Adult Participation in Coed Softball: Relations in a Gender Integrated Sport

Article excerpt

Within the last ten years participation in recreational coed sports, especially volleyball and softball, has burgeoned. In softball, amateur coed leagues now thrive in almost every state. Some teams play for recreation only, while others advance to state and national tournaments by qualifying through playoffs. The present study focuses on the levels of participation, meanings attached to the game by the players, and particularly the male and female interpretations of the game by the participants. The data were collected by interviews of 45 male and female players during two summer softball seasons. The findings provide an in-depth account of the mutual expectations of male and female players during the game, the intimidation of females by males, the roles played by each gender, and the overall structure of the coed game in contrast with same-sex softball.

There are few sports where females and males can play on the same team; the primary exceptions include mixed doubles in tennis, recreational volleyball, and softball. The present paper focuses specifically on amateur coed softball, a gender-integrated sport. The growth of this sport is evident when we find that in 1981 the Amateur Softball Association of America first sanctioned coed softball (slow pitch) and in 1990 the A.S.A. registered 25,787 coed teams drawn from all 50 states. The growth of the sport has reached the point where in many communities it is divided into several levels or divisions with the best teams participating in playoffs for state and national tournaments. The purpose of the present study is to examine these levels of involvement and the relationships between female and male players in the naturalistic context of coed softball.

Initially, coed softball was designed as an informal leisure activity for participants with varying levels of ability who were primarily interested in the social dimension of playing together for fun rather than a concern for the outcome of the contest. When the sport is played at this informal level, the emphasis on competition, domination, discipline, training, and victory is minimal. The present level of organization in the sport, however, manifests several levels of stratification with the highest level emphasizing formal rules, roles, and extrinsic goals and outcomes. These levels of participation are consistent with Stebbin's (1982) concept of casual and serious leisure. According to Stebbins, casual leisure includes activities that do not require a serious involvement and effort in the activity. On the other hand, serious leisure requires the "development of skills and knowledge, the accumulation of experience and the expending of effort" (Stebbins, 1982, p. 267). This consideration of the levels of involvement is also evident in Nash's (1976, 1977) research on running. He describes running as typically including three levels of involvement--joggers (minimum level of seriousness), regular runners, and distance runners (maximum level of involvement). Likewise, Snyder (1986) in his study of shuffleboard players describes social and serious players, with the latter category divided into amateurs, professionals, and masters. These studies emphasize that an increased level of involvement is characterized by greater training, skill, perseverance, and personal identity invested in the activity. In coed softball, the maximum level of involvement is evident in the state and national tournaments.

Since coed softball is a gender integrated sport, an integral part of the sport is the interaction of females and males within the sport. In the last twenty years numerous studies have considered the importance of gender relationships in sport. Traditionally, the Victorian ideal was that participation in sports is inappropriate for females. These discriminatory norms provided barriers to a full participation in athletic activities by females. Hall (1988) argues that gender is of sufficient importance that it must be considered a major social category in the social analysis of sport. …