Watch a boys’ rugby, football, soccer or hockey game and chances are you might hear a coach hurl statements such as these in an attempt to motivate their performance:
This is war! Let’s go out and kill the other team! Man up! You’re running like a girl!
Sports in general has often been a landing site for hypermasculinized ideals (power, using violence to solve problems, homophobia and risk taking), but there’s a growing recognition that cultivating these kinds of performance-based values contributes to societal norms relating to violence against women.
While there is no doubt that encouraging and developing physical competence, self-esteem, fortitude and character are all positive and important aspects of sports and wellness activities, the concern is that boys’ sports and physical activity settings have a tendency to perpetuate and reinforce problematic masculine ideals.
Innovators in the coaching and sports world are now teaching us that athletic environments can be the ideal place to transmit alternative, pro-active values to kids and their families. Coaches can take the opportunity to tackle hypermasculinity using sport as their medium, as well as address gender inequality and violence.
Yesterday I had the opportunity to hear one such innovator speak on the topic through the University of British Columbia’s Kinesiology department’s Distinguished Speaker Series. Dr. John Lambert shared his expertise gained through his involvement with an organization called Football for Peace (F4P), which started in Israel and used soccer to foster peace in war-ravaged townships. The program brings together Arab and Jewish kids, families, coaches and politicians to play soccer. Through the seemingly innocent game, values of respect, responsibility, trust, neutrality, equity, inclusion, conflict resolution and peaceful co-existence are developed. These pro-active values then ripple out into the communities and society as one part of the peace effort in a historically conflict-fraught zone.
The YWCA Culture Shift project also highlights the benefits of using sports as a vehicle to combat hypermascunlinity and sexualization. Here are ten things parents, coaches and sporting organizations can do to challenge hypermasculinized values in kids’ sports:
- Be a role model: do not use or tolerate hypermasculinized language
- Understand how narrow definitions of masculinity can be problematic for young athletes, and society at large
- Be clear about what values you are wanting to cultivate in the youth you interact with
- Look for teachable moments on the field when positive values are exhibited by kids
- Ask kids to reflect on their behaviour and the behaviours of their peers who display respect, etc.
- Reinforce positive behaviours with praise
- Look for opportunities for on-field behaviours to be carried off the field and into communities and relationships
- As much as possible, let kids work out their own conflict and moral dilemma situations on the field. Minimize intervention from coaches so that kids have the chance to practice new skills – there will be tons of teachable moments (see #3)
- Provide coaches with development and education opportunities. Move away from ideology of performance alone to embrace teaching in the emotional and social domains
- Develop networks that can contribute to this process (kids, parents, administrators, coaches, sports authorities, politicians)
- If possible, provide parallel opportunities for young athletes to learn and grow together in activities off the pitch (food, dance, orienteering, cultural activities, etc.)
Through research and broad based community action, Culture Shift at the YWCA Metro Vancouver is shifting attitudes and practices that contribute to violence against women. We have proposed eight recommendations for action, with one specifically to relating to physical and wellness activities used as a platform to empower boys assist with development of healthy masculinities and curbing the impact of hypermasculinization.
The works of Dr. John Lambert and the Kinesiology department at UBC are welcomed resources as we work to influence environments that contribute to sexualization, hypermasculinization and violence against women.
Click here to join us in this work.