While I was on my way home tonight from a trip to Target and Fresh Market for Bounty napkins and hummus, I heard a news story on WABE 90.1, my local NPR station, about female athletes and injury. It was the Fresh Air segment and featured an interview with writer Michael Sokolove regarding his new book Warrior Girls: Protecting Our Daughters Against the Injury Epidemic in Women’s Sports.
What stood out the most to me about the piece was that women succumb to much injury during basic training for the military, but it takes a more serious injury for a woman to be immobile and unable to continue training than for a man. Sokolove mentioned that studies don’t conclusively indicate that women can tolerate more pain than men. Relating to sports, he pointed out the drawbacks of the increased presence of female athletes–more women playing more sports (competitively for school or as a profession) means more physiological harm. Moreover, there’s greater expectation for females to take the pain like a male counterpart.
My impression was that Sokolove isn’t advocating the diminishing of the female athlete force; instead, he is bringing to light the necessity for a reconsideration of the role and development of competitive sports (particularly as it pertains to youth culture).* Young children who demonstrate a high level of skill in classical or performing arts (painting, music, singing, non-competitive dance**, sculpting) are encouraged to hone that ability to greater heights of not just technique but also of talent. Apparently, it should not or need not be the same for young children who display an above-average degree of athletic prowess. Sokolove criticized the tendency for these kids to become “too specialized” in one particular sport.
There are so many variables and factors to remember, of course. Pushing your creativity and brain to its limit can occur over a much longer period of time–decades. But the body? Not quite. Again, Sokolove probably didn’t intend to suggest that elementary and middle school-aged children should ignore that they might take to lacrosse or futbol more naturally than they do to tennis or swimming, but there’s moderation and knowing how to treat the body with the right balance of respect and nurture. He emphasized that female athletes need a different kind of training and practice regimen than males. He also noted that perhaps females would benefit more from having female coaches–who ostensibly comprehend the physiological differences between men and women and would therefore be more effective as a trainer.
Click here to read an excerpt from Sokolove’s book and to listen to the interview. It’s captivating!
*I watched a documentary when I was in grad school where sociologist Michael Messner argued that society needs to move past this implicit requirement for women to play as hard as men in order to survive and prove their worth in competitive sports.
**I realize that even non-competitive dancing comes with potential dangers too: eating disorders, pulled muscles, twisted and sprained ankles, stress fractures.
Pix creds: NPR
Read a New York Times article Michael Sokolove wrote about female athlete injury here.