Mixed Gender On Youth Sports Teams

BY DR. VIRGINIA SAVAGE FOR FLORIDA TODAY

Although Little League baseball’s rules do not set limitations on gender, it has been widely accepted that at around age 7, boys begin to play baseball while girls opt for softball.
But, not everyone buys into that tradition. And, every year there are girls who insist they want to play baseball, even if it means being the only girl on the team.
Sport psychology consultant, Dr. Virginia Savage, feels that integrating Little League baseball is a great way to build the concept that everybody’s equal while offering girls who are motivated a more challenging venue to develop their skills.
“Research shows that girls on all-girl teams are not as prone to push themselves as much,” says Dr. Savage.
When they are on the field, the players take on their coach’s attitude.
Joe LeBlanc, the District 22 administrator who oversees all the Little League teams in North Brevard and whose daughter Katherine played on all-boy teams for four years, agrees that the best intentioned coaches still apply a double standard on the field.
“Coaches tend to be tougher with the boys while they lag back with what they expect from the girls,” Joe LeBlanc said. “They’re gentler with the girls.”
Katherine LeBlanc, who has grown up playing with Indian River City Little League with her two older brothers, said she feels that playing with the boys improved her game and gave her an extra boost of confidence.
“I actually liked it when they pushed me because it actually made me want to try harder,” Katherine, who made the All-Star team in the Majors in 2006, said. It was the same year she hit the ball over the fence in a county tournament game.
According to Dr. Savage, the best response a parent can have when their daughter asks to play on a boys’ team is to listen and keep those lines of communication open.
From there, parents should talk to coaches and attend a game or two, observing how they interact with the players. While some coaches only focus on outward appearance, others see underlying talent and build on that potential.
Even though girls don’t develop the body mass that boys do as they get older, “girls might make up for power with speed or they might be more accurate,” Dr. Savage, who advocates a positive attitude as the main ingredient for success, said. “You just find that talent and hone it.”
Joe LeBlanc said he recalls how coaches treated his daughter differently — until they realized she could hold her own with the boys.
“Initially, all the coaches treated her like a girl,” says LeBlanc. “But, eventually they saw that what she could do and pushed her just as hard.”
How hard to push depends on the girl and how motivated she is, but always encourage your children and evoke a can-do attitude.
Too often, instead of saying ‘you can do it,’ we say ‘don’t fail,’” Dr. Savage said. “But, children don’t hear ‘DON’T’ … just ‘FAIL.’”