Relationship Connection: Should boys, girls compete against each other in contact sports?

Question

My 11-year-old son is on a competitive soccer team and they’ve been scrimmaging against a girls team for some time. While I have no issues with boys playing against girls, he is struggling with the fact that girls are encouraged to play aggressively, but if the boys get too aggressive with the girls, they’ll hurt the girls.

It seems odd that these coaches expect these two teams to play their hardest when it could mean the girls team would get hurt. This is an aggressive sport and my son wants to put everything he’s got into his game. I’ve noticed that this is affecting the team as a whole.

The boys are basically practicing holding back and then don’t develop the proper instincts when they’re in a game situation against a boys team where they can full throttle. I teach my son that he needs to be respectful of girls and not physically hurt them.

This practice setup leaves him with a dilemma that doesn’t set either team up for success. He is holding back because of the reality that he and his teammates are bigger and stronger than their female opponents. The girls can play their hardest, but the boys aren’t able to. I’m curious what advice you might have for me as I’m contemplating talking to their coach about it.

Answer

I think this is a great opportunity for your son to step up as a leader on his team and bring this issue to the attention of the coach. This is most likely something the coach isn’t noticing. I have no doubt the coach would be concerned about the players holding back for any reason, so if this is a real issue for your son and his teammates, it’s time to address it.

I appreciate the fact that you’re teaching your son respect for women. Your influence is obviously working, as he’s holding back to be careful not to hurt these girls. He’s doing the right thing by not physically dominating them. However, I see your concern and how this setup prevents his team from playing their hardest in a very physical game.

It’s not helpful to pretend that this a level playing field when it comes to physical advantage. A whole team of 11-year-old girls is no match for a team of bigger and stronger boys. Don’t let this turn into a discussion about equal treatment of men and women. This is simple physics and biology. A bigger object will always win when clashing with a smaller object. This is why heavyweight boxers aren’t paired with featherweight boxers for championship bouts.

I encourage you to either have your son go with you to speak directly to the coach or have him write down his experience and concerns to be shared with the coach in a private meeting. Regardless, he needs to know that an adult can take his voice seriously. He should have an opportunity to stand up for his values.

This situation isn’t about thinking less of girls or their abilities. If anything, your son’s concerns are about his respect for girls. I’m certain your son would feel the same if he were playing against a group of younger boys who were smaller. It needs to be a fairly matched.

Commend your son for sticking to his values and let the coach know you want to see this team have chances to practice the way they want to play in a game. Hopefully the coach can hear your son’s concerns and allow everyone to be set up for success.

Stay connected!

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Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.

Have a relationship question for Geoff to answer? Submit to:

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.

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2 Comments

  • Pugliese March 25, 2015 at 10:54 am

    Both authors seem to be holding on to some gender stereotypes. First, assuming the girls will “get hurt” with assertive play is stereotyping females as weak. The question reflects how we, in subtle ways, socialize our children with such rubbish. Second, the author commits the same foul with this statement “a whole team of 11-year-old girls is no match for a team of bigger and stronger boys.”

    At 11 years old, few boys have hit their growth spurt, whereas girls are typically 1-2 years into their spurt. That means girls are often as tall, or taller than boys at this age. Girls also have a higher Body Mass Index at that this age, which captures the additional fat and bone density girls gain during puberty. So the assumption that boys will be “bigger and stronger” may not prove to be true.

    Frankly, I would encourage both teams to play the game with respect for the other team, and focus on mastering the skills needed to improve. I commend the coaches of the female team for encouraging assertive play. Let the kids figure it out on the field. A foul is a foul, regardless of gender.

  • ladybugavenger March 26, 2015 at 12:18 am

    No they shouldn’t compete against each other. It would crush the boys when they get beat by a bunch of girls.

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