Girls Participation on Boys Sports Teams

By Samantha B.

There are many barriers that often effect a girl’s participation on a boys’ sports team. As discussed in class, some of these include not feeling like they are good enough because women are viewed as “the weaker sex” or that women should compete in more feminine sports like dance and gymnastics. However, it is not uncommon now to see a girl playing on a boys’ sports team. For example, Hayley Wickenheiser played with a men’s Swedish hockey team and Annika Sorenstam and Michelle Wie played in the all male PGA (McDonagh & Pappano, 2008).

The majority of the time girls are only allowed to play on boys’ sports teams when there is not a girls team being offered. However, more and more girls want to play on boys’ teams instead of girls’ teams because they often get more of an opportunity to become better athletes because boys’ sports programs are more developed than ones for girls. Courtney Greer played for her high school boys soccer team and said, “For me it was an opportunity to expand the skills that I have and improve as a player… It’s just the boys game is so different, and it allows me to develop in a whole different way.”

I grew up playing hockey in the boys’ league – I chose to play and continued to play in the boys league because I found that developmentally it was better for me as an athlete. Throughout my time playing on boys’ hockey teams, I have also played on girls’ teams, but only on competitive provincial teams or high school. Even though these teams are supposed to be competitive teams, I still never built as many skills as I did while playing on the boys, teams. The one developmental skill that I missed out on from playing with the boys that I did get while playing with the girls was the social aspect of sport. It wasn’t that I wasn’t welcomed by the boys or wasn’t friends with them, but having to get changed in a different dressing room than your team makes you miss out on some of the socialization of the sport and team camaraderie. When I played with the girls, I was in the dressing room socializing with them.

Most of the time girls who report being treated differently while playing with the boys are from the teams they are playing against and not the teams they are on.  However, when girls do play on boys teams, a lot of the time they have to prove themselves which can be discouraging for some. In the book  “Playing Ball with the Boys: The Rise of Women in the World of Men’s Sports” (2011) Ruth Riley says “… you can learn quickly that when you play with guys they’re not going to pass you the ball twice if you mess up the first time…” For some girls this has the potential to lower their self esteem and sense of self worth.

One of the key arguments brought up against girls playing on boys’ teams is the risk of injury for the girls because girls are viewed as “the weaker sex”. For some girls this may be true, however, females who are qualified to play these sports – even contact sports- should have the option to play where they like. These types of protests against girls playing with boys can potentially discourage even qualified females from even attempting to play on boys’ teams or participate in sports at all.

Further Reading:

McDonagh, E.L., & Pappano L.(2008) Playing With the Boys: Why Separate is not Equal in Sport. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Ross, B.M. & George, P. (2011) Playing Ball With the Boys: The Rise of Women in the World of Men’s Sports. Clerisy Press 2011

This entry was posted in Children, Gender, Positive Youth Development, Sport and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Girls Participation on Boys Sports Teams

  1. daleymatt says:

    This is a very interesting topic especially with the increase of girls playing in boy leagues today. Growing up in a small town made it impossible to not play on at least one coed sport. My hockey and basketball team both had girls playing on them. It was interesting because in most cases there were no rules against the girls playing on our team. That is until it was time to go to provincials and the comity told our coach that the girls were not allowed to play in the tournament. We thought this was totally unfair because they played the entire year with us and became part of the team. One of the girls was actually on our starting lineup and led the team in blocks and rebounding. My coach tried to fight it but with limited time he could not do anything and the girls were not allowed to play with us. I don’t think this was fair to the girls at all.
    In my opinion girls should be able to play on a men’s team if they choose to and are good enough. Samantha makes the point that most girls only play on boys’ team if the girls do not have a team of their own. I think that if the girl is talented enough or wants to take her skills to the next level then she should be able to play in the boy’s league. It should not matter if the girl has a team to play on or not. It should only matter if the girl is skilled enough to play in the boy’s league.
    The topic of girls being the weaker sex reminds me of a video I seen a while back. It is about a girl who is playing the boys hockey league. When a scuffle breaks out in front of the net and the only girl player starts to fight two boys. She doesn’t show any weakness in this video as she is the one who is throwing more punches. I am proud of her for protecting herself and proving to all the boys that she can handle herself on the ice.

  2. This is a very interesting topic covering gender equality in the sports perspective. It seemed like it used to be “black and white” with regard to male and female sports. They were always separated. I played baseball and hockey growing up and in my experiences I noticed a couple different things relating to gender treatment in each sport.

    When I played baseball I had some female friends who were excellent ball players. They were very quick and agile; also, they may not have been the big sluggers on the team but they could be tactical with their hits. In the later years of youth baseball I didn’t get to see them much because by the time I got to high school there seemed to be a divide where boys continued into bantam, midget, and high school divisions of baseball while the girls had to play Whip pitch. It was very similar to baseball but seemed to be only played by girls. There was no mixing of genders on the teams.

    Now when I played hockey, I did have two girls on my team when I was in high school. They had to get changed in a different locker room, they stayed in different rooms on road trips, and all that jazz but I thought they were a great asset to the team. They were the best defense(wo)men we had! Definitely our physical enforcers on the ice.

    I guess you just can’t judge a book by it’s cover…or sex for this matter. It could depend heavily on the sport in question as well.

    -Mackenzie M.

  3. shupealyssa says:

    Growing up, I was the only girl on the all-boys baseball team in the community, as well as the only girl on the High School Men’s Baseball team. If I did not play on the all-boys baseball team, there would be no place to play. For girls, there tends to be fewer opportunities for females striving to pursue their love of the game. However, growing up in a small town it was a very smooth transition from the girls’ sports teams to the boys’ sports teams. Not only did my fellow teammates accept me on their team, but they treated me with respect and as an equal. Some girls may experience negative tension on a male dominating playing field, which in turn could hinder their participation and or performance.

    Girls differentiate from boys by participating in “feminine” sports such as figure skating and gymnastics, while men compete in “masculine” sports such as hockey, baseball, and rugby. Masculine sports are perceived to require danger, team spirit, speed, commercialism, and strength while female sports involve aesthetics, advanced skills, and cognition. Therefore, if women were to participate in a “masculine” sport, they may be portrayed as lesbian or butch. These are assumptions in society and are directly related to the appearance of the athlete and the stereotypes given to gender appropriate sports.

    Fewer opportunities, gender-appropriate sports, and stereotypes seem to populate througout female sports.

    Great article!

    Alyssa S

  4. c4956 says:

    I think the difference in sexes should be irrelevant in youth sport. I am a firm believer that quality is above all else. If certain girls have the necessary quality to perform and not hold the boys’ team back, then let them join. Now, many people would eagerly snap at my statement of “holding the team back”, and accuse it already being sexist. But isn’t that what competitive sport is all about, as a whole? A boy playing on a boys’ team who is not on the same skill level as everyone else will either not play much or get cut from the team. The exact same thing can be said for girls’ teams.

    When I was in high school, there was one female soccer player who stood above the rest. She played on provincial teams and was attending the National Training Center in Halifax. Even though she was more than capable of playing with the boys, she was blocked from joining the team because of the existence of a girls’ high school team. Luckily for her, the next year, there was no more girls’ team due to lack of interest. Therefore nothing was prohibiting her from joining the boys. While technically it worked out fine in the end, the fact that she was good enough to play in the beginning should have been reason enough to play.

    As it was mentioned, there are some social factors that came along with a girl playing on the boys’ team. The opposition would stare during warm-up and make comments during the game. However, much to our delight, all cynics were shut down as she was a starter on a team that won practically every game!


  5. brendanlane2 says:

    I can understand, to some degree, the purpose in separating gender at the highest levels of competition. Once you get up to top-tier events, the results from male competitors are almost always higher/faster/etc. than those of the female competitors, due mostly to genetics. Separating sports based on gender works at this level because it allows a more even playing field for men and women to compete in.

    That is the only possible situation I can think of in which gendered sports are absolutely necessary. In any other scenario, the team should be composed of the best players for that team. If that is a mix of girls and boys, that’s perfectly fine. I grew up in a very small town in northern Manitoba, and there were no boys/girls teams until high school; everything before that was a coed team. The kids didn’t have a problem with it because they had grown up in the coed teams and just assumed that was how it normally worked. I remember being surprised when I moved to Fredericton and saw that my middle school had a football team with only boys on it. If there is a person who is better suited for another person for a position on a team, it only makes sense that they should have that position.


  6. It is interesting to see how far sport has come over the generations regarding gender equality. Although we have not completely equaled the playing field, women are able to participate in many sports that previously they were not allowed. When discussing female participation on male sports teams, there is always the defense that females are more likely to have physical and psychological repercussions. If the child feels that they are going to gain a better experience or better training then I say why not allow her the chance to play? Injuries occur in every sport, whether it is from physical contact or over straining of muscles, joints and bones. In regards to youth, there are many schools who do not have the budget to allow for each sport to have a men’s and women’s team, if this is the case for the sport of a females choosing the only way for her to play is on the men’s team.
    I can understand that there are many social and emotional barriers to overcome if a female choses to participate on a men’s team. There would be isolation, and she would have to likely comply with the social stereotype of acting more masculine. Even though their experience would be different from participating on a female team, they still gain the skills and developmental assets by participating. It is important that the team is accepting and that everyone treat her no differently then any other player. I can understand why a female may think they would have a better chance at progressing further in the sport from being on a men’s team. Many professional leagues and college teams have more promotion, income, and opportunities for athletes to advance in their sports career. Even though the theme of youth sports is fun, there is always an emphasis on being the best, and pressure to progress to your highest capabilities. In sport and athlete must do what it takes to win, they compete through injuries, push their bodies and break social stigmatism’s to get to where they want to go.


  7. s33ue says:

    This post relates very personally to myself as growing up I played on a boys hockey team. There was controversy from some of the other team members, however it was most likely not because I was a female, but because I was surpassing him in playing time. I found that throughout my time on a boys hockey team, the boys never made many comments about me being a girl, but expressed more jealousy when I was receiving more playing time than them. This could be due to the fact that we were ten to twelve year olds, and I was the only female. They may have felt threatened by being “beaten” by a girl or having a girl become better than them. There are barriers that come with being a girl on a boys team. From my experience in hockey, you were not allowed to get dressed in the same dressing room, which often viewed many complications when we were travelling. There were times I would get changed in the hallway outside of the room because it was not feasible to have another room. Depending on the female, it can be difficult to handle some of the comments that can be made due to being a girls on a boys team. However, in the long run I believe that in a sport context it is beneficial and a positive experience for a girl to participate on a boys team, if she is capable of doing so.

    I think that from a developmental standpoint if a girl is capable of playing on a boys team, whether it be a contact sport or not, she should have the opportunity to. Regardless if youth are playing on a team subject to their sex, both sexes will get better by playing with individuals who are better players than them. For females in particular, if they excel on a female team, they have a better opportunity to advance their knowledge and skill for the game by playing on a boys team.

    Overall, youth in sport deserve the opportunity to better their playing skills and advance with those are at the same level, regardless of their sex. I think this is a very interesting topic and agree with many of the points you made. Excellent blog post!

    Gina R.

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