I received a number of interesting comments on an earlier post titled Another Reason Why Competitive Girls Should Play Sports with Boys. Some reflected strong opinions for and against girls "Playing Up" with boys. The last two people to comment didn't waffle in the least. One said, "Boys and girls playing together in competitive sports after adolescence is rubbish." while the other stated, "You are absolutely wrong...you are setting the interests of competitive female athletes back 20 years with this philosophy."
Well, the last thing that I meant to do with my original post was to diminish the opportunity for female athletes to enjoy competitive sports!
In some of these blog comments and a few related tweets mentioning @InsideYouthSprt, there was some confusion regarding a couple of points I originally made. So let me clarify the message I was trying to communicate.
"Strong and Competitive"First, my support for girls Playing Up with boys was directed primarily at strong, competitive girls who want to improve their play. These are the girls who have the physical ability, sports skills, confidence, and desire to compete against the best competition—regardless of whether its boys or girls, young or old. There is little doubt that these girls (and for that matter, any athletes with these qualities) benefit from this type of play.
In a recent twitter conversation on this subject, an interview with Katie Smith (the WNBA star basketball player) was mentioned. In that GameChangers interview (about 16 minutes in), Katie talked about always playing with boys when she was young. Katie recognized early on that boys provided her with the best competition to improve her already formidable skills.
But as one person later tweeted, "Not a whole lot of Katie Smiths out there." My response: "True...but they're out there! Get the best comp, wherever."
I had the opportunity this last summer to meet and briefly talk with Brianne O'Rourke, a former Big Ten honorable mention point guard who played at Penn State. She was working on her outside shot with another friend of mine. Watching her, it was obvious that she was both physically strong and possessed skills that were better than those of many (most?) high school boys basketball players. As we talked, Briane also struck me as both confident and tough minded. In other words, she possessed all of the traits need to compete against males, and get better in the process.
Still another example is my local high school's point guard. Although not tall, she is extremely athletic. She regularly competes against boys in pickup games to improve her play. (One of the tips I included in my original article came from a discussion with her.)
Self-Directed Play vs. Organized SportsThe second point I want to reiterate is that the recommendations in my original article were mainly directed toward participation in self-directed play (pick-up games). Although my response to some of the article's comments made this point clear, the wording in the initial post unfortunately did not do so. So here again is the point I was trying to make: For strong, competitive girls there are few drawbacks, if any, of Playing Up against boys in pickup games. It's simply one more opportunity to find better competition.
Playing Up in organized sports is another matter—especially when it supplants play with other girls. Whether its boys or girls, Playing Up at higher/older levels has its risks. One of these is that the young athlete ends up playing team roles that possibly stunt the player's development. Also, young players may find themselves in a social environment that is more challenging (and less fun).
In Mars & Venus Have Nothing To Do With It, the blog's author discusses in detail his real world experience with both coed soccer programs and ones that were separated by sex. He makes a number of good points why, for most girls, play with other girls is more beneficial. Even though many of the girls were physically able to compete with the boys, the drawbacks mentioned above came into play. Girls played less aggressively, focusing their play on team roles ("passer") that were not necessarily in their best long term developmental interest.
A similar experience occurred at my local YMCA several years ago. Although the Youth Basketball League was coed (ages 6-11) at the time, the Y's new director decided to establish a separate girls program. Girls participation substantially increased beyond what it was in prior years. For most girls it seemed, the "girls only" approach was the better one—at least in terms of joining in on the play. Interestingly, there were no girls who decided to participate in the "boys" league (which was still coed and available to the better girls who wanted to Play Up.) I can't help but wonder if the strong pull of "community" was in the best athletic interest of the more talented girls.
SummarySo to sum up, here's my recommendation: Physically strong, confident, and skilled girls should always seek opportunities to Play Up in pickup games. To find convenient competition, this will most likely mean playing with boys. Regarding Playing Up with boys in organized sports, parents should think carefully about the benefits and drawbacks of doing so. The right choice is likely one that is particular to each girl and each opportunity.
Do you have any further thoughts on girls competing with boys?
Copyright © 2012 Jeffrey S. Rhoads. All Rights Reserved
Copyright 2009-2012 Jeffrey S. Rhoads; All Rights Reserved