Gender in Sports: Male Athletes

While most aspects of the entire body of sport science knowledge are founded on principles applicable to all athletes, specialized issues arise from considerations of both age and gender. Male athletes, female athletes, and young athletes all face unique training and performance issues. Male athletes have been dominant on a global basis in almost every sporting activity, in terms of their far greater number of participants, the well-entrenched traditions associated with many forms of male sport, as well as the demanding physical nature of many sports. For these reasons, a great number of athletic issues have been viewed from an entirely male perspective.

Beginning with the ancient Olympics, competitive sport has been an overwhelmingly male-dominated arena. Female sports did not exist in any organized or formal fashion until the twentieth century; the 1928 Olympics represented the first wide-scale international women's track and field competition. Women's baseball teams attracted a certain level of notoriety in the United States in the 1930s and 1940s, but these leagues were viewed by the public as something of a novelty, as opposed to a serious athletic endeavor.

Even when female athletes achieved a measure of achievement, so long as there has existed a male alternative in a sport, those male athletes have been accorded greater fame and financial reward than their female counterparts. Notwithstanding the physiological differences between men and women that fundamentally affect performance, the male athlete is perceived as the better athlete. A portion of the global sporting public is unable or unwilling to distinguish between female athletic ability, which encompasses all of the physical factors that combine to

One of the great male athletes, Jesse Owens.
create athleticism, as well as more intangible traits such as decision-making, hand-eye coordination, peripheral vision, and agility.

The domination of the male athlete and male team sports prompted a number of government initiatives throughout the world, aimed at not so much a redress of the perceived inequality in the acceptance of female athletes as the competitive equals of men, but to increase the status of female athletics. The legislative initiatives taken in a number of counties such as the United States to enforce equality across the entire athletic spectrum have not changed perceptions so much as they appear to have altered the actual degree of female participation in a number of sports, particularly at the American university level. Title IX is the generic name given to the American female sports initiative, which provides for an equal funding formula in the financial support provided to sports in U.S. universities.

An unforeseen consequence of Title IX was the elimination of a number of male sport programs in the American university system governed by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). Male sports such as wrestling were eliminated at over 100 American universities, to achieve the balance required by Title IX. Government initiatives cannot alter the significant differences in the approaches that male athletes versus female athletes take with respect to almost every sport. These differences include:

  • The motivation for persons to participate in sport is often different for male and female athletes, distinctions that have been identified in athletes commencing in adolescence, and reinforced through the early adult years. The competitive motives for sport participation are paramount for young males. These athletes value sport for its inherent challenge; they equate enjoyment of the activity with their personal competence in it.
  • Female athletes, while committed to technical success in the sport, often focus on the social aspects of participation. Female athletes have been the subject of academic research that establishes that females tend to have a lower level of self-confidence about their athletic participation than do males in similar circumstances. Females often place a greater emphasis upon the collateral benefits of sport, the sense of camaraderie and identification with a team (in individual sports, those bonds are strongest with their coaches and the athletic environment).

As male and female athletes grow from adolescence into physical maturity, the physical drills and training programs must be modified to suit the physical differences that exist between male and female athletes. The key differences between male and female physical capabilities include:

  • The maximum amount of oxygen that a male athlete can process in the production of energy, the VO2 max, will exceed the capacity of a similarly trained female athlete by as much as 10%.
  • Men possess greater muscular strength and endurance.
  • Men tend to have a lower percentage body fat than women with similar training and athletic capabilities; an extremely fit elite male 100-m sprinter may have a percentage body fat as low as 5% to 7%; an elite female sprinter will rarely achieve a 10% level.
  • The training and coaching approaches to male athletes and female athletes must reflect the inherent physiological differences between the genders.

SEE ALSO Aging and athletic performance; Mature athletes; Women and sports: Exercise data, goals, and guidelines; Youth sports training.