June 28, 2012
Most of our children begin playing soccer in a co-educational setting where boys and girls are rostered on the same teams. The experiences of playing co-ed are varied. It is important to determine when we need to separate the genders as they progress in soccer programs.
To Play Co-Ed or Not: That is the Question
The reason why many youth soccer organizations created co-ed leagues was probably due to the fact that there was not enough children interested in the sport at that time. Now that we are seeing a boom in enrollment numbers, from our Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten players, should we take the time to evaluate the pros and cons associated with playing co-ed?
I have been on both sides of the fence for this debate question. On one hand, especially at the start of learning any new sport, boys and girls are developing their skill acquisition at close to the same rate. On the other hand, we may see that over time one group may progress at a faster rate, be bigger, or be stronger. When we create co-ed teams are we sacrificing the learning of the lesser ability player? Do we discourage the smaller/weaker players? Do we halt the development of the higher ability players because they may feel like they need to be more passive as to not hurt or make the others on their team feel bad? All valid questions that need to be addressed.
There are many challenges whenever we are developing and creating leagues at the developmental levels. Recently, I observed the very issues/challenges mentioned at the start of this post during a co-ed 1st Grade Basketball League. I was very concerned with variety of sizes and skill levels of the children on the teams. Some boys were smaller than the girls, some girls were more talented than the boys, and there was a mix of attention levels. While watching the practices and the ensuing game, one point struck me: the boys were only passing to the boys and the girls were starting to feel left out. The coach quickly responded by stopping play to make sure the “open player” was the one who was getting the pass not just the closest boy. But this was not the case on the other team. It became clear that only two players were really involved in the plays and the coach did not resolve the issue by encouraging that the passes go to the other players on the team.
When I have coached co-ed teams I use one fun practice game to get the children to start to think about just passing to their teammates who are open.
The set-up of the passing activity:
- In a small grid, each player has a ball.
- The players are asked to dribble the ball around the space without “crashing” into others.
- On the coaches command the players switch (pass) balls with another player.
- Then, we can add different commands:
- Switch with a girl
- Switch with a boy
- Switch with a kid who has black cleats
- Create your own creative restriction
The outcome of this fun and simple session is that the players just try to pass the ball and everyone is included.
During game time, we as coaches do need to spend time teaching players not only about the skills of the game but about field awareness. Field awareness constitutes knowing where the empty spaces are and where to find open players on their team. Coaches can create positive experiences.
When we start to organize teams and leagues must we examine the enrollment numbers so that we have equal numbers of males and females on each team? In this particular basketball league, as an example, there were a number of all male teams even though there were many females who could have been disbursed throughout the teams. Would a better solution have been to create a mini-league for the girls only? From my own count, the league could have supported 4 or 5 all girl teams in order to create a bit more parity in the games, which in the end, equates to a better experience of learning and skill development for all.
We need to consider the experience we are creating for boys and girls. We want to get the most from the time we spend with these young athletes. Developmentally we want the athletes to get better and to learn all aspects of the game as early as possible. If we have talented young boys or girls, we want them to continue to excel and not feel hampered because of the setting we have crafted for them. When is the time to start playing on single gender teams? The debate will go on…..girls benefit from playing with boys and boys benefit from playing with girls. Perhaps the issue rests with the adults who run these leagues? Perhaps the adults need to understand how to “create positive learning experiences” regardless of what gender or genders we are working with.