So, my dentist has a daughter who’s a sixth grader. I understand that you may not find that to be a fun fact, but what is interesting to me is what he said to me a few visits ago. While he was working on my teeth and rendering me mute (a travesty for any coach, for sure!) he starts in about how his daughter plays volleyball and he just wished that girls were more competitive. Only the drill in his hand saves him from me…but only momentarily. When he finished with my teeth, I pulled out my soapbox (which I carry everywhere with me), jumped on, and proceeded to tell him that girls are indeed competitive and aggressive and interested in wins and losses.
I’m amazed at how often I hear the same story…and it ticks me off. Here I am a female, former Division I athlete and uber-competitive, a coach of female athletes, and most importantly, a believer in female athletes. And while my dentist didn’t ask for help in encouraging his young daughter and her teammates to express their competitiveness, he sure got it!
My niece is a baller. She’s good at volleyball, rocks at basketball, and can high jump with the best of them. A couple of years ago, she got involved in a pretty non-competitive volleyball league and I saw early on that she had the raw skills to be really good at the sport (seriously, she’s only ten and is almost as tall as me and has a sweet platform), but she wasn’t surrounded by like-minded girls. I don’t see anything wrong with playing a sport to learn and have fun and meet people…but that’s not what my niece wanted to do. She wanted to compete, to contribute, and to win. But as long as she was with those girls, she wouldn’t. At that age, girls don’t want to stick out from the crowd but rather be part of it. I told my brother and sis-in-law to get her into a better league where it would be okay for her to excel…where she wouldn’t stick out like a sore thumb because she wanted to jump and spike rather than stand there and watch balls hit the ground.
Coaches of young girls need to create an environment where being competitive is good. Where you’re not “acting like a boy” if you happen to be a little girl and love sports. Most importantly, youth coaches should aim to create a community of young girls that affirm each other and their successes rather than bring each other down. So that’s what I encouraged my dentist to do, to bring his daughter’s team to one of our games so that they could see female athletes in action and how it’s okay to be intense and competitive…those things aren’t antonyms to being a lady. I also encouraged him to volunteer as a coach so that he could be there to encourage any sparks of competitive energy he saw in practice. And guess what? My last visit he informed me that he’s now the coach of the team.
I can’t be the only one who’s feathers get supremely ruffled when they hear something like this. How do you handle the “girls are passive and not aggressive” chatter when you hear it?