Recently, quite a bit of media attention has been focusing on wage inequality between men and women and the prospect of women joining military combat roles. While I don’t intend to add to these debates, I do think the current cultural climate is ripe for a discussion on female athletics. Specifically, I’d like to address the troubling lack of respect given to high school and collegiate female athletes. I’m not foolish enough to argue that females should participate as equals in male sports; the myriad of physiological differences between the sexes precludes such a silly proposition. However, I take issue with society’s insistence that female athletes are not worthy of the same recognition as their male counterparts.
In 2014, the Trinity College women’s lacrosse team won its fourth consecutive NESCAC Championship title and played in the NCAA Division III Championship Finals for the third year in a row. This year, they are ranked number 2 in the country, both by the NIKE and the Intercollegiate pre-season polls. Over a dozen Trinity women’s lacrosse players are from Massachusetts. Despite such an impressive resume, Massachusetts sports media has failed to empower our local female athletes.
This lack of recognition is most evidently demonstrated in high school and college athletics. In Massachusetts for instance, the publicity received by the best female lacrosse recruits in the state is far less than the publicity of their male counterparts. In 2014, 388 Massachusetts high school athletes committed to play DI, DII, and DIII collegiate lacrosse. Of those 388 athletes, 176 of them were female. Thus far in 2015, 127 Massachusetts high school boys and 77 high school girls have committed to play college lacrosse. None-the-less, one simple Google search of “Massachusetts best high school lacrosse recruits” returns two pages of men’s lacrosse players. A portion of the blame can be placed on the publication authors – specifically ESPN Boston and The Boston Globe. Massachusetts produces twice as many female college lacrosse as it does college football players. Despite this fact, local female athletes continue to fall victim to ratings, revenue, and popularity contests when it comes to media exposure.
The unfortunate result of this contrast is that people tend to see girls’ sports as hobbies rather than valuable athletic endeavors. While boys possess inflated perceptions of their collegiate opportunities, girls are consistently led to believe quite the opposite. This toxic logic infects all aspects of athletics, especially at the high school level – from the parents, to strength coaches, to the athletes themselves. Strength coaches don’t traditionally welcome/seek out/want to train females. The prospect of coaching girls intimidates most coaches, and most simply don’t know how to do so correctly.
Strength coaches promote skill sets and sport specific training programs but don’t take gender into consideration. The sports performance industry targets male athletes – specifically male athletes in mainstream sports. The simple truth is that females need to train differently. Training females like football players doesn’t make sense. Training female hockey players like male hockey players doesn’t make sense. Joint angles, movement forces, and musculo-skeletal integrity varies from gender to gender and sport to sport. Body composition, tissue integrity, and aerobic capacity all respond differently to gender based anatomy, physiology, and biomechanics.
Coaches and parents far too frequently misguide, misinterpret, or misinform female athletes about their true abilities and prospective opportunities. As a strength coach who enjoys working with female athletes, I find it completely compelling to oppose female athletes’ poor self-perceptions. Equally unfortunate is the fact that I find myself doing this constantly, because too many girls don’t have the self-confidence that their male peers have.
People have forgotten the true value of competitive athletics. There are few better schools for leadership development, self-discipline, and courage through adversity outside of competitive athletics. On a frequent basis, female high school athletes are extremely goal oriented, driven, borderline compulsive winners, who would do anything in their power not to let me down. If all college athletes approached every workout, practice, and game like our female high school athletes, then – and only then might we have true and current equality.