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Why girls need their own teams

Research shows that participation in sports drops significantly for females 14 to 18 years old. So, how can we keep young females participating in sports? A big factor is creating positive experiences early on.

Since the 1972 enactment of Title IX, which protects people from sex discrimination, fostering positive experiences in sports has been a topic of interest for many, including me. Research has shown that females respond differently to coaching, they react differently to winning and losing and they are motivated to remain in sports for different reasons than their male peers.

Psychologist Louann Brizendine describes how hormonal differences between females and males influence brain function in her book, "The Female Brain.To summarize her findings, in general: 

  • males respond to actions; females respond to feelings
  • males need to know what to do; females need to know why
  • males tend to want to be the star of the team; females want to be part of a team that gets along
  • males are attracted to the competitive aspects; females are motivated by the social opportunities sports provide

Parents and coaches need to be aware of these distinctions when working with young athletes, to build positive athletic experiences and create lifelong participants.

In 2015, I sponsored the Women's Cyclocross Project, the first females-only bike racing team for 17 to 23 year olds. Founder Corey Green said he established the females-only team because his 17-year-old daughter and her female teammates needed a different training and competition atmosphere to be successful cyclocrossers. Green found the following when young women competed on the mixed gender teams: 

  • management decisions were usually based on the needs of the males, not the females
  • females were not as forceful when asking for equipment upgrades, mechanical changes or gear modification
  • males got mad and were verbal about a bad race experience, while the females got quiet and needed time to process before they were ready to talk about their performance
  • females were more comfortable celebrating a win as a team

I witnessed the greatest example of female-team support at a Cyclocross event in Lexington, Kentucky. Two young women from the Women's Cyclocross Project were in first and second position. Just yards before the finish, a stick got wedged in the leader's bike derailleur, causing it to break and making her bike not rideable. The finish line was in sight; she began running, carrying her bike. The second place competitor caught up to her, but instead of passing her for the victory, she slowed and rode next to her. She said later that she didn't feel right about passing because she thought her teammate deserved the win. In the face of adversity, these young women demonstrated commitment to their teammates, which is a great life lesson.

Next time you're at a sporting event for your child, consider his or her unique needs, and what you can do to support an awesome athletic experience for a life full of sports, participation and fun.


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