Play Ball!

My first experience with team sports was playing on my ward Young Women softball team at age twelve. I was hopelessly clumsy.  Whenever I hit the ball, which was certainly never a given, I would run with track star speed for that first base, but since I almost always hit a slow grounder directly toward the first basewoman, my efforts were futile.  If the coach played me at all, she would send me to right field, the place the ball was least likely to go.  Sometimes I considered quitting, but my teammates begged me to come so they wouldn’t forfeit. Community obligation and peer pressure kept me coming; I prevented my team from forfeiting but I made them lose.

My dad, who is quite the baseball player and who had already garnered a few years of coaching experience with my younger brother’s little league teams, tried to catch me up with the other girls, but it was too late. Eventually I became fairly accurate at throwing, but unfortunately, baseball requires other skills, too, like batting and catching, and I just couldn’t figure those out.

baseballI hope that my own daughter will not find team sports to be such a trial for her as they were for me.  Luckily, she does not appear to have inherited my natural clumsiness. But just in case, my game plan is to start her in sports young, when all kids are clumsy, so she won’t be as behind as I was when I started Young Women’s and middle school sports.

That was my line of thinking when I signed her up for co-ed, coach-pitch baseball at the local rec center last year, at age 7.  When my husband learned what I had done, he seemed kind of frantic, muttering things like, “I need to teach her to hit.  She’ll need a nice mitt.”  I wondered if my theory about team sports being lower pressure if you began young was actually correct.

I became more nervous when I arrived at the park on the first day of practice and saw scores of parents leading little boys to the field. When we found her team, a boy shouted, “We have a girl on our team?”  Sure enough, she was the only girl.

“She’s probably the best one,” replied the coach.  I appreciated the coach’s support but I worried.  Would my daughter have to be the best to get respect from her all-male teammates?

After the first practice, we waited for my son’s T-ball game to begin.  Another boy from my daughter’s team was also hanging around and invited her to hit some balls with him.  I was encouraged as I watched the two of them play.

On picture day, a few of the boys told my daughter to get out of the photo because baseball is for boys.  The coach did not put up with this behavior at all; whatever he said to my daughter’s teammates adequately shamed them into profuse apologies and ideal behavior for the rest of the season.  Still, my daughter was devastated by the incident.

This year, I found her a girls-only softball league.  I liked the idea of having her learn to compete with boys at a young age, before the boys got bigger and stronger than her, but I think she would have been more comfortable on a truly co-ed team, not one in which she was the only girl.  So far, so good.  She is enjoying herself and is already well beyond the skill level of twelve-year-old me. (Of course, that is not a very tough milestone to surpass.)

April Young Bennett

April Young Bennett is an advocate, mother, professional, lover of the arts, hater (but doer) of housework and seeker of truth. Twitter: @aprilyoungb

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6 Responses

  1. X2 Dora says:

    I was just talking with someone the other day about how beneficial sports can be to young girls. I think that when girls learn to develop a physical skill that they care about, they are much less likely to do things that would hurt their chances at achieving excellence. Things like drugs, smoking, and unprotected sexual activity that can lead to STDs or teenage pregnancies. Plus, it gives these girls something to excel at. Wins all around!

  2. EmilyCC says:

    What a shame that the team wasn’t actually co-ed. My boys have played on co-ed soccer teams, and it’s usually a good distribution of boys and girls with everyone at about the same level. I really like that.

    I’m horrible at sports, and I used to think it was because I wasn’t athletic. Now I wonder if some of it is because I was generally steered towards dance as a way to get exercise while my brothers tried different sports (P.S. I’m not a dancer and had plenty of opportunities to find that out!).

    My spouse has remarked that it’s good for them to all play together before the boys start getting better than the girls. I wonder how applicable that will be to the younger generation when both genders get the same time practicing at the same sport. While boys will be bigger and stronger in general, I wonder we can start to see a turn-around in our culture’s conditioning that would girls to find and work on skills they have (agility or a different way of thinking about the game perhaps).

  3. Melody says:

    Ouch. But good for you for giving her this opportunity.

    My daughter started playing community soccer at age 3 or 4. No girls played at all back then (20+ years ago) until she was around 6–then a few girls started showing up on teams here and there. She loved it. Played all through high school and on 2 club teams. She became a student athletic trainer at her high school. Her self confidence and physical engagement with the world was profoundly impacted by her involvement with sports. She was entirely comfortable either as a competitor on the women’s team or as a trainer for the men’s teams. And the social/team aspect made her an amazing “team player” in so many ways.

    I still cherish the moment when the 5-year-old boys made the mental connection that she was the only girl on any of the teams at the time. One of her team mates said something about it: “She plays better than the boys.”

    No doubt, your daughter will find her niche.

    Hang in there. Good mommy.

  4. Emily U says:

    I don’t know if it’s a micro culture shift or what, but I know more girls in team sports at a younger age than when I was a kid. My sister has 5 girls and the oldest two are pretty awesome at softball. The younger ones probably will be, too.

    I hated team sports,. Probably because I’d never done any until I was forced to play church volleyball at age 12. The plan for our son and daughter is to put them in more or less the same sports: soccer, swimming, and maybe tennis and/or basketball (yes, the goal is to be mediocre at a bunch of sports rather than a slave to one). Then they can be equally incensed if forced to play church volleyball. Which probably won’t happen because as far as I know my stake has zero youth sports. Is that common?

    • Em says:

      We don’t have any stake sports, I rejoice to say.

    • Rachel says:

      When I was in high school my Stake still had basketball. I played (and wanted to play), but our team was often too small, which meant my mom would pay my sister to play (who really didn’t want too), just so I could. And we always lost. Except maybe once…

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