Question: You mentioned that girls and boys often approach organized sports from entirely different directions. Here's our experience: last year, we signed up our eight-year-old daughter, Marilyn, for a soccer team. Our intent was for her to get some good exercise and fresh air, meet other kids, and just have fun!
She didn't know anything about the sport, but the league was a beginner level and she was on the team with both boys and girls her age. However, many of the boys had already had about three years of experience playing soccer! Putting them together turned out not to be a great idea.
In the first game, Marilyn scored. Unfortunately, she kicked the ball into her own team's goal! The boys gave her a terrible time for doing that. In fact, one of the boys ended up going to Marilyn's school the next year, and the first thing he said to her was, "You kicked the ball in the wrong goal last year!" How embarrassing.
Marilyn had another difficult moment during that first game. She saw a little boy get cleated in the face. It scared her badly. She did everything possible to stay away from the ball for the rest of the season!
I am wondering if things would have been different if they had leagues just for girls and leagues just for boys. After Marilyn participated in the theatrical performance of Annie this year, she said, "Mommy, soccer wasn't my thing, but I really like being onstage." We encouraged her to try different things and then figure out what she likes and doesn't like.
She still talks about kicking the ball into the wrong goal. Do you think girls and boys should play on the same teams?
Answer: Generally speaking, I don't think coed sports are a good idea, and certainly not after puberty. Admittedly, my view on that subject is controversial, and many of my readers will disagree. I have been influenced greatly on this matter by sociologist George Gilder, in his classic book Men and Marriage. His opposition to coed sports is based on what he believes is best for girls, but especially what the presence of girls does to slow-maturing boys. He says:
Sports are possibly the single most important male rite in modern society.
Whatever their detractors may say, sports embody for men a moral universe. On the team, the group learns to cooperate, learns the importance of loyalty, struggle, toughness, and self-sacrifice in pursuing a noble ideal. At a period in their lives when hormones of aggression are pouring through their bodies in unprecedented streams, boys learn that aggressiveness must be disciplined and regulated before it can be used in society. They learn the indispensable sensation of competition in solidarity.
The entrance of a large number of teenage girls, at a time in high school and junior high when they tend to be larger than boys, would be disastrous for all the slow developers. Leaders in Outward Bound physical programs for [inner-city] children, for example, find that the best athletes perform as well—if in a different spirit—with females present. The smaller, shyer, and less developed boys, however, are completely daunted by the girls and refuse to make a resolute effort. In addition, the lessons of group morality are lost. The successful boys, those who work with and encourage the others in all-male groups, simply show off for the females in mixed assemblages. Nor do the girls benefit. Some of them do quite well, but their performances seem directed more toward the boys than to the real values of the undertaking.
In joint athletics, girls subvert the masculinity of the weaker or slow-developing boys without gaining significant athletic reward themselves. The girls who could actually play on an integrated high-school team would be exceedingly rare. But the girls, nonetheless, would disrupt and deform the most precious rituals of young boys.1
I agree with Gilder at this point, especially as it relates to boys and girls in puberty and beyond. As for enrolling children in coed sports, that is something parents will have to decide for a particular individual. I would be inclined not to do it even in childhood because of the dramatic differences between the sexes. Marilyn's unsuccessful experience is common.
1.George F. Gilder, Men and Marriage (New York: Gretna, Pelican Pub. Co., 1986), 120–121.
Book: Bringing Up Girls
By Dr. James Dobson