Should More Sports Be Coed?

Do you play any sports? Are the teams you play on separated by gender? If so, do you like playing on single-gender teams? Or do you ever wish they were mixed?

Have you played on a coed team? If so, what was it like? Would you do it again? If you did not enjoy the experience, what changes to the game would have made it better?

In “‘8 Players 1 Heartbeat’: A Game Men and Women Play as Equals,” Jeré Longman writes about korfball, a sport from the Netherlands in which teams are made up of equal numbers of men and women:

DELFT, the Netherlands — The home coach gathered his players in a semicircle for a PowerPoint pep talk. A chance to win a European championship does not come along regularly, he said. He spoke about analytics, but mostly about predatory determination. Rebound like bears, he said. Make assists as hungrily as wolves. Attack like tigers and panthers.

And then the coach sent his players out for the inaugural Champions League final of korfball, a century-old cousin of basketball. It is one of the world’s most obscure games but among the most progressive, a rare team sport devised expressly for women and men to play together in equal numbers, with equal respect and value and responsibility.

A number of sports hold mixed-gender competitions, like mixed doubles in tennis and relay races in swimming and track and field. But these are essentially individual sports with an occasional team component. With some exceptions like pairs figure skating, ice dancing and ultimate Frisbee, men and women mostly perform independently on teams. But korfball’s ethos is built on essential, intricate collaboration.

The article continues, describing how players who are women can offer a distinct advantage in the game:

As korfball developed a more dynamic style, top Dutch clubs like PKC and Fortuna hastened the transition from traditional roles of men rebounding and scoring and women providing assists. PKC’s motto is that women should be dominant in attack. The more players who can score, the more threatening and unpredictable a team becomes.

And because skill differences among women are generally somewhat larger than those among men at this stage of korfball’s development, Scholtmeijer said, female players can provide the decisive edge in matches with speed, anticipation, elusiveness and shooting. On PKC, the shooting accuracy of the women is higher than that of the men.

Drawing a basketball analogy, Scholtmeijer, a former coach of the Dutch national korfball team, said, “If you put five LeBrons on one squad, it’s much more difficult to defend.”

The article also explains how korfball is making room for transgender athletes:

This year, its governing body expects to propose that of eight positions on a court, four spots would be reserved for athletes designated female at birth, with the other four spots considered an open category. Unlike track and field, transgender women would not have to lower their testosterone levels to become eligible.

“We feel we have to start from the perspective of being inclusive, while at the same time protecting the fairness of competition for women,” Fransoo said.

Students, read the entire article and then tell us:

What do you think of korfball? Would you like to see the sport spread to other parts of the world? Does it sound like a game you would like to try?

The article includes testimonials from players and coaches who say the coed nature of korfball not only makes the sport more inclusive, but also more competitive. For example, Wim Scholtmeijer, PKC’s co-head coach, said that female players were vital to the sport. They can provide the decisive edge in matches when it comes to speed, anticipation, elusiveness and shooting. He also said, “I believe male athletes function better when they have dominant women around them.” Do you think the sports you participate in would improve if they were coed? Why or why not? Give an example of how you think they could change, for better or for worse.

What do you think it would be like to play on a team where boys and girls “play together in equal numbers, with equal respect and value and responsibility”? Carl Yerger, the president of the United States Korfball Federation, said, “It really helps to build community and communication, just like the rest of society where men and women work together to solve problems.” Do you think coed teams could have benefits on and off the playing field?

Should more sports be coed? Why or why not? If so, what considerations would need to be taken into account? Are there any sports this structure may not work for?

Korfball was designed intentionally so that boys and girls could play together, with rules that offset overpowering physical advantages and promote communication and collaboration. How would you redesign your favorite sport so that men and women had equal roles? Or, what new sport can you create that will give players of all genders equal respect, value and responsibility? Describe it in the comments.

Students 13 and older in the United States and Britain, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public and may appear in print.

Find more Student Opinion questions here. Teachers, check out this guide to learn how you can incorporate these prompts into your classroom.