My daughter has always been an athlete. Can't imagine, really, where she got either the interest or the talent, but she has both in spades and being both an athlete and a player of team sports has done great things for her. She's been comfortable in her own skin throughout her life (admittedly, she has great skin, but plenty of other 20-somethings about whom the same can be said nevertheless suffer from poor body image and low self-esteem). She also understands how to excel simultaneously as an individual and as a member of the team. Obviously, this has positive implications for her career as well.
For a non-athlete, I've spent a fair amount of the last 20 years at amateur sporting events. There've been pluses and minuses for me. One of the minuses, slightly disguised, made its way into the softball wives scene in A Merger of Equals. One of the pluses has been the opportunity to notice in yet another setting how differently women and men approach things - and how important it is in every arena to establish common goals and then adopt trust as a guiding principle for behavior.
When my daughter was a young athlete, she played on softball teams that included girls turning cartwheels in the outfield during games. As she got older, the cartwheelers lost interest altogether and fell away, replaced by incredibly intent young women determined to excel. And, boy, did they! Now that she's older still, she plays on a baseball team that includes women from 14 to 46. I got to watch her play last weekend and I realized that in some ways her teams have come full circle. The women who seem uninterested aren't turning cartwheels like their prepubescent counterparts (too stiff, out of shape or lily-livered, I presume), but they're doing the adult equivalent: missing practices, running from base to base in a style that can only be called laconic when they draw a walk or have a chance to advance, choosing not to go for the double play, and so forth. I frankly can't understand why anyone would want to spend a hot, muggy weekend playing baseball on a dusty field, but I'm even more mystified by someone who makes the choice to do so, then shows up and basically dogs it for three hours.
It's also interesting to see how girly some of the management decisions and attitudes are. As my daughter says, guys who are terrible know they're terrible and they either don't join teams or sit on the bench. They may not be happy, but they don't expect to be put in a game when better players are available. Women seem to have some confusion of goals, as if maybe this is more a social club than a baseball team. Even with a team sport, where the goals could not more clearly be playing your best and winning as much as possible, they actually worry about hurting someone's feelings by fielding the best team, talent-wise. The dedicated athletes on the team are frustrated by this wrong-headedness, but even they worry about occasioning drama by suggesting that tryouts or stats are the best way to choose tournament teams, or stating strongly that practices are mandatory if you want to play, or benching players who are having a bad day or consistently refuse to learn that the game is about more than wearing a uniform and considering yourself in a positional silo, resolutely unaware of what's going on elsewhere on the field.
Caring about other people's feelings is a beautiful attribute, but it seems out of place where fielding a baseball team is concerned - as does getting offended or hurt by a talent-based protocol for choosing who will play where (especially when the benchee is not doing what it takes to improve her skills). Would men have this problem? I don't think so. So is it simply about something else altogether for women? Maybe so.