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

"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

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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.

Physiological:
  • 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.

Psychological:
  • 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!

Social:
  • 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.

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