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  • Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Math Geek Mom: Volleyball and Title IX at 40
September 20, 2012 - 8:04pm

Although less common than in the past, I sometimes still run into students who are convinced they cannot learn math. Some of these students are women old enough to be my mother, who grew up in the days when it was assumed that math was for men and not for women. I recall one woman sitting in my office almost in tears, telling me that she had never been able to do math. I pointed out that she had six children, including a specials need son, and told her that any woman who could raise six children most definitely knew how to do math. I do know, however, that my own image of myself as a non-athlete is similar to her view of herself as not mathematical, and have to conclude that our perceptions of our skills in such subjects are in many ways dependent on the time in which we grew up. I was lucky enough to have a teacher in second grade that saw that I was good in math, but never lucky enough to have a mentor who encouraged me to be athletic. My daughter is lucky to have people who do.

I spent a good part of last weekend watching my daughter become a better volleyball player. I am thrilled to watch her, an only child who sometimes acts as if the world revolves around her, learn to work well as a valuable teammate who considers other players in her actions and decisions. She has several amazing coaches to thank for being able to teach the players the skills they need to play so beautifully. Indeed, when she was having trouble serving the ball, they told her to go home and practice serving it over our garage. I therefore spent much of last weekend hearing a persistent “thump, thump” from the ceiling as she served a volleyball and then bumped it back onto the roof, over and over until she reached the goal of 100 times at different distances that her coaches had set for her.

I must admit that the lesson she tried to give me on how to play volleyball did not go over very well. I am, after all, older than the law that indirectly allows my daughter to participate in sports, and it was that law that I found myself thinking about as I cheered her on as her team won two games last weekend. I remember her asking me once “mommy, what sports did you play when you were a girl?”, and the best answer I had was that I swam and danced ballet. I cringed at the fact that, although quite good, I never swam competitively, but did so strictly for fun, and that many people would not consider ballet to be a sport. I have to wonder, however, how many of those people have stood or twirled on the very tips of their toes. Indeed, eventually it was an injury that is most often found in football players that led me to quit dancing in the long run.

When I was young, team sports for girls were still rare, and I therefore never considered joining a basketball or volleyball team when I was my daughter’s age. Indeed, I don’t know where I would have found such a team to join, as they were generally nonexistent for girls in grammar school, with team sports for girls not appearing until I got to high school. I don’t know if they existed then because there was more of an interest in team sports for girls at the high school level, or because by the time I got there, Title IX had been put into effect, and it was now the law that organizations, such as colleges, who accept federal funds cannot discriminate on the basis of sex. This new rule soon influenced the offerings of sports programs for college students, and this led to more sports programs being offered for female high school students. This eventually led to opportunities for sports for girls in the grammar schools. And it is indirectly because of this law that my daughter spent last weekend bumping a ball off our garage roof and then going on to participate in winning two games.

I would love to hear from my readers about their experience with sports in the past. Were there opportunities for you to participate in sports when you were younger, or did you, like me, have to wait for the next generation to see these opportunities emerge?


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