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Commentary Mar 24, 2015

LeBolt: Let’s talk about “the unmentionables”

WendyLeBolt-HeaderAfter spectating on a particularly soaking day on the pitch, a friend asked me, “Why do so many girls teams wear white? I don’t really want to know the color of every player’s sports bra.”

It was clear that, as a coach and a dad, even saying this made him feel uncomfortable.

So, let’s talk. Why do girls teams wear white?

For shorts, it’s ridiculous. We made this rookie mistake with our first kid. The white shorts we bought her looked adorable with the pale pink jersey until both were caked with mud. That’s never coming clean no matter how many times you bleach it, and we hadn’t anticipated how much the Disney character underpants would peek through. Which, now that you mention it, is an even bigger problem with the jersey; in the rain we have a wet t-shirt contest. Can we talk?

Girls have a choice: Show what’s underneath or cover it up with something that’s okay for everyone to see. This actually, is a sign that your daughter is growing up, and probably reflects the influence of a mentor or role model who showed them how to manage an untenable and/or potentially embarrassing situation. Next time you see a girls team that’s forced to swap uniform colors at the field, watch what happens. Getting one jersey off and the other one on while keeping the outer sweatshirt in place is magic. Their deftness rivals any skill they perform on the field.

+READ: LeBolt: Strategies to ace your first college soccer recruiting visit

But I confess, this Dad’s question has me picturing a ripple-abb-ed, buff bicep-ed Brandi Chastain, ripping off her jersey in celebration after scoring the winning PK in the 99 World Cup. Such a photo moment, and so embarassing to have a woman DO that in public.

She received so much flack, she ended up responding with a book called, “It’s Not About the Bra.” It’s an interesting read about a turning point moment for women’s soccer that threatened to be derailed by what we hadn’t been talking about.

ChastainSo, let’s talk… about all the confusing messages we send to our girls as we send them out on the field. Oh, we don’t voice them, but they are in play, nevertheless.

Play offense, but don’t be offensive.

Be assertive, but not attacking.

Be strong, but not muscular.

Take charge, but don’t dictate.

Be smart, but not brainy.

Be a team, but showcase your talent.

Stand out, but don’t show off.

Be confident, but not cocky.

Celebrate, but keep your shirt on! Then, the rains come, and gratefully there is a game to keep us from thinking about all this. But they do. Our girls are continuously faced with mixed messages: Be this, but not too much. It’s unladylike.

It’s no wonder they’re out there in their hot-pink sports bras. It’s like they’re saying, lets just end this conversation. And don’t get me started about panty lines and muffin tops. But since you mentioned it, compression shorts were a great invention, ostensibly to support and increase blood flow return from thigh muscles, but they double as a modest way to cover up whatever you don’t want showing. And why settle for black? Why not hot pink or lime green with frogs? Make a statement.

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Maybe there’s more to the bra than I, or even Brandi, realized. “Separate but equal” is a lovely expression, but it doesn’t play well. We’re different. We’ve got to come to terms with the confusion out there. What we really want are girls who are comfortable in their own skins, so comfortable they don’t feel they have to hide it or flaunt it.

Rather, they don’t think about it at all. Then, when you score the winning goal in the World Cup, you can rip off your shirt and, instead of noticing the sports bra, the spectators see a joyful celebration and the beautiful strong woman who just sealed the deal.

I suspect Brandi wasn’t always this young woman. She probably started off more like my little 9- and 10-year-old players with whom parents needed to have the “it’s time to wear a sports bra” conversation, but hadn’t. So I did, as their coach. I called them all into a huddle and told them I had a secret that only us girls share. This is what young female athletes do. It’s a rite of passage. And now it comes in all sorts of cool colors, just like the cleats.

The girls looked at each other, smiled nervously, and started showing up in ‘undergarments.’ Some even proudly showed me. Their parents, well, their moms, usually smiled in my direction.

+READ: LeBolt: Julie Foudy offers an alternative for our childrens’ soccer development

When we sign up to coach, there are tons of things we end up teaching the kids. Sports bras wasn’t in my coaching manual. But an honest discussion about something people were avoiding talking about, very often was. If you’re uncomfortable talking about it, think how the kids feel. It’s confusing and the world has plenty of often conflicting input.

While the kids are working it out, maybe they could wear another color or maybe we could find a uniform manufacturer who could produce a white jersey that wasn’t skin tight and see-through when it gets wet.

Now, about all those other mixed messages…Sports are a terrific place to start the conversation. When they’re comfortable in their skin, it’s a whole lot healthier world out there.

Maybe it is about the bra after all.

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