Keep Calm and Play On

Sophia Barnhart, our Summer 2014 Communications Intern, writes about her passion for soccer and competition. She sheds light on the gendered biases that exist within athletics, and she encourages us all to pursue what makes us happy to overcome these biases.

It’s no secret—I’ve always loved the thrill of competing.

Growing up, I was fortunate enough to have parents that supported my drive and encouraged me to play sports. I dabbled in many—softball, gymnastics, swimming, and tennis—but I wasn’t able to satisfy my passion for competition until I tried soccer. From learning how to kick a ball at six years old to returning to the pitch after a knee injury during my college varsity career, I’ve looked back at my time as a soccer player and realized that while positive for the most part, my experience probably would have been better if I were a boy.

Though I may not have realized it at the time, growing up as a female soccer player meant I had fewer opportunities to succeed. In middle school, while competing on a co-ed team, boys were rarely reprimanded for their rough playing style. On the other hand, in one game I was given two yellow cards—automatically translating to a red card and ejection from the game—for slide tackling two boys. Even last year, after my first year in college, my teammates and I faced discrimination while playing abroad in Europe. Although we were playing against international, professional teams, the women’s teams were forced to play on the worst fields of the complexes. While we were stuck with trying to play on “fields” that consisted of little more than dirt and potholes, male players were granted permission to play casually on the well-maintained turf fields.

Gender discrimination in athletics has long been an issue not just in the United States but around the world.

In an Empowering Women in Sports report, the Feminist Majority Foundation found that “our current model of athletics heavily favors only the ‘superboy’ athlete, leaving out women and all men who are not superstars.” Statistics from show that female sports do not carry the same weight as male sports. According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, male athletes get $179 million more in athletic scholarships each year than females do. Additionally, collegiate institutions spend just 24 percent of their athletic operating budgets on female sports, as well as just 16 percent of recruiting budgets and 33 percent of scholarship budgets on female athletes.

How can we gain respect for and empower girls and women in sports?

As a young female athlete, I myself encourage others to persist and pursue opportunities to compete and thrive in sports. There’s nothing quite like playing against a boys’ team and seeing the smirks on their faces fall into mouths hanging open as we score our first goal against them. During each annual girls’ football game at my high school, I earned the respect of the boys’ football coaches for the quality of my tackles and plays. By proving to those in doubt that girls can compete at the same level as boys, female athletes can not only squash preconceived notions about our caliber of play, but also be a part of the movement towards growth in women’s sports at all levels. Parents and coaches can put more support and resources into programs that further opportunities for female athletes, such as those run by GLI. Day by day, I see more progress in favor of female athletes: from stories of young girls breaking stigmas in male-dominated sports to media campaigns advocating that “playing like a girl” can also be equivalent to “playing to win.” Gender discrimination in sports may be starting to decline, but the battle is far from over. It’s only with our optimism and continued efforts that girls and boys alike will have equal opportunities to learn to love the thrill of playing.

  1. Ellen

    This is so true!


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