Balancing Opportunities: Girls in Primarily Boys’ Teams

David Byrne

Director of Sport, Bede’s School

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Over the past decade, there has been a concerted effort to provide a pathway for girls to participate in primarily boys’ teams, provided it is appropriate for their development. The key to achieving gender equality in sports lies in creating programmes that cater to the needs of both girls and boys, offering them ample opportunities for growth. However, it is important to acknowledge there are instances where girls can benefit from playing sports with boys, further enhancing their skills and experiences. Likewise, although boys may not be able to compete in girls teams, they benefit from sporting scenarios, such as training with girls. That said, for both genders, this can manifest either physically on the field or mentally/emotionally.

For instance, at Bede’s we have witnessed talented football, hockey and cricket players who compete at the national level, express an interest in primarily boys’ teams as part of their training programmes. This interest is fostered by the fact they already have many interactions on the sports pitch through our training programmes that often dovetail one another. A switch into the other genders’ programme is not a serious upheaval.  These individuals, who often have commitments outside of school with professional clubs, must strike a balance between appropriate competition and training levels. Participating in the girls’ programme offers them unique advantages, such as assuming larger leadership roles and acting as mentors, while receiving absolute recognition for their excellence.

However, it is worth noting that for some of these athletes they are equally keen on representing the boys’ teams. The appeal lies in the different challenges and dynamics that playing alongside boys provides. The game may differ slightly, with perhaps less emphasis on technical finesse and more focus on physicality and power, it is not uncommon to see girls in our primarily boys’ A teams across various age groups. This trend extends beyond the top-tier teams and can also be observed at the B/C team level. The decision to integrate girls into primarily boys’ teams is driven by the individual needs and desires of these athletes, as they seek a different experience and aim to test their skills in a varied context.

The key consideration here is whether such a choice is right for the individual. Creating a safe and supportive environment for girls to explore these opportunities is paramount. For many athletes, the opportunity to join primarily boys’ teams adds a different perspective and provides distinct opportunities for growth including wider opportunities, different expectations, and the chance to learn from different players and coaches.

At Bede’s we also offer a lot of mixed gender training. Again it is crucial to recognise that there are pros and cons. As a result, there are instances where single-gender training is more advantageous. All in all, a well rounded balance is key. What provides the most progression for the pupils? What engages them, who benefits and how? By creating a comfortable and inclusive environment, we can ensure that all athletes have the opportunity to thrive and reach their full potential. The goal is to provide equal opportunities while recognising and respecting the unique needs and aspirations of each individual.

How do we ensure both genders receive parity in their opportunities? We must consider playing on the best pitches, receiving equal training time, exposure, kudos, recognition, equipment and benefiting from the same level of coaching. That way playing for a different gender isn’t done because it’s better, but perhaps because it is more suitable for the individual. It doesn’t take away from the other programme and its quality. We should be aiming to create a culture where the variety is supported, understood and normalised by the pupils. The focus should always be on what is best for the individual athlete. Girls should not join primarily boys’ teams because the girls’ programme is considered inferior or the only option; rather, it should be a personal choice driven by the desire for growth and development.

It is important to recognise that opinions on gender integration vary: some advocate for complete separation, while others believe in complete inclusivity. We should strive to remove gender as an overarching factor wherever possible. Instead, we should focus on the unique needs of each individual or group involved. If it benefits the players to train and compete with peers of the same gender, that’s fantastic. Likewise, if mixing genders proves to be the best option, let’s support it. Our goal should be to create an inclusive environment where people feel comfortable participating. By fostering this atmosphere, individuals can then make informed decisions about their level of involvement. So let’s encourage open dialogue and create a space where everyone can thrive!

For more information about Bede’s approach to sport, feel free to get in touch at [email protected]


20 June 2023