Last Tuesday, my 7-year-old daughter was holding back tears when I picked her up from soccer camp. In the car, she confessed that the boys on her “World Cup” scrimmage team were refusing to pass to her and were complaining that they were going to lose because they had a girl on their team. The next day, we talked to the coach, who agreed to address it.
“Where are these boys learning to act this way?” I wondered.
Later that day, I stumbled on an answer. Passing through the park, I overheard a coach asking a group of older kids soccer trivia questions. “Here’s a question for the girls, since they don’t watch soccer,” he said. “What color is Winnie the Pooh?” (Not-fun fact: While women represent 40 percent of athletes, women’s sports receive 4 percent of media coverage.)
I began staying to closely watch what I was now privately referring to as “soccer and sexism” camp, but over the next couple of days my concern shifted from worrying about our girls to worrying about our boys.
Teams were rearranged so that there were two all-girl teams that, in the end, came in first and second in their “World Cup.” I observed the girls communicating, strategizing, passing the ball, cheering each other’s victories, and comforting each other after mistakes. Thanks to the encouragement of her teammates, my daughter ended the week by confidently running up to the boys on her old team and stealing the ball from them to pass to her teammates, helping earn her team the win. Meanwhile, the boys seemed more often to be jockeying for recognition and channeling embarrassment or frustration into lashing out and fighting. As far as I observed, the coach never spoke to the boys about their poor team spirit.
These kids will probably never play in the real World Cup, but all of them need to learn to work as a team, handle frustrations, and learn from mistakes. My daughter learned this week that success comes from working as a team. I wonder what the boys in her camp learned.