Why women suck at sport

Abstract: There’s a hidden reason why women don’t seem interested in sport…

I remember the first time my wife beat me in a sport. We had recently got engaged and were playing squash, and she totally pulverised me. Some years later whilst enjoying our honeymoon in the ‘berg she beat me at bowls. Later that same evening I challenged her to a game of pool. What happened? Suffice to say it’s a game I no longer have the confidence to play.

In fact, if I remember correctly I have a reason for no longer challenging her at putt-putt either. In my defence though, my wife is a former provincial hockey player and I have the hand-eye coordination of a rabid squirrel.

But then my wife is not normal, because women normally shun the idea of playing sport, and it’s quite possibly for a reason unknown to men.

Ask any man why women aren’t normally attracted to a sport and he’ll shrug, smile rather condescendingly and say something about an aversion to physicality and an incapacity for coordination. But then let’s not forget they’re talking about that half of the human population with a known propensity for pain and the seemingly puzzling capacity for multi-tasking.

It’s true – women are no strangers to extreme discomfort. Not only do they embrace pregnancy with the full knowledge that the resultant hormone imbalance can whip up excess gas, incontinence, haemorrhoids, incontinence, and a burst of unwanted body hair; but they also endure a regular cycle of abdominal and back pain and unwarranted emotional outbursts.

It’s also a fact that for every four people who suffer a migraine, only one will be a man. The other three will be women; and they will have to tolerate the blinding headaches, nausea and savage muscle pains that would immobilise most men.

As for the coordination that sports demands and which women are supposed to lack, how is it that the average woman can brush her hair, apply eyeliner and talk on her mobile phone whilst driving in rush hour traffic? And whereas few will deny this behaviour is irresponsible, women still have fewer accidents than men.

So if women are more than qualified to play sport, why do they seem to shun it? My theory has two parts.

Firstly it’s to do with the little matter of rules. All recognised sports share something in common: written rules. These may have evolved with the progression of a sport over time, but they are acknowledged and they’re fixed at any moment in time. Pass the ball forward in a game of rugby, and you’ll be penalised. Touch a moving ball with your hands in a game of football and you can expect to hear the whistle. Men like rules, because they’re straightforward and easy to understand.

For women, rules are best when they are unwritten, and best understood only by other women. Ask any husband what confuses him most about his wife’s behaviour and he’s bound to say “her logic”. This is most prevalent in situations that demand some measure of social sensibility.

Example: A husband and wife go to a dinner party and during the conversation, the husband turns to his wife, lovingly takes her hand, gently squeezes it and says just loud enough for those nearby to hear, “for me marriage is for life”. As he says that, a woman nearby rises from the table and rushes off crying. His wife turns to him, glares and then barks, “You’re not supposed to say things like that; you know Jenny’s husband just left her”. The other women at the table will look at him and shake their heads with shock; the other men will shrug and look perplexed.

Somewhere, out there, is a list of rules written, and continually updated, by women that explains why such actions are inappropriate. Unfortunately, they are not shared with men, except after the fact, and then invariably associated with some form of punishment.

Another example: Should a man playing golf accidentally nudge his ball with his foot, it’ll be counted as a shot. There’s no grey area here – The Royal and Ancient are quite clear about this in their rules.

However, should a husband be met with a stony silence and a clearly upset wife and he asks her what’s wrong, she will say, “nothing”. This is a grey area because something clearly is wrong. It’s then up to the husband to guess what it is, what he’s done wrong and what he’s expected to say or do to make things better. Only the wife, and other women will ever really know what he’s to do, because they have written the rules.

The second part of my theory as to why women seem to shun sport is because it gives them the upper hand in any argument.

Think about it: if women regularly engaged in sport, then men would be a lot more guarded when they grappled verbally with women. This is the last thing that women want. They want to keep men off-guard; so they feign physical gladiatorial incapacity to give men a false sense of security, knowing all the time that they also have the upper hand when it comes to a command of the unwritten rules.

Of course, I could be wrong, and maybe women only shun sport because they’re useless at it.

However, that’s not an argument I’d like to have with my wife, I’d only lose that as well.

Originally published in The Sunday Tribune, 11 March 2012