When assumptions become reality.
Updated: May 3, 2019
Your version of reality.
TODAY’s assumptions about female athletes unfortunately limit girls’ ability to become greater in their sports.
I had a stressful game. We played against a club that in theory was (in the moment) better than us even though, according to the statistics of the game, we were a better team. However, if you look only at the score the other team was three times better than us. It has been only two months since I began coaching this team. I am amazed how great my girls are, how hard they work, and how much they want to learn. Although I am very confident of my coaching ability, unfortunately parents’ opinions and complaints still weigh on how I approached the result of this game once I send my girls on their way and I walked to my car.
I have been coaching youth soccer (with some collegiate in the middle) for 5 years. For four of these years, I coached boys as well girls. This included mixed gender sessions and sessions where they were separated. However, in the last six months, I have only been coaching girls- specifically a U13 girls team.
While I was walking to my car, a dad came up to me and said: “Tough game…huh?!” and I nodded my head up and down agreeing with him. The dad continued, “Parents are upset that we lost 2 games this weekend. Try not to say anything about the game on our way back. They may fire back their frustrations to you.” I lifted my eyebrows, thinking “of course...”. He slowly lost me with that comment… my patience got close to negative. Then he added:
“I wish my daughter would talk more on the field but she is so afraid to talk.”
His daughter plays as center back, which is such a crucial position when it comes to communication on the field. The dad continued, “This team is the highlight of her day, and she loves the girls. She is dead afraid of losing friends if she decides to complain or to tell people where they should go…”
The only thing that came out of my mouth when I stopped nodding my head up and down was a cold and direct comment, which I have heard so many times in the past 5 years coaching: “Welcome to girls’ soccer. Girls don’t talk”. After a couple of steps, I stopped in my tracks and thought to myself, “What the %$^& did I just say?!?!” As I looked at this dad I just said an expression that I had heard coaches saying over and over, and one that I had said myself many times. At this moment, I realized I decided not to believe it. I said out loud to myself, to the dad, to the world: “Hell no!”
“Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won't come in.” (Isaac Asimov)
Scrambled thoughts and mixed feelings filled my drive back home, and I kept thinking about “assumptions”. Even I was guilty. I assumed from previous experiences and from other coaches who kept telling me the same, that girls do not communicate as often in the game because they are social butterflies and are more concerned about their friendship with their teammates than actually playing the game.
Naturally I accepted this as a REALITY.
The expression “girls don’t talk on the soccer field” is one example of many kinds of comments that excuse, generalize, and correlate the lack of success of players to their gender. These expressions assume and limit girls’ ability to talk more or be more aggressive or be more creative. We all take up these expressions because that is how we were taught.
These expressions, this type of “talk” can create a lived reality. Our words shape how we think and act. In order to change our world, we need to recognize and change the ways we talk and think about girls on the soccer field.
Note: A lot of people thought it was “disrespectful” and "self-degrading" of Brandi Chastain to take her shirt off after scoring the winning goal at the Women’s World Cup in 1999. Although MANY male soccer players have done the same, the media accused Chastain of “shifting the focus away from football and the tournament ”. In that moment, so many people assumed a certain attitude from female athletes. The reality of those people did not allow women to express the way Brandi Chastain did.
I would like to think that it is my job to challenge these expressions, ideas, and beliefs. I watched a lecture from Ilyasah Shabazz (the daughter of Malcolm X) a couple of weeks ago and she said:
“We have a power and responsibility to reject what has been imposed”
I couldn't agree more. My coaching philosophy has changed in the last couple of years, especially after scrubbing my assumptions about girls not talking. When I watch my girls play and I see limitations and mistakes in their performance, I ask myself: Would I be okay if a male player acted this way? Would I ask more from a male player? Would I expect more? Is that a gender, personal, or biological limitation? In asking these questions, I am being careful to understand the assumptions that I have, and the reality I construct with the girls on my team.
Coaches, parents, and players who are reading this blog: What realities do you live in, and how do your assumptions create these realities?