Kicks and Sticks

July 12, 1999

Like a lot of early adolescent and preteen girls all over the country, my daughter spent most of today kicking a soccer ball around the back yard. She and the girl next door slept outside last night. They pitched the tent themselves, packed it up this morning, and by about nine were alternating between time online surfing “gurl” sites (cosmetics, clothes, and Ricky Martin fan pages) and time outback with a slightly anemic soccer ball they found in the corner of the garage.

Tomorrow, my daughter reports for her first day of field hockey camp. I mean REALLY her first day. At thirteen and a half, she comes late to an interest in sports. She did play one season of basketball back in first grade, but her lack of aggression and seeming fear of the ball made for very little court time, and she lost interest. But in May she and her best friend (a softball veteran) announced they were going out for the eighth grade field hockey team.

I remain uneasy with this plan. In the school where I taught, field hockey is almost a religion (Quad A state tournament every year, the title more often than not). It’s less of an obsession in Lynn’s school, but she’ll be competing with girls whose grasp of hockey fundamentals is as thorough as their facility with the English language. And I think she’s unprepared for the great physical effort that training and practice will require. That’s why I insisted she enroll for the four-day, two-hour introductory sessions that begin tomorrow. Let her see what lies ahead.

Of course, I won’t discourage her, and I hope she gets into it. I’m from the generation of women for whom organized sports were at best an afterthought. My high school had a girls’ basketball team, but no girls’ track, softball, or field hockey.

According to the yearbook, the ’64-’65 season saw improvement for the “McDevitettes” — their rookie coach led them to a record of 4 wins and 6 losses. (The boys played 25 games.) I remember that coach. She looked exactly like Miss Hathaway of The Beverly Hillbillies and displayed every stereotype then in vogue about female gym teachers.
The uniform worn by the McDevitt girls must have been on the cutting edge of women’s athletic gear, however. While the outfit is certainly more modest than what some girls wear to school (and church!) these days, it was shorts and a t-shirt. Action photos show my classmates competing against girls who are wearing skirted jumpers over puffy-sleeved blouses.

And it wasn’t unfashionable in my school to be a female athlete. The team photo shows three of THE most popular girls. I think my lack of participation in high school athletics had as much to do with my own lack of ease with my body as it did with lack of opportunity. I regarded myself as awkward and ungainly, although pictures from the era show a petite young woman of normal proportions. My father’s parents had forbidden athletic participation for him for fear of injury to the hands that would make him a concert violinist, and my mother came from a background where athletic activities were considered unladylike, so there wasn’t much chance I was ever encouraged to get our there and sweat a little.

I’ve worked hard to try to overcome some of my negativity about my physical self (and have not succeeded in a great way yet). I’ve tried to cultivate a different attitude in my daughter. Just looking at the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team makes me feel more alive, and watching Lynn reenact their victory gives me hope for her. We’ll see what tomorrow brings.