Same-sex vs.coed sport, which is better?

When I was six years old, I played recreational soccer, and one of my teammates was named Jamie Moss. Jamie Moss was a very good soccer player, running confidently down the field with the ball, legs pumping, hair flying. Jamie Moss scored a lot of goals, and rarely passed the ball to me or anyone else. As the season went on, I grew to dislike and resent Jamie Moss.

Given that this was decades ago, it won’t surprise you to hear that it was a coed league, and Jamie Moss was a boy. Still, would it have made a difference if an all-girls program had existed at the time? A female Jamie Moss could have been an equally problematic ball hog.

If you’re a parent of a four- to six-year-old, and you’re looking to register him or her for an organized sports program, which is a better choice: coed or same-sex?

Last year, my four-year-old son played T-ball in our local minor baseball program, which is coed at the house league level. As it turned out, five of the 12 players on his team were girls, decked out in pink helmets, pink gloves, and pink cleats. But they were far from being stereotypical “girly girls.” They came to play. And, because they were older and bigger than my son, they could run faster, throw harder, and hit the ball farther than he could. In many of the games, they carried the day and were instrumental in the team’s success. When one of the girls was up to bat, there were no outdated notions of “Oh, it’s a girl, everyone move in.”

I thought it was awesome.

As a mom and a female who plays sports, I was glad my son was witnessing first-hand that girls can play, and play well. Since he frequently sees all-male professional sports on TV, this was a welcome chance for him to view “playing like a girl” as a positive thing, and to treat teammates as teammates, regardless of helmet colour.

My older son has played baseball in both coed and non-coed formats. He had a few female teammates during his house league years and now, at age nine, is on an all-boys rep team. His enjoyment of being “one of the guys” has made me wonder if it’s the same story on youth teams that are exclusively female. For another parent’s perspective, I consulted Liz Richardson, whose daughters are the same ages as my sons (and attend the same school). Both girls play softball in the girls-only Waterloo Minor Girls Softball Association, and Liz has coached in the organization for the past five years.

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“I have found with a team of the same sex that the players generally have the same mindset, and the same level of competitiveness,” Liz says. “The friendships they make are an important part of it, too. The girls become so close because they can just gel.” She says another advantage is that team-building and social events can be more specific to the kids’ interests.

For sports involving locker rooms, such as hockey or swimming, there is an obvious need for separate changing areas. Liz says she’s grateful to be able to sidestep some of the peer awkwardness as the kids get older: “I hate to admit it, but the nine-year-olds are getting to the age where some of the girls are noticing the boys, and by being on an all-girls team, we avoid that drama.”

As with most parenting decisions, trust your instincts about what is right for your child at his or her current age and stage. As kids are starting out, the important thing is that they’re playing, not really who they’re playing with.