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A gym in any form can be a scary place to approach. Often times, some people will try to avoid them, out of fear that they will be judged or made fun of. Those are rational fears; gyms will always have a couple of people that will always make it live up to the stereotypes. Rather it’s in the weight room or on the basketball courts.
Often times, I am in the gym for long periods of time, spending time on both the courts and in the weight room(s). It is during this time, that I have noticed a few curious occurrences, which I am curious about. The most troubling for me, is the lack of diversity with regards to the gender of the people that play pick-up basketball competitively. At most, I have only seen 3-4 women on the court at the same time, and I would consider them to be frequent players. Recently, I decided I would interview these women, to see what their opinions are about the whole situation on the court(s).
Both of the players that I interviewed for this article have been playing basketball since a very young age, and have been around the sport almost their whole lives. They also played basketball all throughout their high school careers, as well as some other forms -such as AAU. However, most of these games and teams were comprised of only females. As a result, neither girl played much basketball against men that they didn’t know before they got to the university.
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Them: One of the two said, that 95% of the time she is the only girl playing basketball when she plays, and often she plays during some of the peak hours. The other agrees, they both said that if another girl is playing, they will guard each other.
Me: From my experiences at the gym, I can agree with the both of them. On any given day, I have seen, at most, two girls playing simultaneously, and they are usually guarding each other. For me, it has always seemed that the women will guard each other almost naturally. From the discussions I’ve had, I can sense that they don’t dislike guarding each other. If you’re at the gym, playing competitively, I would assume that you would like to play against someone who’ll, at least, challenge you. Everyone has a different skill level, therefore, just grouping two players together because they’re women, is not a viable way to assign roles on the court.
Them: In one of my discussions, they detailed that they are treated differently, and would be the person on the team that no one on the opposing team wanted to guard. She then went into detail on how this whole situation is a lose-lose situation for her. Often times, the last player that is assigned to guard someone is usually the worst defender. Of course, now she has someone guarding her that doesn’t challenging her, and worse, she has to deal with no one wanting to guard her. Both agreed that men are usually nice to them in the beginning, until they show that they are often better than many of their male competitors/players, then the tone may change.
Me: I have seen this first hand, most recently this week, the opposing team had a female player, and another player and I were trying to figure out who we would guard. I asked my teammate to choose between the two, he choose the male whilst making a somewhat offensive reference towards the female. Honestly, I wish I would have said something to him about this, and maybe that’s part of the problem, people don’t usually speak out against negative comments like that at the gym.
I never played with women, competitively, until my freshmen year of college, so I used to think similar thoughts as a lot of the men at the courts, but I have been outplayed by many players, both female and male. Part of this problem, is the separation of gender in how someone thinks of the sport. Each person playing is just another player, who wants to play basketball, therefore, they should be treated with respect , bringing anything other than skill into the discussion seems silly, if someone is good, they should be played by the best defender no matter what.
Them: This seems to be a major problem, both say that this seems to happen often. When they score, make a nice pass, or any sort of positive action, there seems to be an overwhelming sense of surprise by members of both teams. Both get offended when this happens.
Me: This is something that always seems to happen, and I can easily see why this is offensive. Picture yourself playing a sport you enjoy, and you do something that many other people do, but because of your gender you are highly praised. I have even seen people watching the game, overreact to the point of it being comical. This is not only a problem for female players, but also for players who people think aren’t as competent at the sport as they are. It’s a hinderance more than it helps, it’s as if you’re being made fun of. There is nothing wrong with praising someone, going up and saying good shoot or any of the like, those type of gestures will do wonders for someone’s confidence.
Them: At the beginning of games, it seems that both agree that they’re played soft, they are almost always given open shots, and not played physically. One player went on to say, that the more she plays with the same people, and after those people recognize her, then they play against her in tougher manner.
Me: “How do you want to be treated?”
One: “100%, I’d rather be played tough,” as it helps me to improve and become a better basketball player.
Two: The other said that she wished to be played tougher, but not like a male who would guard another male.
Me: It’s odd that men will play easy against women, it seems so old-school, especially when so many old gender norms have been eliminated. If someone doesn’t play defense on you then what’s the point of even playing? I myself would rather play tough defense on whomever I play against, that’ll just help me improve and become better!
The other player had an interesting opinion, they wanted to be treated as an in-between, not fully as a male player, nor as a female player. What I got from the conversation is that she doesn’t want to be treated as weak, she wishes to be respected on the court, but she wants the separation, she doesn’t want to be thrown around. Which is somewhat reasonable, you don’t want to get hurt while playing. But this sort of thinking, to a degree is negative. If any player is upset with being played equally, then that will just reinforce in the minds of some players that your group is not equal. I won’t say her desires are wrong, but some people might disagree with her.
Them: One player said you can’t change the gym. The other, had an interesting idea that would make the gym more inviting. She suggested that the gym make one court only for people not wanting to play competitively, or, just for shooting and having fun with some friends for a little bit. Because for some female players, the courts at our gyms can come off as super intimidating and somewhat unapproachable.
Me: I like the optimistic view and think that this would be a great idea. The courts can get quite congested, making it almost impossible to simply go and play with a friend or just shoot around. If one court was made a non-game court, it could serve as a place for any number of players to just come in and work on their game. And if they’re intimidated they could use this court to slowly get used to the atmosphere of the gym. I am not sure if this could ever work, but it is a great idea that I think would not only bring more women to the courts, but people that are unsure of themselves.
Them: Both very quickly replied with nearly the same statement. They both said that going to the gym by yourself, as a girl, and seeing a huge room with only males is terrifying. They said that some girls will just walk in, and turn right back around to leave. The language used, and the hostility, is also something they don’t enjoy. Lastly, they thought there is a sense of overconfidence that is apparent here, which makes playing with some males even harder, for them and other players.
Me: I can see exactly where they are coming from, in my early days at the university I thought the gym was a scary place, until I started to go very often. At one point, I was even apart of the problem. Getting into verbal fights with other players seems to be something that happens quite a bit here, and I have had my fair share of them. From the outside, this can make the game seem unapproachable, which is a major problem in getting more diversity at our gyms.
Overall, both of the players I interviewed had similar ideas about the situation, and some that seemed to conflict with each other. But, the overarching cure for this issue seems to be a combination of changing how some players see each other, and how the gym is managed. I am not sure if the gym will ever make a court that will help get more people to the gym, but one thing that can change is how people think.
Each player on the court is united by one thing and that’s the passion to play a sport that I love, and I am sure most of them love it as well. This is one of the many reasons why I play the sport. It is something that I see as a way to bring all sorts of people together. When I am on the court, it doesn’t matter who you are, or what you do off the court, as long as you’re playing respectfully, you will have my respect. Overall, the girls I have played against play harder, and are more talented than most of the men that I play with. All it takes is some respect to acknowledge it.