On my first day coaching lacrosse at an all-girls school many years ago, I remember being struck by the sight of a group of high school girls on their way to practice. The girls were skipping arm in arm, sticks in hand, singing a popular song at the top of their lungs. To me they looked incredibly goofy—but, more importantly, utterly at ease in their own skins, knowing there were no boys around for miles.
As someone who attended a co-ed high school, the idea of belting out tunes with my teammates in the middle of campus makes me feel queasy even now. By contrast, I remember the feeling of visibly shrinking, folding up into my smallest self, whenever I entered a crowded cafeteria or a hallway teeming with boys. The notion that these girls could act so relaxed and unguarded at a single-sex school was fascinating to me.
As the season progressed, I watched with joy and admiration as the 7th and 8th grade girls on my team played with confidence and seemed happy to take chances on the field due in part, at least in my view, to the boy-free atmosphere. My players were utterly undistracted about what they looked like on the field, and instead focused on learning and having fun.
When later that summer I ran Sum It Up’s first lacrosse camp, then known as Sum It Up for Girls, I wanted to provide a similarly nurturing environment with caring coaches. Of course, the lacrosse instruction was important, but I am convinced that the girls fall in love with the sport, or at least have a wonderful time, because of how safe and comfortable they feel when they’re with us. Call it “girl power” or a place to be goofy or anything you please, watching the girls at camp blossom in the relaxed setting we create at Sum It Up is one of my proudest achievements.
So what happens now that we expanded the company to include boys? First, except for drop-off and pick-up, we strive to keep the boys and girls separated whenever we’re sharing a location as we did this past summer at Pingry in June and Tatlock Field in Summit in July. Second, the girls are coached by female staff; and—except for our warm and creative assistant boys’ director, Michele Lobo—the boys are coached entirely by a staff of young men. (As a mother of four, Michele is particularly wonderful when it comes to helping the K–2nd grade boys feel at ease.)
The truth is, it’s just as important for boys to learn new skills and get down and dirty in a girl-free zone at times too. Let’s face it: while endlessly interesting, the opposite sex can be mighty distracting.