Being a Girl While Playing a Boy’s Sport

As a female, walking into the gym is naturally different for me than it is for a male, physically, mentally and socially. Ever since I was a kid I’ve always participated in competitive sports; in high school, I played 3, including two at the Varsity level. So naturally, when I came to college I wanted to get involved with some physical activity that interested me, the first interest being basketball at the Rec Center on campus. However, I was extremely intimidated by the ratio of men to women in the gym. In fact the female presence was almost non-existent, and as a freshman and sophomore in college I was deterred from playing almost entirely.

However, as I began to mature and become more comfortable with my body and my skills as an athletic being, I began to gain the confidence needed to enter the gym and consider playing basketball again. At first I started shooting around with a women’s size ball, but of course I realized they only play with a men’s ball, so I had to switch. Also, the game is more physical with men (girls are by far the more vicious to play with, but I mean in the athletic sense). A typical man has the physical components (and hormones) to run faster and jump higher than a woman (of course there always exceptions to this rule, but more often than not this is the case).

Due to this physiological fact, I became aware that I may not be able to run faster or jump higher, but I could play smarter. But more often than not, when teams are picked, playing smarter does not help the process. One time I was in the gym, waiting on the bench to be picked, and I noticed that a team was one player short. The guys on this team were looking all over the court for a free body to play, and despite seeing me there they passed me over, and preferred to play one man short instead of asking me to step in.

This is one of many instances where the men (or shall I say boys) in the rec center have passed me over for a game. So at first I was frustrated, and almost discouraged to the point where I wanted to stop going into the gym despite having excellent shooting skills (honestly, better than at least a quarter of the men in the gym). But one day I saw another girl in there killing it, and I decided to swallow my pride and continue to play again. Needless to say, things changed. I now possess the confidence to go in there and play any day. My mindset has even changed; now during a game I’m empowered when the guys playing are surprised that I can “actually play” instead of letting it bring me down.

Don’t get me wrong, things are still different. I’ve played multiple games where the guy that is supposed to be guarding me won’t make any attempt to play defense, and sometimes even offense. Which is fine, them leaving me open on offense does not deter me from scoring as much as possible, so in the end they look like the idiot. It’s also kind of funny when I get slightly bumped or fouled and they freak out and ask me if I’m hurt as if I’m a fragile flower, and sometimes I just want to respond with the fact that I’ve played girls much more physical and aggressive than them, but instead I hold my tongue. Now I know enough people in there that know I’m good at basketball, so I usually don’t have a problem jumping in on a game, but I will still get passed over occasionally despite having better skills than the male they choose instead.

I’ve learned an important lesson throughout this whole process that applies to more in life than just basketball. It doesn’t matter how many times someone thinks I may not be good enough, I will never stop working harder than those around me to prove to those negative people that I’m even better than they ever could have imagined. And in doing so, I hope I can be an inspiration to other women around to push through those barriers that we face each and every day, because

“As we let our own lights shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” –Timo Cruz, Coach Carter

This is only a fragment of a quote taken from a more powerful passage from none other than a basketball movie, but it has served a purpose in my life more times than I can count, and continues to inspire me in all areas of my life to work hard and be the best version of myself despite any trials or tribulations that arise.