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The Tender Gender

soccer mom and daughter

By: Angela Gillaspie © September 2005

In the fall of 1997, my oldest child and only daughter Ashley had her first soccer game. There were twelve six- and seven-year-olds on the team and Ashley was one of the only two girls on the team. It was her idea to play soccer and the experience was a learning-in-process one for Ashley, my husband Paul, and myself. She's our only girl and I certainly didn't realize how her feminine upbringing would inhibit her playing ball at that time.

During the second quarter, she got to play. She romped onto the field and took up her position, grinning from ear to ear. The referee blew the whistle and all the kids ran toward the ball, hoping to score. Ashley followed the pack of boys with a bewildered look on her face. Whenever the ball came near her she attempted to kick it, but she stopped to let the other kids have their turn. All of her life, I've taught her to be nice, to cross her legs, take turns, don't hit, and to smile and make friends. This was how I was raised and I wanted my princess to act like a lady. Now I found that she was applying those rules out on the playing field.

When halftime rolled around, I went up to her and explained that although she was doing a terrific job, she needed to get mean, "This is a game, and those boys aren't wanting to make friends, they're wanting to score. You should try and do the same; you won't hurt anyone -- that's why you're wearing shin guards! Kick hard, run fast, and have fun! After the game, you'll have plenty of time to be nice and make new friends."

She looked up with wide eyes, "But you said to always be nice!"

"Yes, that's true but this is different, this is sports! You kick, run, and try to score. Just pretend that all those boys are your little brothers."

Ah yes. She nodded with understanding. The fourth quarter was her next time to play and she got into position. When the referee blew the whistle, she was all over the ball; she had such a determined look on her face. She never scored, but there were a few close calls. I was so proud of her and she was proud of herself, too.

Paul wondered, "How do you motivate a little girl to be aggressive out on the field? I can't tell her the things I was told because she's a girl!"

Not only was she a girl, she was his little girl. Once we went to have lunch with her at her elementary school, and about every three minutes a different little boy was waving and hollering, "Hey Ashley!"

Paul mumbled, "I don't know if I like all of these boys yelling at her. Doesn't she have any friends that are girls?"

He loves for her to play sports, that way she'll take what she learned on the field and apply it off the field. For example, a boy might try to hold her hand and she'd kick him in the shin and yell, "Out of bounds!" Or, a boy might try to kiss her and she would head-butt him and yell, "FOUL!"

I never played sports in school, so I'm blindly guiding her. For that next game to motivate her, I asked, "Remember how mad you were when Josh broke off your favorite Barbie doll's leg and stuck it up his nose? Remember how upset you got with Nick when he pulled all of your clothes out of your dresser and put them in the garbage can? Pretend all of those boys out there on the other team just jumped up and down on your freshly made bed with their dirty cleats and pulled your hair! Get mean and go get 'em!"

Yes, I my petite flower of a daughter became a raging soccer maniac that has the other team's goalie for breakfast.

I love to watch her play.

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Revised: 03/22/05 - 07/22/18
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