The revolution began with the simple act of a mother kicking a ball to her daughter. An English soccer trainer noticed, and praised her form. "Too bad," she replied, "there's no soccer league for mothers." Who could know that so many lives would change as a result of that simple exchange?
In the suburban enclave of Montclair, New Jersey, as in so many communities around America, there was nothing new in the sight of mothers driving their minivans to soccer practice. What was new was that these women were driving to their own practices instead of dropping off their kids and watching from the sidelines. For the generation that grew up before Title IX's mandate of equal athletic opportunity, the field of play was a male preserve; girls watched and cheered. The lessons that sports are supposed to teach -- team spirit, overcoming adversity, playing to win without rancor or anger -- were restricted to this young boys' network; how could women help win the Battle of Waterloo when they'd been kept off the playing fields of Eton?
The women of Montclair were mostly of that pre-Title IX generation, and many of them had never played competitive sports in their lives. In Alive and Kicking, Harvey Araton follows these women through their turbulent first two seasons. He turns his keen sportswriter's eye onto the battles, both on the field and in the psyche, that these women wage as they try to play a sport without compromising their values. He also shows the divisions that wrack the league when a slightly younger generation gets involved in the games, a generation raised without ambivalence about beating an opponent, willing to take a dangerous chance for a winning goal, even if it means running over the woman in their way. But most of all he describes the women who gain in confidence and ambition, like one of the league's pioneers, who finds the strength to leave a tired marriage, buoyed by her accomplishments on the field -- as well as the few who find themselves left behind by the achievers, those for whom this exposure to sport will leave the scars known to all who've been the last to be selected for a pickup game.
The rise of women's sports -- symbolized by the ecstatic reaction to the U.S. Women's World Cup soccer team -- has been a significant change in the social landscape. This thoughtful, thought-provoking book examines the questions that should underlie this radical change, but too often have not: As sports change women, can women change sports? Is the male play-to-win model the only one that works? Does it work? Through the experiences of these smart, mature women, we learn much about the workings of games and societies -- and the difficulty of questioning patterns so deeply entrenched that we barely know we can question them at all.