Girls and Sport Mar 2022

I see in my neighbourhood weekly paper that girls’ registration at the Westmount Soccer Club has dropped “significantly.” Girls have not been registering at the soccer club at the same rate as boys. In 2020 the total number of players was 220, a third of them female. In 2022, there are 236 players, only 24% female. This is the lowest participation in U-12 he has seen.

Not even a year ago, the Canadian Women’s national soccer team won gold at the Tokyo Olympics, so you would think enrolment would have seen an upward tick reflecting that inspiration. Was it the pandemic?

A report on Canadian women and sport in 2021 found that one in four Canadian girls who had participated at least once a week in sport before Covid-19 had not returned when restrictions were lifted. Two of the five factors were, tellingly, “alternatives/other interests” and “lack of confidence.” The other factors were external: cost, quality of programs, etc. Since the same external factors had no effect on pickup of participation for boys, I count them as red herrings.

The WHS will continue to market to girls. One of their strategies will be to attract as many female coaches as possible on the assumption that girls led by girls leads to better retention. The newspaper entry ended on an upbeat note. The girls who are playing really love what they are doing. They lose more games than they win, but, as one girl wrote on Instagram, “It is not so bad because we are surrounded by people that we like.”

Her statement reflects a sport truism all women coaches know in their bones. In sport, boys will strive for higher performance in order to be accepted by the other boys. With girls, the acceptance must come first, because it is the acceptance that gives the confidence to strive for greater performance.

Our military certainly understands this precept. Which is why they know they don’t have to seduce the guys into signing up, because guys are naturally attracted to the military life, just as guys are naturally attracted to sport. Guys are competitive. Guys like to test themselves for strength, courage, endurance and risk-taking. Duhh. This is information nobody needs to be told. It comes with the testosterone.

The military brass have turned themselves inside out attempting to court women and make them feel welcome in order to beef up their numbers. Over the past 25 years, their efforts have paid off in a very modest way. In 1997, women in combat units constituted 0.6 of the CF membership. Today, it is 5.2% (I had this stat from a media query, since they no longer publish the women’s combat figures on their website. Which tells me they are embarrassed by their paltry gains in recruitment, in spite of wheelbarrows of money being thrown at the “problem.” )

They are presently making all the uniforms “gender neutral.” By that they mean they are ditching anything that resembles something only a woman might wear. So it isn’t really neutral, is it. It’s a man’s uniform which will be cut a little differently for the women.

Women like sport once you get them into it, but they often aren’t sure they will like it until they are coaxed into it, and made to feel welcome. A single bad experience at the entry level – bullying, shunning, mockery, whatever – and a girl will have no compunction about walking away from the sport. She won’t feel any shame. It’s the same with the military. Some exceptionally adventurous and competitive women may choose combat, but they are the minority. And, as amply documented in decorated Afghanistan war veteran James Hasson’s 2019 book, Stand Down: How Social Justice Warriors are Sabotaging America’s Military., women suffer way more injuries in training than men, and show way less appetite for actual combat than for training.

That’s because for boys and men, combat – whether it is play combat or for real – is bound up with manly honour. Honour is not something we talk about much in the West. We think it is a concept that died with the Edwardian era. It did die as a cultural virtue, but it did not die in the manly heart. It’s there, we just don’t talk about it.

It’s kind of weird that those of us who are fighting like mad to get biological males out of women’s sport have never spoken about the mirror world of combat. We know justice is on our side in sport, not only because males have an unfair physical advantage over women in terms of performance, but because their presence actively discourages women from participation in sport. As noted, women need to feel socially comfortable in their environment to produce their best results. Nothing is more discouraging than the knowledge that no matter how much grit and training and mental focus they give to their sport, it isn’t worth a damn against the hulking male body they are forced to compete against.

In combat, we have the opposite situation. Male soldiers – the kind who would never stain their honour by competing against women in sport because they are aware of how unfair that would be - are forced to voice woke platitudes about gender diversity, attesting to the falsehood that women are equally proficient and valuable in combat as men. There’s a lot to say about that, but I will save it for another post.