Condescending to Girl Athletes

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My husband and I spend a lot of time volunteering for our son’s soccer league. Hubby recently refereed a game for eight- and nine-year-old girls in which he called several handballs. A male coach objected strenuously to a couple of the calls because the girls had used their hands at chest level. He claimed, “Girls are allowed to protect their chests.”

Let’s break that down.

  • These girls are eight and nine, maybe ten. They don’t have any more to protect than the boys do. They’re being told to protect their delicate female parts before they even have them.
  • Adult women soccer players use their chests to control the ball the same way men do.
  • Only an intentional handball is a foul. Reflexively protecting yourself is okay. But girls are being told there is a special exception allowing them to intentionally use their hands because they have to protect themselves from the ball.

The result? Several of the girls often looked like they were playing volleyball—hands in the air, reaching for the ball. Meanwhile, you almost never see an intentional handball in a boys’ game at this age. The myth that a special rule allows girls to “protect their chests” keeps girls from learning the skills to play the game.

–Jennifer Hendricks

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