NOTE: This letter from a woman in our church who grew up in Indiana basketball was sitting on my desk Sunday morning, printed out. Her dad was a high school men’s basketball coach and I can attest to her ball-handling skills. She is godly and wise, with a husband who serves the church as an elder and shares with her a whole passel of adopted children.

Too, it helps to know IU Women’s Basketball is a thing along with IU Men’s Basketball. Men’s has not done so well in recent years, but as football is to Texas and Ohio, basketball is to Indiana. Despite the recent March Madness humiliation of the IU Men’s team, the Women’s team made the Sweet Sixteen.

This sister in Christ is anything but a lacy, dress-wearing prude raising daughters who are, what our kids who are veterans of recording audio from countless homeschooling conferences, used to refer to as “prairie muffins.”

A couple years ago, we had a starter for the IU Women’s Basketball team in our congregation. I’ve attended several IU Women’s Basketball games, so we know a thing or two about women’s sports. Please don’t dismiss our warnings out of hand. -Tim Bayly

Dear Tim,

I wrote this to you after your first Warhorn article [TB: the snarky one I replaced with this one]…

Let me preface this with the fact that I haven’t watched one Indiana University (IU) women’s game this season. I have seen the pictures on facebook and I just want to say that it has been refreshing to see these girls with feminine hairstyles: lot of cute braids and big ponytails. This is in contrast to the butch-style haircuts that seemed pervasive for so long in women’s sports.

The problem is, I don’t think the new hairstyles are born out of an embracing of their femininity. I believe it is born out of societal pressure to do it all. These girls were raised wearing t-shirts with the slogans “Girls rule/Boys drool” and “You think I throw like a girl? Thanks!”

So their hair styles are reflective of wanting to be girls who do it all. They proclaim, “I can be a girl and be a good athlete. See how cute and sporty I am?” I fear that these will be the women who will continue to feel society’s pressure after college, i.e. I must have a high-pressure job and perfect children. I realize that this is a lot to read into a hairstyle.

Going back to the recent women’s game, IU had to let the students in for free in order to get them to attend. I assume the Athletic Department handed out balloons and other accessories to make the crowd look more invested than they actually were. It was all to make a good showing on TV—to make it look as crowded as the boy’s games.

However, to attend the men’s games, students must pay. This is because it is more entertaining to watch their games. You get what you pay for.

If you go to the girls’ game when fans aren’t let in for free, it is sparsely attended. This is because—gasp—people who attend are people who actually know the girls. Their fan base is their friends and parents. It is relational. The girls on the team used to come out of the locker room after the game and chat with the fans and sign autographs for little girls. The fans feel connected to the players, relationally, and come back because they feel like they know the players.

I have coached on and off for about thirty years, girls from ages 6 through 23. Obviously I support girls in sports, and basketball in particular.

However, there is an age where it becomes, well, unbecoming.

I was at a college practice, once, and suddenly it struck me how much spandex was in the room. Every girl had layers of spandex on under her clothes, trying to artificially squish her body. To put it delicately, they were trying to restrain their bodies in places that their bodies were clearly trying to announce their sex. Many of them had spandex from their knees to their shoulders. That was when it struck me that these weren’t girls anymore; that every woman there was trying hard to make her body do the unnatural. And they all looked a little bit silly.

Due to the particular weaknesses of women’s bodies, comprehensive diet and training protocols have been developed for college athletes. These women spend hours in the weight room and eat under the direction of an athletic dietician.

You know what? It doesn’t work. These girls get hurt a lot. They all have injuries. Knees? Hips? Back? They all hurt. They walk out of practice and into the training room. Into ice baths, whirlpools, ultrasound treatments, heated wax, and ice packs, ice packs, ice packs strapped to every part of their bodies. They limp to their cars. They go to bed and hurt and wake up and hurt. They have friends drive them to class because they hurt too bad to walk. Then they get to practice early to get treatment so that they can function at practice. Heated massage, tape around every joint, physical therapy exercises, all to get them ready to perform.

These are the same girls forced to give the appearance of “strength” on billboards all over town by flexing their biceps and showing a big smile; or worse, wearing a serious expression and failing to look fierce.

Their bodies are rebelling, but they push through what nature is obviously screaming at them. And for what? Are they sacrificing their bodies to have children? For the hope of another soul in heaven?

Nope, it is for basketball. But moth and rust destroy trophies and banners, too. Compare the twenty-something years of a college athlete with a young mom and tell me who is more productive. So easy for those who have eyes.

Still don’t believe me that women are weaker?

Go to a college women’s practice or watch one on YouTube, and notice all the men hanging around. Why are all these guys at a women’s practice?

Let me tell you. It is because they are “practice players.” They play against the women because they are faster and stronger.

These aren’t players from the men’s team. These are just guys who probably played in high school or maybe didn’t. You know what, though; they are still stronger (and usually better) than the girls on the Division I college team. It gives the girls better competition in practice than just playing against each other.

There is a time to put away childish things.

That time depends on the particular girl and the particular sport, but it must happen. Probably before college. Some sports should be put away at a much younger age than others. How many little girls do gymnastics and must stop when they hit their growth spurt in middle school? It becomes obvious to the mother that her little girl is no longer little and gymnastics is not feasible anymore. Then the mother directs her daughter to other activities.

Some girls will push back and the mothers relent until an injury occurs or the girl realizes that gymnastics isn’t fun anymore with a bigger, heavier body. Other mothers will not allow their daughters to grow up.

I know one Christian mother who restricted her daughter’s caloric intake so that puberty was delayed, allowing her to continue in gymnastics through her teen years. This girl should have put this sport away.

One of my friend’s parents forced her to continue gymnastics after breaking each ankle twice. The coaches told her parents she was too tall (5’8”) for competitive gymnastics, but her parents didn’t want her to quit because they had invested so much time and money. This girl should have put this sport away.

It is not just physical damage. Girls must be protected from the emotional damage that is far too often a part of sports. Men (and some womyn) who demean and intimidate girls for the sake of improved performance can leave a lasting imprint on a developing young lady. These coaches are in every discipline: music, dance, athletics. Outbursts of anger and social shaming are all culturally accepted ways of bringing out a better performance of athletes. Christian parents must decide their child’s activities with wisdom. One coach calling a kid lazy might be accurate and helpful. Another coach calling a different child the same label might be harmful.

There is spiritual danger in sports. There is the sin of spending too much money and time on sports, but the sport itself may tempt your child to sin. One mom said she was tempted to be short-tempered with her daughters for not being more aggressive during a basketball game. Then she had to stop herself and wonder why she wanted her young ladies to be more aggressive? They are going to put basketball away at a young age.

By the way, here is a word in defense of basketball: I believe girls can play contact sports with other girls and not necessarily develop a “go get ‘er” mentality. Giving a girl an outlet for her energies on the basketball court in the name of good and friendly competition does not necessarily mean that she will fall into sin although, obviously, parents must decide if a sport holds too much temptation for their daughter given her individual weaknesses.

Another gymnastics mom I know noticed her daughters becoming increasingly comfortable wearing less clothing as they grew up, and attributed it to the fact that they spent three afternoons a week in leotards. Initially, she wasn’t worried about the lack of clothing worn during gymnastics, since the class was just girls. However, as time went on, she realized being barely dressed, even in the presence of “just girls,” got their bodies accustomed to not being covered, and this set a general tone of immodesty in her daughters’ lives.

After I spoke with that mom, I took a critical look at the fact that my own family was in swimming. I had one daughter who had expressed feelings of vulnerability. She wore shorts over her one-piece suit, yet she still didn’t feel comfortable having coaches instruct her, often moving her arms for her, to better instruct her technique.

My daughter confided to me that she wasn’t comfortable wearing such few clothes and having somebody touch her.

I responded that her female coach was being very appropriate in the way she used physical touch to teach the kids. I said she should learn to be fine with it.

But then, I had to stop myself. Why would I want my daughter to ignore her “belly alarm” (as we sometimes refer to it)? She didn’t like laying down on a diving block, scantily clad, and having somebody stand over her and control her body. Why oh why would I want her to ignore that uneasiness? I apologized to her and we quit swim team.

On the other hand, sports can help our children overcome their weaknesses. A mom I was sitting by during a sporting event was telling me about how volleyball had brought out some concerns with her daughter’s disposition. This mother and her husband had been careful to teach their children humility, and to consider the interests of others better than themselves.

But their kids—the lot of them—were introverts.

This mother noticed her daughter would always allow the other girls on the team to bump the ball, even when it was clearly headed for her daughter. This mother expressed worry that they had somehow stifled their kids and the kids had become too passive.

I suggested that allowing their daughter to play volleyball would be beneficial for her. It is not proud or self-seeking to bump the volleyball when it comes your way. That is your role on the team. It is actually an inconvenience to the other players if you don’t play your spot. Those sweet-tempered children who show you where the match is when you are playing “Memory” or give you the card you need without you even asking during “Go Fish” might need a dose of sports.

Yes, there are Christians who believe “if it can’t be done in a skirt, it is best not done.” Their wives and daughters put on their culottes and turn on a workout video in the privacy of their basement. They do it for enjoyment and to strengthen their arms for their tasks.

Other Christians with this same mindset sew skirts for their daughters out of athletic material, and allow them to play every sport except football. I think this diversity in the body is beautiful. We should bear with each other’s weaknesses, being unsure who is weaker, in the theology of sport.

Thanks for all your teaching on femininity through the years. It has been helpful as I navigate a lot of grey areas of coaching basketball. There are many times I start introducing a new skill to the girls with, “Now, this isn’t very lady-like, but you are allowed to do it during a basketball game.”

I believe giving girls this outlet to be physical is beneficial for some girls. I do feel like I am constantly restraining masculinity, though, just given the nature of basketball and the type of girls it attracts. One team was disappointed that I wouldn’t let them chest bump during starting line ups. That decision was a no-brainer due to the years of training from your pulpit.

Thanks and love,

(Jane Doe)

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