Masculinity and team building

Much of my research is centered around the idea of engaging men to prevention violence against women and children. As part of my learning about male engagement and gender justice, I’ve been exploring ideas of masculinity, gender and sex roles, socialization, etc. So, of course, I filter many of my interactions with men through this lens.

Recently, I was at my daughter’s cross-country end of the year banquet. This was her first year in cr0ss country and my first experience in the foray of school athletics. I have been so impressed with her coaches and their work with the girls that I beam with pride at every meet. The head coach has a team philosophy in that all girls work together (varsity and junio varsity), they cheer every runner to the finish line, and any win is a win for the entire team (47+ girls). Basically he (the coach) fosters a family environment for the girls where community and team work are priority. Of course, I love this. I love the idea of healthy competition joined with community and team building. Isn’t this what sports should be about?

Okay so back to the banquet. The banquet consisted of both the girls and boys teams’, their families, and the coaches coming together in the high school cafeteria/common area to share a meal, watch a slide show of the season, and celebrate the successes of both teams. As we finished eating, the slide show began–ladies first. The slide show consisted of sweet songs by the Taylor Swift like performers, with 2 slides for each female runner–one of a picture of them with their stats and then another with cameo pictures. After the girls, then the boys slide show began. I was immediately struck with the fact that the first song was “Eye of the Tiger.” The boys slide show consisted of only pictures and what I would label more aggressive or adrenaline soaked songs.  I notes this to myself and thought hmmm…interesting.

Then the awards ceremony begins. Again, ladies first. The head girls coach gets up and presents the awards. He notes that the team voted on some awards and the coaches picked some based on stats. Then the boys coach gets up to present the awards. For almost every award the team voted on, the boys coached trumped their choice and chose his own winner. Again, I noted this in my head.

Finally, we get to the part where the captains get up to speak about the year and thank the supporters. This time, the boys go first. The first a boys’ captain speaks about how hard it was to have “little 7th and 8th graders running around” and that sometimes they get “out of line” in which he “must smack them.” The audience laughs. He then goes on to say talk about how the coach shakes his head at these 7th and 8th grades and basically says “do what you have to do.” I was struck with horror. Then one of the girls’ captain gets up to speak. She begins with talking about how much of the team is like a family to her, how much fun they had, how much she will miss the team after she graduates,  the support of the other girls, and hastily remembers to thank the coaches and parents before finishes. Wow!

There was such a startling difference in the obviously different approaches by each coach. I’m so surprised. I’m not sure why though. The overly macho and aggression in the boys team versus the girls team probably isn’t new. And I know that coaching philosophy plays a huge role in the mood and attitude of the team. I feel sad for the boys that their experience isn’t more community based. I wonder what they are missing. I wonder how it would look if they were coached using the same philosophy as the girls’ coach uses. Would there be drastically different attitudes and results? After all, the entire girls varsity team competed in state with 2 girls qualifying individually and 1 coming in first place. The boys had 2 boys qualify and 1 coming in the 4th place.  I think both teams did well, but it says something when a whole team qualifies to compete together.

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