Like many of you- so much of my life’s lessons have been informed by my experience with sports. Intestinal fortitude, teamwork, and humility (a hard and often experienced one) all quickly come to mind. Yet, what struck me yesterday as I watched my oldest son’s soccer game was how a group of 8th grade girls and boys, all playing on the same field is more powerful than any lesson more than 40-years of sports taught me.
Now, for those of you who are already calling me naïve, I get it. Equal opportunities for both girls and boys, men and woman, is- and continues to be- the focus for athletics at many levels. I completely support that notion on the athletic field and everywhere else. Yet, ask yourself why should it be both “separate and equal?” Regardless, I’d ask you to briefly suspend your disbelief, and allow me share some of what a fall day’s soccer game taught me.
As I arrived I knew the game was coed, and I was admittedly curious as to how it “would work.” Would there be a specific ratio of boys or girls on the field at any given time? Would the respective coaches arrange players at specific positions to exploit, or avoid, coed matchups? Would there be this seemingly inevitable moment where a female player would be overwhelmed by a more physical male player? With all those suppositions bouncing around in my head I soon realized that I was completely overanalyzing the entire dynamic. The players- my son included- and coaches were merely playing and coaching a soccer game. And the more I watched, the more I realized that the entire concept was a thing of beauty!
Yes, of course there were those players who stand out- male and female. Having watched any number of my kids sporting events through the years there’s always those players who are uniquely talented and gallop through the opposition- no matter the gender- no matter the sport. What I saw, however, were two coaches who were playing kids at positions based on their skills, not their gender. I saw any number of different ratios on the field at any given time, without this concept of subbing girls for girls and boys for boys. In fact, before too long, the male defenders became simply “defenders”, and the female forwards were simply “forwards”, as the whole concept of gender became an afterthought.
8th grade is a unique time in a young person’s life- a complicated time without a doubt. Yet, for those few dozen young soccer players yesterday a complex dynamic gave way to the basic concept of equal and together. We all can certainly learn from the way those kids played yesterday's game as we manage our own relationships in the workplace, and as we foster an environment of both equality and mutual respect. And, while we default to this notion that coed sports may get more complicated the older kids are perhaps we should remind ourselves of the reasons we participate in sports in the first place. We are there to learn about life, ourselves and each other. And on this particular fall day it seems to this soccer parent that having everyone on the same field was a great way to start.
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