As a father and coach of both boys and girls, I can attest that both groups can be very different. However, that doesn’t mean that they cannot complement each other when playing sports together, especially soccer.
When we started our recreational league, we did not have enough girls register for a summer fun league. This led us to the decision to either cancel the registration of several girls who wanted to play or ask the players and parents if they would be willing to play on a coed team. Overwhelmingly, the parents said they were fine with combining the groups. The ones that did not want to play were refunded their registration fees, but we were curious as to what their reasons were for not wanting their children to play in a coed league.
One parent was concerned that their daughter was too small compared to the boys her age. Another was concerned that the boys would be “better players” and that she would not have a good time since the boys would not play nicely with their daughter. I am glad to say that in all the games that we ran, neither of these issues came to be.
In general, until young boys and girls start to experience puberty, they are very similar in size and have similar physical attributes. Physical differences appear noticeable in girls first, usually around 10 to 12 years of age, with boys catching up about two years later. The American Academy of Pediatrics has published their opinion in their book “Bright Futures: Guidelines for Health Supervision of Infants, Children, and Adolescents.” They believe that during early adolescence, girls and boys can participate in competitive sports together. However, once the differences in weight and strength become great enough, coed activities should be limited to non-collision sports (Hagan, Shaw, & Duncan 2017.) Although soccer is a contact sport, it is not classified as a collision sport in United States medical terminology. The laws of the game of soccer do not allow for careless, reckless, or excessive force in any kind of contact, and actively discourages contact between players. Unlike American football, ice hockey, and lacrosse, girls playing soccer are not going up against boys twice their size and weight, crashing full force into each other as part of normal play.
Another benefit of placing girls and boys on the same team is that it helps to reduce gender stereotypes and preconceived notions about girls and women in sports (Flandreau 2015.) According to Jeffrey Rhoads, author of "The Joy of Youth Sports: Creating the Best Youth Sports Experience for Your Child," by allowing girls to compete alongside and against boys, it enhances their view of themselves and makes them more resilient (Rhoads 2009.) In addition, Laura Pappano, co-author of “Playing With the Boys: Why Separate Is Not Equal,” writes that gender segregation in youth sports too often dismisses female teams as inferior to male teams (McDonagh & Pappano 2008.)
By not separating players by sex or gender, they will all grow together and develop a better respect for each other. The opinions of experts in several fields outweigh the preconceived notions that girls are not skilled or strong enough to play with boys. With our league’s experiences over the last several seasons, we have been able to see for ourselves how well this is working for all players involved. This has led us to decide to continue having coed recreational programs, regardless of the number of players that register for our programs. We truly believe that we will end up with better players having more fun when we all play together.
Flandreau, Melissa. “Coed Sports: When Should Boys and Girls Play Separately?” ACTIVEkids, Active.com, 29 June 2015, www.activekids.com/parenting-and-family/articles/coed-sports-when-should-boys-and-girls-play-separately.
Haas, Katherine. “Mia Hamm, Other Soccer Greats to Coach Auburn Youth Camp Feb. 6-7.” OANow.com, 31 Jan. 2016, www.oanow.com/news/auburn/mia-hamm-other-soccer-greats-to-coach-auburn-youth-camp/article_6897c1d8-c7b1-11e5-97f4-c3e303e1e17a.html.
Hagan, Joseph F., et al. Bright Futures: Guidelines for Health Supervision of Infants, Children, and Adolescents. 4th ed., Bright Futures/American Academy of Pediatrics, 2017.
Makers. “Get to Know Abby Wambach, American Soccer Icon & Activist for Equality & Inclusion | The 2019 MAKERS Conference.” MAKERS, MAKERS, www.makers.com/videos/5c5b5fde497fa103c12e5e93.
McDonagh, Eileen L., and Laura Pappano. Playing with the Boys: Why Separate Is Not Equal in Sports. Oxford University Press, 2008.
Rhoads, Jeffrey. The Joy of Youth Sports: Creating the Best Youth Sports Experience for Your Child. Avaplay Press, 2009.
“What Are the Benefits of Girls & Boys Playing Sports on the Same Team?” LIVESTRONG.COM, Leaf Group, www.livestrong.com/article/494431-what-are-the-benefits-of-girls-boys-playing-sports-on-the-same-team/.