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Should There Be Mixed Gender Sports?

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Recently, my 6-year-old nephew was in a wrestling competition. He was doing great—and then he had to compete against a girl. The girl cried the entire match. For the first few moments, my nephew didn’t know what to do. Every time he tried to make a move, the girl would cry harder. After each episode, he looked around at the refs, his parents, the crowd. Finally, after several instances of this and no let-up on the crying, my sister-in-law encouraged him to make his move and wrestle her.

She wanted the match to be over because she could see how uncomfortable and confused her son was. He took down the girl, won the wrestling match, and moved on in the competition. The girl never stopped crying. When I found out about this, I was frustrated for my nephew. And I was confused about how the situation should have been handled. Boys and girls playing on mixed gender sports teams is different from a boy wrestling a girl. So how do we, as parents, teach our kids how to handle competing in mixed gender sports? Should they even be allowed?

It’s confusing.

My boys are in jiu-jitsu and when they first started the sport, I didn’t know how I felt about them sparring one-on-one with girls. I’m still a little uneasy about it. It’s hard for me to watch my boy fight with his hands against a girl. I picture my daughter in that girl’s place. But it’s also tough for me to watch from my son’s perspective because he’s getting mixed signals about how to treat girls. If he’s supposed to treat them with respect and honor their dignity, how can he do that in a sparring match when the goal is to win by submission or pinning the opponent?

We play to win.

I’ve taught my kids that if a girl signs up to compete in mixed gender sports, then my sons shouldn’t feel bad for trying to win a match. There are plenty of sports options for kids. If a child (and his or her parent) decides to participate in a sport that allows both genders, the opponents shouldn’t be treated differently and a boy shouldn’t hesitate to fight his female opponents. Or vice versa. I told my boys they spar to win, no matter their competitor’s gender.

The playing field isn’t physically level.

Boys and girls were created differently. Biologically, the male body is generally stronger, heavier, and holds more muscle. The female body is generally smaller, less muscular, and holds more fat. If males and females are competing in the same sport, males have the physical advantage simply because of biology. This is worth considering when deciding whether to let our kids participate in mixed gender sports.

We have to accept the choice.

I love what my boys have learned in jiu-jitsu, both on and off the mats. They are able to defend themselves physically, which is a great skill for any child to have. They have learned a lot of life lessons like responsibility, team-work, and leadership. These are all skills I want my daughter to learn as well. I’m still uncomfortable with the idea of her sparring with a boy, but if I decide to put her in jiu-jitsu (or any other sport that has one-on-one competition), then I have to be OK with the fact that she will fight against boys. If we realize she feels uncomfortable, scared, or sad about having to fight with boys, we will have to discern whether to keep her in the sport. But if she likes it, I wouldn’t expect the male competitors to treat her differently because she’s a girl.

What do you think? Should boys and girls compete against one another one-on-one? Why or why not?


“What is the best lesson your sport has taught you?”

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