People who know me and enjoy spending time with me quickly get used to losing me for a large proportion of the weekend; like many keen sportspeople I maximise the time when a majority of the population is free to pursue the activities I love, namely team sports. This is especially true in the summer, when cricket commitments can take up several midweek evenings as well as both weekend daytimes.
Last weekend was a good example of this, when I played a lengthy game as wicketkeeper on the Saturday, and then umpired for the County U13 Girls all afternoon on Sunday. Although the perspectives are very different between these two positions, the wicketkeeper and an umpire both get a very good view of the action all over the pitch. In the case of the wicketkeeper, they are the primary motivators of the fielding team, encouraging high standards and setting the tone, while the umpire obviously holds an impartial position viewing all the play as much as humanly possible.
It was from these two central positions that I observed something quite telling over the two days of cricket. Without criticism, given they’re all trying very hard, my Saturday team aren’t all that good at stopping the ball. They are people who play the sport for the love of it, the original meaning of the word ‘amateur’ (one who loves). They fumble, stumble and fall in the vicinity of the ball, but they do it very enthusiastically, and I try to do the same as their keeper.
The 11- and 12-year-old girls I umpired the next day were younger, less physically well-built and shorter than the majority of the players on Saturday. On paper, you’d expect them to be less able in the field. Yet, as predicted by the Like A Girl video (in the comment on my post about gendered phrases), these girls are naturally sporty, they love what they do and they do it a lot, without preconceptions. As a result, they are actually very good, quick at chasing, impressive at throwing (most of them better than me) and nearly all the team can bowl as well.
It was this observation that makes a mockery of the assumptions many people make about gender and even age when it comes to participation in sports. If these young, physically slight players could compete with and often beat their adult counterparts in competitive sport, why do we make such distinctions between them in adult team sports? Admittedly, these were specially selected outliers, but not on such a large scale that this would make them a tiny minority. I continue to believe that mixed team sports are not only possible, but desirable to encourage.