by Emily Rotthaler–Male athletes have the advantage when it comes to physical efficiency. Few know that better than female athletes who have grown up competing with and against boys on mixed teams.
Soccer is one of the sports for which coed teams are common. Most young players in the US join a coed team for at least the first few years of their soccer careers. This is often because there are not enough girls or boys for separate teams.
In childhood, this is not really a problem as boys and girls are physically similar. Morningside women’s soccer player Madelynn Stoffle recounts there was no difference in thinking or physicality on the mixed team they played on when they were five years old.
“It was really about who would get the goal first whether it was a boy or a girl, and it wasn’t necessarily about testosterone or physicality at that time,” Stoffle said.
Puberty, however, drives a wedge between the physical efficiency of male and female athletes. It is no secret that most adult male soccer players are able to run faster and longer and can kick the ball further than their female counterparts. Yet, realizing this can be a bitter truth to swallow for female athletes.
For every female soccer player there comes a point in their career at which they have to acknowledge that continuing to compete with boys sooner or later will put them at an unfair disadvantage.
Sophomore midfielder Rena Ketelsen is no stranger to that realization. After playing soccer on a mixed team in Germany from age seven until she was fifteen years old, she lost interest in continuing on that route because of the physical differences that emerged.
“When I was like 13-14 years old, there were obvious physical changes. And that’s when all of the things started; that’s when I had to prove myself more — even more than I did before.”
Stoffle also remembers that the difference in physicality was very visible when they were playing against boys in high school after they had only competed with female athletes for a few years.
“We [the high school’s girls team] always had to have a different type of formation to combat how fast the boys were. We had to have a defender go back further to counter their speed.”
Physicality is not the only thing that changes during puberty. There are various possible reactions of a male soccer player who realizes that he will have to play against or with a girl.
Goalkeeper Megan Messersmith played on a recreational coed team during high school. According to her, the male players were respectful but often treated the female athletes like children. “They were like ‘Oh, she’s a girl, I don’t want to hurt her,” Messersmith said, adding, “But we play the sport too you know and we know it’s physical, we know what we’re signed up for.”
Because of the reaction that male players tend to have, female athletes in male dominated sports usually have to prove themselves first to be seen as equal and not as made out of glass.
Despite that challenge, it is recommended for girls to play on a mixed team for at least some time. Experts from the German Soccer Association say playing coed soccer puts female athletes in a high performance environment in which they can develop skills they would not be able to develop on an all-girls team.
Ketelsen thought that joining a boys team when growing up was good for her, as in her home country the boys soccer programs were better developed at the time. “I think it’s very important for children in general to play on a mixed team because then their early development in soccer is usually better.”
In the end, despite a gender gap in physicality and thinking, nothing speaks against playing on a mixed team until the physical differences become too big to overlook. The challenge is to accept these differences and begin a new chapter playing on a women’s team.