why a 10-year old quit soccer
Let me tell you a story about a girl who loved to play soccer.
She kicked a ball around as soon as she was able to walk. She went to soccer camps and emerged as one of our small league’s best goalies. When she was just 10, there weren’t enough girls to have a team so she was placed on the boy’s.
This boy’s team had played together for three years. They already had a goalie, so she couldn’t play that position. In fact, all the positions had long been decided before her arrival. The only place left was on the bench.
She played less than five combined minutes the first few games.
Frustrated and disappointed, she wanted to quit, but I encouraged my daughter to talk to the coach.
His words to her were that she had to “earn the right to play”—as if she hadn’t put in the same hours of practice as the boys, as if she hadn’t played as many years, gone to soccer camps, and hadn’t practiced in the backyard until the sun was so low she couldn’t see the ball.
Keep in mind that this was a small town, recreation league. Not premiere, not travel, not a club. A league intended to allow equal access, to let everyone play. You might say at this point “Volunteer coaches really suck.” Sometimes they can, but this mentality isn’t unique to volunteer coaches and it’s almost always targeted toward girls and women—that “Men are seen as having more potential, so they are given more opportunities.”1
I think about that coach’s words to a young girl as I watch the USWNT fight for equal pay on the world’s biggest stage.
“If they wanted higher paychecks, they should’ve negotiated them.”
“They don’t bring in as much revenue.”
“A u15 boys team beat them!”
Really, what they’re saying is: They haven’t earned it.
My daughter’s story doesn’t end there.
After talking to the coach, he offered a bonus practice and made it available to the whole team. Only one person ever showed up. She practiced an hour one-on-one and then an additional 90 minutes with the team twice a week—and even more at home.
She put in nearly double the practice time as anyone else on the team. According to the coach’s own benchmarks she’d earned her spot, but her playtime only increased from two minutes to five. The last game of the season she played thirty minutes—and that was because one of the boys was being disciplined and had to sit out.
Studies show that gender biases require women to reach much higher benchmarks than their male counterparts to receive recognition.(2) Which is why some find it acceptable and even right that a 4-time world champion team is paid 38 cents on the dollar(3) to a team that has never won a World Cup. And why a recreational coach didn’t play a girl who put in twice the work of any of the boys.
Imagine working your entire life towards one dream, the dream of winning the World Cup. Giving up summers, weekends, and vacations to practice. Strictly monitoring your diet for nutrition. Every free moment dedicated to improving your health, your game, your strategy. You’ve finally made it, but it only pays so much. Take it or leave it. Of course you take it. It’s been your dream for as long as you can remember, you’ve already sacrificed so much. And, once you prove that you’re a world champion and bring in more revenue, then—then!—they’ll pay what you’re worth.
Except they don’t. They won’t.
That year my daughter hung up her cleats, she’d learned the hard truth: that no matter what she does, how hard she works, how she proves herself, as long as there is a gatekeeper she is powerless to her own agency, her own success. That glass ceilings are rarely smashed alone and from below, they’re opened—or held closed—from above.
The USWNT is kicking at that ceiling now. Their battle cry, “equal pay for equal work”—except that’s not even close. They’ve reached higher benchmarks, jumped taller hurdles than their male counterparts. They’ve earned it. They demand it.
We demand it.
And if anything can smash through that glass ceiling, it’s the USWNT and The Golden Boot.
Sign the petition demanding equal pay for the USWNT here.
1: Forbes, New Study Reveals What We Already Knew: Unconscious Bias Favors Men At Work Feb 8, 2019 Kim Elsesser