Rethinking Sports… “Just Do It” For The Kids.

I have fond memories of playing catch with my dad. I enjoyed softball for awhile. I even had fun on the soccer team for a whole year, thanks to my friend Jessica. But, true to the polarized mind of the teenager who sees only in black and white, if I were the “Smart Girl,” then I most certainly was not going to be athletic. (Kids did actually use “Smart Girl” to taunt me. I still don’t know why that was such a bad thing.) Team sports at my school were dominated by girls who played down their intelligence. I remember one girl who did well in school and in sports, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that she participated in things like running and swimming–teams, but more dependent on individual achievement than basketball and volleyball, the girls’ sports that really drew crowds.

My niece is old enough to participate in sports, already, and it’s really important to me to encourage her in both school and athletics. I think I missed out on a lot of fun, but I also envy people for whom physical activity comes naturally. I want my niece (and nephew!) to want sports to be part of their lives, for all the obvious reasons, but also to keep them safe. Check this out: [quote]Although sports and physical activity are a part of girls’ and boys’ lives in and out of school at varying levels, girls tend to be less active than boys. The sports, education, youth development, and out-of-school time fields can provide opportunity for girls to engage in positive, healthy physical activity.[/quote]

        • In 2005, a much higher percentage of adolescent males participate in vigorous physical activity than do their female peers. Within all racial and ethnic subgroups, activity levels for males are between 13 and 19 percentage points higher than for females. For all grades, activity levels for males are between 10 and 20 percentage points higher than for females. (, Child and Youth Indicators Databank: Vigorous Physical Activity by Youth, 2006)
        • In 2005, more high school females (72.2%) than their male counterparts (56.2%) did not meet currently recommended levels of physical activity—doing any kind of physical that increased their heart rate and made them breathe hard for a total of at least 60 minutes per day. (Centers for Disease Control, Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance—United States 2005)
        • The more physically active girls are, the greater their self-esteem and the more satisfied they are with their weight, regardless of how much they weigh. Eighty-three percent of very active girls say that physical activity makes them feel good about themselves. (The Girl Scout Research Institute, The New Normal? What Girls Say About Healthy Living (2006))
        • For girls ages 11-17 it is the perception of being overweight, not just weight alone, that inhibits participation in sports and physical activities. (The Girl Scout Research Institute, The New Normal? What Girls Say About Healthy Living (2006))
        • For teen girls, being both physically active and a team sports participant is associated with a lower prevalence of sexual risk-taking behaviors. (Kulig, K., Brener, N. & McManus, T. Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 2003)
        • A study of school reading texts found that boys were represented in physical activities 65% of the time, while girls were represented 35% of the time. In addition, boys dominated throwing and catching activities, while girls dominated dance and swing-set activities. (Henschel-Pellet, H.A. Research Quarterly, 2001) —Girl Scouts of America

All of this makes sense to me–if you are aware of the amazing things your teenage body can do you’re bound to have a more accurate perception of what it looks like–except the part at the end about school texts. I do not want my niece or nephew or any kids I may have to be reading in their darn textbooks that boys are the real athletes. But even if they do, I figure that the women in their lives can counteract that image. How? Well, I’m not sure it’ll work, but I have two ideas, so far.

One: I’m going to participate in watching sports. Turns out, I actually enjoy it. I always was a competitive person! I’m starting now, so that I know the rules by the time our future children see us watching football together. Nathan did spend about eight hours watching NFL football yesterday, and I’m not sure I want to set that example. I do want them to see us watching his–now our–favorite team. (The Jets. He grew up on Long Island. I grew up watching the Vikings, but I’ll just own up now to not being very loyal… and to liking the Jets cheer better.) I love the ritual, and I still find it adorable that my normally un-superstitious husband has to wear his jersey and eat more or less the same foods every Sunday. To be fair, the Jets almost lost the time he forgot his jersey, and they just barely won after he remembered to put it on. Oh, and remind me to repeat in ten years the fantastic conversation we had about why there are no female kickers in football. There’s no physical disadvantage, unlike in every other position in the game, but it’s still not at all open to women. Court cases have gotten some women onto college teams, but they had a rough time. Brave women, all of them!

Two: I’m going to run around with my kids and throw a ball with accuracy and force. I practice with our dog, although I often use a “ball chucker” so my arm doesn’t feel like it’s going to fall off. Catching a ball might take a little more work. For some reason I’ve always been able to throw any kind of ball, even a football, pretty well, but I now psych myself out of catching things. I will not giggle and run away, though. I will at least try and catch the stupid thing. Hey, it may just show them that you can enjoy doing things even if you’re not good at them! Just don’t blame me for demanding a good game of Scrabble sometimes just to prove I can dominate at something.

My brother-in-law and my husband are both totally awesome about answering my questions when we’re watching a game. And they both watcheverything. World Cup time is particularly awesome. Women’s World Cup games get air time, too. I have awesome memories of watching the NBA finals when the Lakers were great in the late 1990s. My sister and her then boyfriend (now husband) live in Los Angeles. I spent time there every summer as a kid. (She’s eleven years older than I am.) I watched the games with my sister, future brother-in-law and his friends. No one minded answering my questions during commercial breaks, and it was the first time I understood what was happening. It was really cool to hang out with grown-ups, and it was really cool to see my sister enjoying the game as much as ay of the guys. I still feel like an outsider in this weird world of sports, but a game is a game. Like I said, I have always been competitive.

Do you have other ideas about what I can do to show the kids in my life that women belong in sports, too? I can’t change the fact that mens’ professional sports get a lot more attention. But I can make being active a natural part of our family’s life. I can have a sense of humor about the fact that my strengths lie in my intellectual, rather than physical pursuits, without just giving up at everything physical. What else can I do, having spent most of my time reading? Please, more ideas! Oh, and do the commercials that air during sporting events push back against the image of seeing Mom and Dad watching the game? I worry about that. They’re just so awful.

As a matter of fact, please “dislike” this on YouTube. It makes me red-in-the-face angry every time I see it! Why would any reasonable woman demand that “her” man stop doing something he enjoys just because women are not supposed to like it, too? This is just bull crap in so many ways. And this is what I want to fight against just by showing the kids in my life that I can cheer for an awesome catch or recognize an awesome play.

McDonald’s: Sundays Are For Watching Football?


  1. Luana said:

    Very interesting question…

    First, I think what you plan on doing is great. I see this as a 2-part issue:
    1. how to get kids to think of sports as equally enjoyable and beneficial for both sexes (or all sexes, if we want to get technical)
    2. how to get our kids to think of sports and other activities as co-ed?

    I think 1. is easy. You will set the example. I was in the same boat as you and often sneaked out of PE to hide in the school library and read. I was not told, as a girl or young woman, that exercise is important for the joy of sports and sportsmanship, but rather for keeping in shape, staying thin, and looking vibrant and interesting with a touch of rosy cheeks. I LOATHED PE, but for many years was an aerobics (it was the 80s), then weight-lifting enthusiast. I even enrolled myself in horseback riding. I loved all individual sports, but it’s never dawned on me that I could join a sports team. As the years went by, I lost interest in individual sports; had I loved a team sport, maybe I would still be an active adult. My kid will be raised to think, if possible, that moving is a sport, not an exercise.

    I think 2. can be more complicated, because all kids will be exposed to the “ew, sports are gross and sweaty and boring and for boys” lot. Having a boy doesn’t solve the problem, because, like you, I don’t want him to think of women as incapable of playing sports for fun. There’s not much I can do about what he will hear out in the world.

    But what I plan to do at home is not make any activities gender-specific. This may be easier with 2 same-sex parents who like different things: if Mama likes woodworking and Meme doesn’t, he’ll just know that some women like woodworking and some don’t. If Meme likes romantic movies and Mama (really) doesn’t, he won’t think it’s because Meme’s such a girl, but rather that I have different preferences. I don’t worry much about teasing each other in front of him about our differences, because, again, we’re both women. I see no reason why he won’t assume that the same is true for men: some men like sports, some don’t; some men like to cook, some don’t; some women like basketball, some don’t, etc.

    I think the key is this, as I’m thinking about it: to teach that liking different things is okay (even for Mom and Dad) but that it’s not because one is a boy and one a girl. Rather, that people are different. If Dad watches 8 hours of football on Sundays and Mom sews, your kid will also see Dad reading Sontag on Tuesdays or cooking amazing Thai food, and Mom going for a bike ride or talking to Dad about football. Even if Mom and Dad don’t watch sports together or sew together, I know your kids will not think it’s because of your genders, because there will be no “ew”‘s about either side in your house. I think that’s enough and you already have that covered.

    Additionally, odds are our children are likely to choose partners who were brought up in more traditional families. I want that to be okay for Finn, so that he doesn’t spend years trying to find the perfect partner who likes everything equally. He will know his partners will not always like what he likes, and that’s okay too.

    September 19, 2011
    • Anne-Marie said:

      I’m just going to bring my kids over to your house! Kim can teach them to build stuff and you can teach them how to make jewelry and how to mow the lawn. But I think that you hit on something key which, now that you say it, sounds just like what the preschool teachers at EBJ say when the kids start on the “girls are icky” or “pink is gross” stuff–some people like this, some people don’t, but you get to decide for yourself and leave everyone else alone! I just want them to really try whatever interests them and not feel limited by gender.

      September 19, 2011
  2. Ellen said:

    I find your experience so interesting because I participated in sports all of my life (and still do) with other young women were equally interested in doing well in school.

    Physical activity aids brain development and health, making those who participate in sports more physically equipped for academic achievement ( Being an active child actually leads to MORE connections in the brain and MORE brain cells during critical developmental stages. It makes sense that healthier children with more energy will perform better in school than those who lack these advantages (

    I realize that location dictates a whole lot of how children are raised, but co-ed sports are the norm in big cities like the one I grew up in. I cheered on a co-ed team in high school and college. My youngest sister (and many of the women on my current Rugby team) played pee-wee football on a co-ed team.

    Every quarter my cheerleading coach would inspect our report cards to make sure we were all compliant – failing more than one class made a student ineligible to play team sports at our school. I never knew a member disqualified for more than one semester, the vast majority of our squad were honor role students. Everyone on the team went off to college, which was a feat considering the place I grew up in.

    Sports go hand-in-hand with all the values that often lead to good grades – working hard, practice, parental in loci, etc.

    September 19, 2011
    • Anne-Marie said:

      That certainly is different! I think it’s a bit damaging, being a local celebrity. It just wasn’t about competing and perfecting a skill set. It was about just being in a club. (There were some exceptions, including our awesome and successful put poorly attended girls’ hockey team.) I hope my kids are on real teams, like the ones you describe!

      September 19, 2011

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