonymous said...

Boys and girls playing together in competitive sports after adolescences is rubbish. Totally unfair for the boys. The boys get only scorn and derision from playing as aggressively as they SHOULD play against other boys if they want to advance their skill in the game. The same fathers who argue that their daughters are being abused if they aren't allowed to play on the football team will jump from the stands in indignation if an opposing player is "unnecessarily" rough. Encouraging boys to play sports with girls is a good thing from a non-competitive perspective, but in competition it INEVITABLY results in boys caught between being hamstrung and being humiliated. Boys shouldn't be FORCED to "rein in" their competitive instincts unless they're doing it of their own free will in an attempt to "be nice" in order to "get some tail".

Anonymous said...

You are absolutely wrong. Girls cannot become they leaders they have the potential to be, and become dominant players playing with boys. You are also begging the question: if girls' teams are inherently weaker in play, then girls divisions and teams should simply be viewed as "lower division" play, and lower divisions should be open to all, and no "girls-only" teams ought to exist. Take this further, there would be no reason for there to be women's teams in the NCAA, what is now the "Women's team" should just be the JV, and what is now the "Men's" team would be the Varsity, and then just let all genders compete openly for spots on the team. You are setting the interests of competitive female athletes back 20 years with this philosophy. If boys teams are open to girls, then girls teams must be open to boys...let's see where that takes you...two Olympic ice hockey teams, the #1 team, and the #2 team, both open to all genders, how many women would ever have the chance to play in the Olympics? You can't have it both ways, either ALL teams are open to both genders, or, we have gender segregated sports teams.

Anonymous said...

I think your post has some great points, though I do think it depends on the girl. For example I've always been a very competivtive person, with anyone I have to try to beat them. I'm a competivtive swimmer in high school, though I only swim club, so for the fall season I swim with a whole team of guys. Swimming is different because of guys higher levels of testosterone make them faster, so we don't race each other at meets. After a few weeks of me leading a lane of guys slower than me, my coach put me in a lane with guys who were much faster accidentally, but because of my stubbornness to prove myself I kept up and my coach realized thats how he could get me to swim harder. I also tend to do play rough when we have ultimate frisbee after for dryland. But for some girls, not getting ahead of the guys (or other girls) may be worse. I've seen it before. I think the parent just has to know their child.

Anonymous said...

This is all well and good and fuzzy, but what happens when the girls reach a certain level where they can't possibly compete against men; are we going to see a lot of crying and complaining and demands for Title XX to be passed? The whole situation is silly, because although they may be able to compete in lower grade levels, what is gpoing to happen when they CAN'T?

Anonymous said...

At 31 I still compete with the boys and am better than 75 % of the males that I play with. If you grow up playing with boys then physically and mentally you are prepared to continue to play with boys. I have two daughters who both play with the boys and will continue to do so. Once the boys figure out that you are a high level female athlete, there is no backing down physically. The men treat me just like I'm another man on the field. I am all for girls playing with boys and playing up another level if they can hang. At the same time, I like the idea of getting rid of a girls division and have coed A,B,C leagues. There are boys that are less physical and not athletically gifted that can play with the weaker girls.

Anonymous said...

I think if the girl can keep up then why not? it seems silly and a disservice to the girl if she is better than the rest of the girls she plays with and can keep up with the boys. In tennis for example when I was younger we used to play mixed if we wanted to, trust me the boys never held anything back and this made me play much better.

As someone has said on here earlier, if you can keep up and your times are the equal and you have the mentality and competitiveness then why not? You're treated no differently than the other boys on the team as long as you show them you're good enough.

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