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Breaking Gender Stereotypes in Sports

Boys play football and girls ice skate. Right? Isn’t this how it goes when it comes to sports – there are boys’ sports and then the ones that girls participate in. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Even though we’ve come a long way since the days when girls stood on the sidelines cheering for the ‘big, strong boys’, gender stereotypes still persist. What can you do as a parent or a coach to break down these biases that ring false?

Avoid Stereotyped Speech

“You throw like a girl!” How many times have you heard that one? It’s the middle of baseball practice and one of the boys gently tosses the ball. It totally misses its target. Suddenly someone (it could be another child, a parent, or even a coach) makes this gendered statement. It’s so common, that you might not even think twice about it. But, what does it even mean anyway? Are girls so weak that they can barely throw a ball? Little League superstar Mo’ne Davis would probably have something to say about that.

Along with watching what you say, stay on the lookout for other people’s gendered speech. If you overhear a child spouting off stereotypes, don’t immediately jump in and yell. Stop the child and ask them what they mean and why they said it. In some cases, the child might be repeating something they heard (and have no idea what it truly means). Discuss why it’s not okay to speak this way, why this type of talk is insulting and how both girls and boys can play sports – all sports.

Be a Role Model

Who says that only dads can coach baseball or that mom’s role is to hand out the after-game snacks? Acting as a role model is an easy way to show your child, or your team, what you mean when you say, “We don’t believe in gender stereotypes.”

Asking a few of the moms to coach or help coach (or volunteering yourself) shows the players that women can be just as knowledgeable and ‘into’ sports as men are. This type of traditional (in other words, stereotyped) role reversal helps girls to see that they can do anything a boy can do, while at the same time showing boys that females can be strong sports figures.

Look to the Pros

Professional sports figures have an almost superhero-like status, especially when it comes to how kids view them. Use this to teach your child (or your team) that gender stereotypes shouldn’t exist. Do some biographical work and take a look at some of the most powerful, famous and influential women in sports history. This includes super-star sisters Venus and Serena Williams, Monica Abbott, Rhonda Rousey, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Maria Sharapova, Mia Hamm, Billie Jean King and many, many others.

Yes, learning about these awesome athletes gives your little girl a boost when it comes to being confident in a woman’s ability. But, it’s equally as important that boys learn about these fabulous female figures too. They need to know that men aren’t the only ones who dominate in the athletic arena.

Try a Boys-and-Girls League

Some sports leagues/classes don’t differentiate between boys’ and girls’ teams. If you have the opportunity to try one of these out, take it. This shows both young boys and girls that they can play the same sports, in the same way, at the same time. It breaks the gender stereotypes and forces kids to realize that they’re all equal when it comes to game play.

So, the next time your son says, “That boy runs like a girl” or your daughter says, “Eww football! That’s for boys,” turn their ideas around. Let them know that men and women (or boys and girls) can all be athletes – no matter what the game is!