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Achievement: It’s not boys or girls it’s boys and girls

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Thanks to Title IX, today’s school-aged girls essentially have the same physical activity opportunities as boys. Yes, there remain gendered pockets across the country that scream 1955, but mostly, girls and boys have equal opportunities to engage. Inviting someone to watch your daughter’s weekend soccer game now requires you are precise about the exact color of her shirt else your guest will erroneously set up their lawn chair at the sky blue, eggshell blue, or navy blue team’s field, not your daughter’s carolina blue team’s field!

Yea, for us to have come this far, but the mission is not complete because (dangerous) double standards about engagement between boys and girls (still) exist:

Boys tend to be expected to engage and praised for achievement, while girls tend to be invited to engage and praised for effort.

‘Expectation’ implies that engagement is non-negotiable and praising achievement conveys confidence in one’s ability to do so. ‘You WILL engage because it is important,’ ‘I know you can achieve so I am going to teach you how.’ The dynamics of expectation and achievement praise create a chain that positively impacts engagement motivation. The receiver learns that any realized achievement is attributed to skill, not the whim of luck.

‘Invitation’ implies that engagement is optional, and praising effort conveys doubt that intentional achievement is possible. ‘Invitation’ also infers a ‘just’ approach to engagement and programming – Just being here is enough, Just doing some is enough, just offering the opportunity is enough (so to comply with Title IX). Programming is haphazard with a whimsical ‘aren’t they cute’ sentiment, and moral victories set the bar. Girls can learn to be hesitant to engage and program leaders interact with caution and uncertainty. Maybe skills will be developed, but most likely they won’t, or not to the same proficiency as what intentional programming yields. Skill deficiencies hone the absolute of “I’m bad at sports,” and attributing any realized success or achievement to luck, for surely it could not have been skill.

Girls don’t need to be protected from the so-thought rigors of achievement-oriented engagement any more than boys need to abashedly engage without emotional support. The dynamics of invitation and effort praise counter that which nourishes resilient engagement, and risk fostering a contentious relationship with one’s physical activity self that erodes further with age. Activity engagement is gender neutral for the benefit yielded, what is required to develop resilient engagement motivation and its meaning. Girls just like boys derive meaning from developing skills, interacting with teammates or other engagers, exerting intentional effort toward an outcome, and achievement.

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