Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Why I say "Girls" or "Boys" and not "Mens" and "Womens" in High School Athletics

There is a Chinese proverb: "The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right name." This truth statement extends beyond calling "a spade a spade." It speaks to the power of words, how we use them and for what purpose. Titles, names, descriptors—all of these words help us to know and understand someone or something. I've heard a wise person knows what he or she does not know. Well, a wise person refers to a person, place or thing with the right name, too. And so it is in this context that I must share my struggle with a name/term that is used often in high school sports: "men" or "women." 
I love these girls....
Looking at the Fall sports schedule, on the Athletics pages of most high school websites, you will find a roster for "men's and women's cross country" or the names of the head coaches for "men's and women's water polo." On my own school's website, I had to change the start date for "women's golf." Such necessary and important information doesn't make me pause, but, I look at these web pages with a discerning eye and I am often uncomfortable and unsure of myself. How? Why? I'm not convinced we should use the word "men" or "women" to describe high school athletics.

The question I raise has nothing to do with gender identity. Rather, I struggle with calling a 14-year-old girl or a 15-year-old boy a "woman" or a "man." As a coach, I work very closely with 10 young women who are anything but women. They are (still) very young; I don't see that as a bad thing. They are still growing, their brains are still developing, their hearts and minds still expanding! They don't even know what they don't know, there's so much to learn. Teenagers may not be children, but they are not adults.

It took me a good bit of time and maturity to become comfortable with the word "woman". To me, that term carries with it more than what the word "adult" does. I suppose there are societal expectations, norms and mores, ideas and generalizations that give it an added weight. Some are appropriate and fitting, others might be up for grabs, but I can only speak for myself: becoming a woman takes time and it should. To place the responsibilities that come with it on a young person before their time is a disservice to them and to society. 
When people ask me what I coach, I tell them "girls' golf." I have coached "girls cross country and girls' crew." I sincerely believe I have a responsibility to transport the girls / young women in my care through experiences that can provide them with a stronger sense of who they are and who they are meant to be. This is a core belief in my coaching philosophy. In due time, they will become women. It doesn't happen overnight or in an instant, nor does it happen their freshman and sophomore year.

Do I think that all high school sports should use the word(s) "boys" and "girls" to describe their sports? What about varsity sports that often include young men and women who are 17 and 18 years old, often mature, developed, tall, strong and confident? I'm not sure. I think our language has its limitations and I see that in my role as a coach of a girls' sport. But I also think this idea and the responsibility that comes with it merits further discussion. Let me know.

PS: I HATED the term Lady Irish or Lady Vols to describe women's basketball. 
I'm glad to see this descriptor go away....

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