I have often described my baseball activities with the grandsons, but I’ve never told you about my granddaughter’s athletic games (because I’ve never attended one of them). I’ve been to practices and scrimmages but never to a serious tournament. She is a serious volleyball enthusiast, who plays for her school and for a Club team which travels to statewide competitions. She invited me to her final tournament, and I didn’t want to miss it.
As soon as I get settled into the stands, I can feel that the competitive atmosphere is different. Before the game begins, these 12 and 13 year-olds, gather in a circle at mid-court; kneeling on the floor they bang their hands on the hardwood, and sing their team song. When somebody serves an ace, her team mates on the sidelines get together and spell A-C-E accompanied by hand-clapping syncopation.
It’s not just a song and dance routine though, these girls are fiercely competitive; they dive, dig, spike and it gets intense. It’s clear they are fully into it, but they compete in a spirit of cooperation and inclusivity. The girls pull for one another, and share their feelings more openly. It seems to me, that boys play games differently; for them, to compete means, becoming a winner. Boys play for who’s going to come out on top.
I wondered if it was just my perception so I called my friend, Mariah Burton Nelson (www. Mariah Burton Nelson.com), a former Stanford University basketball star, and WNBA professional. She is a powerful spokesperson for women, for building leadership and creating community. Mariah said she thought girls shared everything more openly. They give credit to each other, they’re willing to expose their strengths, weaknesses, disappointments, longings, and they build friendships that last. Mariah was still friends with girls she swam with when she was six, and those she played field hockey, basketball and lacrosse with in the seventh grade.
I’m sitting and watching my granddaughter play and thinking how I did not been to any of her competitions before. It becomes clear to me, that I love to watch those boys play because it takes me back to my old days, and because I identify with their sense of the competitive pursuit.
The girls inspired me, and I find myself wondering, if it’s possible that boys could learn to compete with the same love for the game and the people they play it with? If so, we might change the history of the world.