Saturday, August 12, 2006

Life's Yellow Jackets

My family isn’t particularly new to community sports. We’ve been involved ever since my oldest was in kindergarten soccer. This is our seventh season of soccer (fifteen soccer teams between the kids). We also dabbled in T-ball and coach pitch until we realized we hated it (making another six or so teams).

Sure, I had heard the horror stories of unsportsmanlike behavior. Maybe we lived a charmed existence, because aside from an occasional obnoxious father thinking his kid is the next Olympian, we’ve never had a problem. Rob and I have even dabbled at coaching. Our kids love playing team sports, and it’s been a great experience.

Until now.

This week my second oldest, age nine, had her first soccer game of the season with a brand new team. They played their little hearts out—my girl running and kicking and doing her absolute best until her face was beat red and she was ready to collapse.

Sadly, the other team slaughtered them 10 to 0.

But that wasn’t the problem. All our kids have been beaten before. Slaughtered before. While it’s not nearly as fun to lose as to win, all of our kids have lost games and still come off the field smiling because they knew they did their best and they had fun.

Again, until now.

The team we played on Wednesday could have gotten a medal for unsportsmanlike conduct. It would have been bad enough with the girls’ comments—Only losers wear black shirts. We knew we’d win and make you guys feel like dirt. You guys can’t play at all. You suck. We’re the best. But it was nearly the entire team—who had dubbed themselves the Yellow Jackets (fitting, since they were stinging and annoying).

It was also the parents.

And even the coach.

I couldn’t figure out why the yellow team’s crowd was cheering louder with each goal toward the end of the game. The poor black-shirted girls were wiped and feeling down, and yet the crowd insisted on rubbing it in that they were winning—and by what margin. You would think that parents would be sympathetic. That they’d clap and cheer, but not gloat.

Yeah. You’d think.

“Number nine! Way to go, McKenna!” screamed a dad with bleached hair next to his bleached hair wife as his daughter scored the ninth goal of the game. I wondered if he’d actually dare soil his designer clothes afterward by hugging his sweaty daughter.

When the coach began gloating and encouraging the girls—agreeing that yes, they’re terrific players and the black team isn't good and must feel bad, tee hee—I wanted to scratch her eyes out. If anyone on the field had the responsibility to be an example, it was the coach. Yet she had the biggest grin on her face of anyone.

Any time she gathered the girls around her, she’d concoct new strategies for tromping our team—as if they needed any more help in the smear fest.

The “Black Grizzly” crowd left the field with their heads hung low, the players with tears in their eyes.

It was a tough night all around. I left the game with my arm around my daughter, making sure she knew I was proud of her and how I knew that if she won by so much, she’d never act like that. She tearfully nodded in agreement. “It’s mean.”

Yes. It’s mean.

So simple, and yet why is it such a hard concept for us to grasp? Women and girls especially seem to have a catty nature among them—we’re always in competition with each other.

In high school it’s who got the boys’ attention and/or was asked out to the dances, who dressed the best, who had the best hair, the best clothes, who gets to go to the parties, who has the right friends, who is the most popular, who's the skinniest and prettiest.

Not much has changed for adult women. It’s still who is prettiest and has the best clothes. It’s still who is skinniest.

Sadly, it’s never who’s smartest or kindest or who is the best friend.

That’s one reason I’ve wanted my girls on a sports team—it’s one of the few places in our society where they learn to work as a group, not to be competitive as individuals, but as a unit.

I had no idea that even in that setting girls could get so catty and mean. I wouldn’t have been surprised if the Yellow Jackets would have told our team that yellow looks better with their complexions than black does.

I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised that the bleach-haired dad was feeding the female competitive drive. He had three daughters, and he flirted with them as if they were high schoolers. The youngest was maybe four, and she’s learning from her father that to be accepted by men and boys she has to look and act like a twit.

The entire family wore name brand, trendy clothes, much of which looked too old for the young girls. The girl who looked maybe six or seven wore long, dangling pierced earrings that belonged on someone much older. All his daughters acted like teeneage air heads, getting praise for doing so. I wanted to wretch.

I wish I knew where to go from here. I don’t have any answers. I do know that this has been an issue for decades and seems to be getting worse. A college friend of mine who was brilliant—genius at calculus, art, and other subjects, full scholarship, Sterling Scholar, and on and on—acted like a dumb blond around both boys and girls so they’d like her more.

As disturbing as that is, it worked almost 100% of the time.

That probably explains why I’m not surrounded by adoring people; I don’t put on a stupid act. When I first met my husband, I made sure he knew I had a scholarship, just to see his reaction. He didn’t have much of one, beyond, “Cool.”

Big point for Rob.

All I can hope for is that my girls will continue to work hard and learn to be able to brush off what others say. That they won’t get their value from comparing themselves to others. That they won’t hide their intelligence in hopes of making people like them.

That they’ll know that aside from being beautiful—because they are—they’re also kind, generous, sympathetic, loyal, smart, and talented. And that those things matter far more than appearances.

No matter what the Yellow Jackets of life may say to the contrary.


Tristi Pinkston said...

Doesn't it just stink that in America, where women have more freedom than anywhere else in the world, our worth is still measured by the way we look or how much money we have?

Why can't girls just go slug out their differences in the back yard like boys do? Sure, boys get bloody noses and black eyes, but let 'em have at it and five minutes later, they're best friends again. Girls carry grudges for years.

Marsha Ward said...

This is so sad, Annette! I hope you keep your arms around those sweet daughters of yours, literally and figuratively, thoughout their growing years. We want them to grow up to be like their mother: sensative, loving, compassionate.

Josi said...

The scary thing is that there are boys looking for the dumb-fluff headed ones for reasons that are far less frightening than soccer games. If girls only knew how important it is to be themselves, there would be far fewer failed marriages and beaten (physically and emotionally) women out there. The fact is you get what you advertise for. Three cheers for helping your daughter market the right way.


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