As I walked Medina on to the field for her first flag football practice parents cheered for her. “YAY!” “We have a girl on our team this year!” one mom said. Another chimed in with “I think we had one last year too.” ONE. SHE THINKS. We got a similar reaction when both Medina and Amaya started basketball camp this year. It’s awesome that parents are excited to see them there but it’s also sad to me that it’s such a rare sight to them. It’s 2017 and people are still limiting their girls to what are traditionally “girl” sports: dance, cheer, gymnastics, etc. Those are amazing and important programs, for sure, but there’s so much to be learned from playing a variety of strong and competitive team sports that so many girls are missing out on. These are my reasons for encouraging my little girls to play with the boys:
1. Because they can.
Especially before puberty hits, girls are the same size as boys their age. They can also be JUST as fast, strong, and agile. There is no real reason to think that a young girl would be any different out on the field than a boy her age except if, right from the get-go, we put her in little glass box and keep her from moving, exploring, and building on these characteristics. When Medina (5 years old) first put her flags on and got in line I could tell she was nervous. She stood fidgeting at the end and twisting her flags. She watched as the boys ran after the ball while she just spun around in circles. BUT the moment she got the ball it clicked. She out ran the boys got her first touch down….. and fell in love. Medina isn’t one who enjoys doing difficult things so it’s important to me to keep proving to her that she can overcome her self-doubt, new things are not always difficult things and that just because she hasn’t done something doesn’t mean she can’t do it.
When my girls are on teams with boys, they’re ON their team. The boys treat them as equals and the coach expects the same out of them as the boys on the team. In a world where women are still fighting for equal opportunities and treatment, it is important for girls to learn, right now, to never expect anything less. Also, it’s important for the boys on their team to see the girls there, watching them do all the same things they’re doing, have to rely on them, encourage them, and respect them. These are their peers. They will ALWAYS be their peers. These boys will be their school mates, their co workers, their friends, and their partners. They should know, starting right now, that girls are not less than. The more girls they see doing all the same things they do, just as well as they do them, the more likely it will be that they naturally see them as equals.
It’s such an amazing feeling to accomplish something new. The girls are trying new things and achieving new goals standing next to little boys like it’s nothing out of the ordinary. As they grow, they’ll feel comfortable enough to jump in with the “big boys” whenever it’s necessary or just whenever they want to! I don’t want them to see males as obstacles and the best way to do that is to let them know, RIGHT NOW, that they are capable of all the same things. If they know, without a doubt, that there is nothing about being female that makes them less….there will be no stopping them.
4. The more experiences the merrier
I don’t enroll the girls in endless programs just to keep them busy because even though I thoroughly enjoy watching them, getting them to and from everything on time, around meals, and trying to keep the baby entertained is no easy task. But every single new experience has something to offer them. In only four weeks of basketball camp they’ve learned basketball terminology and some basic fundamentals. After only two weeks, Medina started dribbling balls without even thinking about it. As a basketball player, I do this. If there is a ball in my hand, I dribble it. It’s just something my body does like how someone holding a pen doodles. My Medina went from not knowing something to doing it without thinking. Her body will never forget this skill. It can only get better. In gymnastics they have become comfortable balancing and tumbling. They watch the big girls flipping around and now have that goal in mind so they work towards it- it isn’t scary when it’s familiar. Soccer has taught them how to maneuver with their feet and promotes self-discipline because, god knows, its hard for a newbie to just not touch the ball. Football will teach her how to work with others and that following directions is important. It will teach her how to get back up after falling down and that getting hurt (because even in flag football there’s lots of bumping into each other and passes to the face when you’re 5) doesn’t have to ruin an experience- It can even be worth it. When I was playing basketball, it was scoring on the really hard fouls and winning against the team that played so hard they hurt us that were the most satisfying. We would laugh and talk about our scratches and bruises the whole way home. It’s an experience. They won’t always win and it won’t always be worth it but sometimes it is-and that’s enough. There are no two sports that are exactly the same and every time they try a new one their muscles learn how to move in that specific way and never forget. It can get rusty and the quality or quickness may fade but it’s always there in the background and I’m trying to fill up their muscle memory bank with as much variety as possible!
I’d also like to mention that this applies to boys too. There are very few boys in gymnastics, cheer, or dance. Why? Boys and girls are EQUALLY capable of learning new things and that’s all that sports require. The ability to learn. Not everyone will be great at everything but one’s ability to be great has nothing to do with their sex. It’s important to present kids with a variety of opportunities and see where their interests lie. Find out what sparks joy in their hearts and let them run with it.