Perpetuating Myths

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Last night I read an article that will appear in the New York Times Sunday Magazine on Sunday May 11 called “The Uneven Playing Field” by Michael Sokolove. It is an excerpt from a book called “Warrior Girls: Protecting Our Daughters Against The Injury Epidemic in Women’s Sports.” When I read the article last night I was taken aback. My first reaction was shock, then disgust and then anger. Read this excerpt and I will follow with my thoughts:

Girls and boys diverge in their physical abilities as they enter puberty and move through adolescence. Higher levels of testosterone allow boys to add muscle and, even without much effort on their part, get stronger. In turn, they become less flexible. Girls, as their estrogen levels increase, tend to add fat rather than muscle. They must train rigorously to get significantly stronger. The influence of estrogen makes girls’ ligaments lax, and they outperform boys in tests of overall body flexibility – a performance advantage in many sports, but also an injury risk when not accompanied by sufficient muscle to keep joints in stable, safe positions. Girls tend to run differently than boys – in a less-flexed, more-upright posture – which may put them at greater risk when changing directions and landing from jumps. Because of their wider hips, they are more likely to be knock-kneed – yet another suspected risk factor.

Sure there are physical differences, but the more we accentuate them the bigger they will be. Today the young female is severely short changed because of the constant stream of information like that presented in this article. Unfortunately this is what the parents, coaches and the girls themselves read and believe.

To a certain extent the next paragraph is true:

This divergence between the sexes occurs just at the moment when we increasingly ask more of young athletes, especially if they show talent: play longer, play harder, play faster, play for higher stakes. And we ask this of boys and girls equally – unmindful of physical differences. The pressure to concentrate on a “best” sport before even entering middle school – and to play it year-round – is bad for all kids. They wear down the same muscle groups day after day. They have no time to rejuvenate, let alone get stronger. By playing constantly, they multiply their risks and simply give themselves too many opportunities to get hurt.

Why am I upset? Because once again we totally miss the point. Don’t set the bar lower because they are girls. Set the same expectation for training as the boys. Girls do respond to training. Come and see the Venice Girls Volleyball team and you will see girls with muscles. They train and work at it year around. They prepare to play, not just play the game and practice the skill. The girls who performed poorly on the Athletic Profile have specific remedial work to do. There are different training groups based on the specific training task that day, one size does not fit all.

Sure once past puberty females have a different endocrine hormonal profile than men, that does not mean they do not have the capacity to train and subsequently adapt to that training, it is not a fait accompli that they will get hurt. This whole article overlooks several key factors, not the least of which is the fact that in long term athlete development process the female athlete is victimized by a system that throws them into competition and skill development before they have the physical base of preparation. They over compete and under train and are coached by coaches that have no formal training as coaches and do not understand the needs of the female athlete. The system or lack thereof rewards the more aggressive girls who develop earlier and does not take into account the girl who not as aggressive. In addition there is an incessant search for athletic scholarships that causes the girls to over compete to showcase their talents.

There are some simple solutions:

  • Improve the quality of coaching.
  • Limit the number of competitions a girl can compete in until physical benchmarks are achieved.
  • Institute daily mandatory physical education Kindergarten through twelfth grade.
  • Recognize that the female athlete must strength train year around.

All the BS about different landing and running mechanics is just that, pure bull shitake. Poor landing and running mechanics 99% of the time are due to lack of strength, the ability to handle their own bodyweight. You can blame lack of core strength, whatever that is, but it is really a lack of strength throughout the entire kinetic chain. There must be a daily investment in strength training as part of warm-up that includes exercises that are mindful and proprioceptively demanding. Training is a year around proposition, not just something you do six weeks before the start of the season for thirty minutes three times a week. The answer lies in commitment to a consistent athletic development program that encompasses the lifespan of the female athlete. Seven year olds beginning to play should have activities that challenge balance and proprioception coupled with strength oriented movements that require control of body weight in multiple planes.

We do not need more articles like this. We need more practical high quality information in the hands of the parents; coach’s and teachers so they can be more aware and better prepare the girls for the rigors of training and competition.
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Vern Gambetta

Vern Gambetta

Director at Gambetta Sports Training Systems
Vern is the Director of Gambetta Sports Training Systems. He has been the a conditioning coach for several MLS teams as well as the conditioning consultant to the US Men's World Cup Soccer team. Vern is the former Director of Conditioning for the Chicago White Sox and New York Mets. He has lectured and conducted clinics in Canada, Japan, Australia and Europe and has authored six books and over one hundred articles related to coaching and sport performance in a variety of sports. He has a BA in teaching with a coaching minor and an MA in Education with an emphasis in physical education from Stanford University.
Vern Gambetta

@coachgambetta

Athletic Development Coach & Consultant. Founder of GAIN Network. Proud dad. Love to read everything.
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