Modern western civilizations have embraced gender integration in many domains that were once separated by gender – in schools, in the military, and even the Boy Scouts (now rebranded as Scouts BSA); however, competitive youth sports remain largely segregated by gender. With recent generations holding more inclusive ideals, as well as the general lessening of traditional gender roles, youth sports leaders and organizations find themselves in an interesting dilemma: Should we hold tight to tradition and keep young boys and girls separate from each other in youth sports training, or should we permit a more modern gender collaborative training style that allows young boys and girls to train, grow and compete together?
For us at Northeast Volleyball Club, the benefits of having young female and male athletes play sports together are clear, both based on academic research and in what we’ve seen in our own gym. While we have our Girls Club teams and Boys Club teams on different season schedules, we actively look for ways to bring the two programs and genders together.
Here are some of the the benefits of gender collaborative training:
- Encourages mutual respect. We see this benefit going both ways in our gym – the girls respect the boys athletes, and the boys respect the girls athletes. Through gender collaborative training, the athletes (boys and girls) get the opportunity to work towards the common goal of skill development. They learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and they get the opportunity to celebrate each other’s technical achievements. This ultimately leads to mutual respect of each athlete’s hard work and commitment, no matter their gender.
- Dispels gender stereotypes. By treating our athletes as athletes, not “girls athletes” or “boys athletes,” they learn to see beyond traditional gender stereotypes. As we’ve learned through history, segregation creates a divide, not just physically but also through grouping and labeling. This divide makes minor differences in gender groupings seem “natural”, but by allowing all of our athletes to train together, these “natural” differences seem to carry less power.
- Enhances their self confidence. When we show the girls teams and athletes that they can compete and train alongside the boys, we see increased self confidence and pride. For youth sports organizations that are looking to empower young women and help develop strong, confident athletes, this is a tremendous benefit.
- Creates culture and camaraderie. When we travel to club tournaments together or during their respective high school seasons, our teams and athletes know and cheer for each other! This has strengthened our community – rather than having separate boys and girls volleyball communities, we just have one larger volleyball community.
- Creates more opportunities to play. While our girls program is bigger in numbers, by allowing boys to participate in camps and clinics that were traditionally just for girls, we’ve seen a huge growth in boys volleyball (140 athletes at tryouts this year vs. 89 the year before!). Also, we’ve seen our girls and boys athletes playing more pick-up volleyball together or partnering together in coed 2 vs. 2 tournaments since we started to implement coed programming and training.
How Northeast Volleyball Club encourages gender collaboration:
- All Classes and Camps are coed before High School. For high school level, we usually create separate sessions with different net heights, but our Mini volley and Middle School programs are all coed. We also let high school boys participate in girls programs as long as the level is appropriate.
- Flexible Makeup Practice Policy. From the beginning, we have allowed and encouraged our athletes to make up practices with other teams at an appropriate level. As long as the level and speed of the game is similar, our girls athletes can practice with boys teams, and boys athletes can practice with girls teams.
- All Positional Training Camps (except attacking and blocking due to the difference in net height) are coed. All of our setters and liberos and younger pin hitters train together and learn the same skills and techniques.
- Youth Fall Club teams are coed. These are our youth teams for athletes in Grades 1-8 that we run during the Girls high school season, leading up to club season. Getting these athletes to play on the same team, even for a short fall season, has had huge benefits and created more opportunities for all athletes to play!
- Coed open gyms – self explanatory! This is a fun way to get the kids extra reps in a less “organized” setting, which has huge benefits competitively and socially.
- Coed Strength & Conditioning Opportunities. In addition to team workouts, which are separated out by team and thus gender, we also offer coed fitness classes such as Speed & Agility, Recovery Sessions, & Vertical Training.
We have seen a tremendous growth in the culture, friendships, and respect across our girls and boys team programs thanks to these policies and programs. Allowing the athletes to work together and train together has led to mutual respect and increased social development. Our leadership team shares the belief that one of the primary goals of our club is to share our love of volleyball with our athletes, and love for the game has no boundaries, gender or otherwise. We encourage your club to try it out and see how it may positively change the culture in your gym, bring your girls and boys teams closer, and create more opportunities for everyone to play!
About the Authors
Cat Dailey Minyard is the Founder, Director of Recruiting, & Head Coach for Northeast Volleyball Club, a JVA member club inNorwalk, CT. After a decorated playing career, co-founder and director Cat Dailey Minyard is passing along her volleyball expertise to the next generation of athletes in the Northeast. Cat has coached at the Division I collegiate level, played in the Italian Serie A league for Volley Millenium Brescia, and was a Top 20 college recruit for Laguna Beach Volleyball Club. She played for Cal for two years, including an NCAA Final Four appearance in 2007, before transferring to Yale. At Yale, Cat was the unanimous selection for the 2008 Ivy League MVP and led the team to an NCAA tournament postseason win.
Mark “Frog” Ogilvie is the Director of Operations & Girls/Boys Head Coach for Northeast Volleyball Club. Frog is one of theoriginal staff members at NEVBC, having returned stateside to coach at Northeast Volleyball Club after 5 years abroad in the United Kingdom completing his PhD. While overseas, Coach Frog competed with Team Durham Men’s Volleyball for five years as a libero and held an Assistant Coach role for the Durham women’s volleyball program, capturing a total of 4 national championships on the women’s side. Coach Frog also successfully completed a Masters in International & Intercultural Education and a PhD in Sociology (with a focus in Gender & Sports) during his time abroad. Upon his return to the states, Coach Frog also served as the Assistant Coach at Wesleyan University, a NCAA Division III program in the NESCAC that had an Elite 8 appearance in the 2018 NCAA tournament. In his collegiate career, he was also a libero/setter for Michigan State Men’s Club Volleyball.