Brian McCormick, whose writing about coaching and training I have enjoyed and respect, posted an article yesterday exploring the training habits of some Division I female athletes.
I coach and train a lot of girls and have worked with many very good female players. Too often, the lack of progress in the women’s game is blamed on males or sexism. However, I think the biggest problem holding back the game is the female athlete.Certainly, I think we can all agree with McCormick’s conclusion:
Not every athlete. As I said, I have worked with great players and enjoyed every minute of my time working with them.
Instead, I mean the female athletes who are all too willing to allow their femaleness to be an excuse for a lack of ability.
I worked out with a Division I college player today who could not do a push-up. When I told her that her little elbow dips were not push-ups, she said that they were push-ups to her. She was unwilling to try a full push-up and preferred to give up.
I hate this mentality. “I’m a girl. I can’t do…” That’s crap. You’re an athlete. If you are a Division I player and you cannot do a push-up, it is not because you are a girl. It is because you are lazy and do not care. Have you ever seen former Sacramento Monarch Ruthie Bolton? She would take out 98% of guys in a push-up contest. It has nothing to do with being a girl. It has everything to do with being a selective athlete.
If you’re an athlete, never use “but I’m a girl” as an excuse. It’s not. You’re an athlete and you should hope that your coaches treat you like an athlete, not like a little, helpless girl.However, where I would diverge from McCormick is on the idea that this phenomenon is not due to some measure of sexism or at the very least, entrenched gender stereotypes. To argue that girls are playing out a mindset of inferiority but that sexism is not the problem seems like a difficult claim to support.
To argue that girls are making these excuses independent of their social context, one must assume that the girls are independently developing that line of deficit thinking about being female. And anyone who has been around children knows that no child is born assuming they cannot do things…they learn their limitations over time. It’s the beauty of childhood that adults contemptuously strip away from kids.
Instead, I would argue that those perceptions of what it means to be a girl are acquired from people with whom they interact, whether it is coaches, teachers, peers, or media representations. I would argue that it’s not as easy as sucking it up and demanding better. There has to be encouragement and support to do that. And while the support systems are there for some girls, far too many girls lack that.
So I would not dismiss McCormick’s argument, but I would likely take it in a different direction: we need to demand better of the coaches, parents, and other adult figures that interact with girls. That includes the teacher who will give the boys the football and the girls the pink hoola hoop for recess (and yes, that does happen). And we need to demand better of those in the public eye who demean, dismiss, and ignore the accomplishments of the female athletes.
While I won't deny the importance of individual responsibility, the problem in this case is not the person making the excuse, but the source of the excuses. It’s a stretch to claim that girls are individually responsible for creating those.