Male vs. Female athletes

With the entry of Annika Sorrenstam into a PGA tournament, one of my coworkers and I have engaged in a terribly fascinating discussion about athleticism among the sexes.

We both agree (he as a male, me as a female) that a female could never make it in the NBA or NFL due to the simple physiological fact that women aren’t as big or strong as men. We do wonder, however, about other sports that don’t require as much strength, speed, etc.

So here’s the question - in non-strength type sports, like bowling or billiards, is the best female as good (or better) than the best male?

Funny thing,

I was watching billiards on ESPN the other day, and the men do seem to be more skilled than the women. I can’t fathom it, but it seems so.

It’s not that way in poker is it?

Are there female jockeys?

Cause male and female horses race one another don’t they?

Men do seem to be better at golf too, and I can’t believe that the deficit in strength can’t be overcome by skill and technology.


Oddly, it ain’t that simple.

Track and field events, distance runs, swimming, speed skating, skiing, and a host of other sports all provide objective measures of achievement. Men outperform women in all of those sports, but there are a host of other factors to consider. In most countries, for example, a far higher percentage of men than women participate in sports. It is also possible that training methods might need to differ. Even so, men will probably continue to dominate in these sports. Male hips are meant for walking, female hips have to accommodate two purposes with different demands. No doubt, some women have hips optimally designed for walking, but only a percentage. Size matters in many sports, and more men are taller.

Size is a determining factor in many sports. You can be titanically strong, but if you weigh 150 lbs, you aren’t going to hit many homeruns in baseball. You have to be strong and big, and far more men are. The same applies to many other team sports.

Sports like gymnastics judge men and women differently. Clearly female gymnasts are already better than the best male gymnasts - when judged like the women. I’m not a real fan of gymnastics, but male gymnastics seems to emphasize upper body power, while female gymnastics seems to emphasize flexibility.

Then there are the sports like boxing and wrestling which are interesting because they have weight classes. I would think the greater male upper body strength, pound for pound, would give men an advantage, but who knows?

Soccer (football to nine tenths of you) and curling are the only team sports I can think of where the male size and strength advantage might not play. I suppose a bigger player kicks harder, and a faster sprinter gets the ball first, but there seem to be plenty of smaller players. I have never watched curling and consider its inclusion in the Olympics a sign of their decline.

I don’t consider games like bowling or billiards sports, anymore than I consider athletic arts like dance (and, yes, I include figure skating) sports so I won’t comment on them. Other than to mention that if you think synchronized swimming is a sport, then women are better.

Does horse racing count? Surely it is a sport, but is it a people sport?

Well, the odd thing is, men dominate in areas of sport you’d THINK they wouldn’t have any real advantage in. Nobody is surprised that male golfers generally hit much longer drives than women do. That’s a matter of strength, and you’d EXPECT men to outperform women there.

But one would THINK that women could chip and putt just as well, wouldn’t one? In reality, it’s not so. The top players on the LPGA don’t scramble or putt as well as the top men do, either. And THAT’S rather counterintuitive.

The one area in which women can and do occasionally surpass men is sports involving extreme endurance. Women regularly win in events like the Iditarod (granted, that’s a reflection on the dogs more than the humans) and sometimes win ultra-marathons (footraces of 50-100 miles).

astorian, that’s really weird. Any idea what it’s chalked up to? If I had to guess, it’s that men are typically raised to be much more competitive than women.

Can you please give me one exapmle of a woman that has won an extreme marathon? I know a little about the sport and have done one myself and know of no woman that has won one.

Now there is swimming and women seem to do better in that, for exapmle swimming across the english channel etc, but not in just a few mile swims.

My theory on why guys perform better at (sport, geekery, whatever) is that guys are more likely to focus on just one thing and be excellent at that (even to the detriment of other areas of their lives) and that women are more likely to have a more broad skillbase. Historically men have also been allowed to devote themselves obsessivly to areas of interest to them, and have been supported in this by their spouses when they have had them, or by their housekeepers for example when they haven’t.

A prime example of this is, for example, the l33t coder. He is a wizard with his code of choice, knows it inside out and can weave magic with it. However, he traditionally does not have a girlfriend, own home or dress sense :smiley: (I exaggerate I know)
I would love to be a great coder, but I am not willing to sink my all into it. I will not comprimise my relationship and my other areas of interest in order to put in the time and energy that it would require to reach his level of skill. Does that make any sense?

Men are better than women at just about everything, even when you compare tasks that do not involve size or physical strength.

I think the reason for this is purley biological. Men who are very talented can greatly increase their reproductive success. Wilt Chamberlain claims that he banged 20,000 women. Had he done this prior to the invention of birth control, he could have fathered hundreds or maybe even thousands of offspring.

If, hypothetically, a woman were to become as good at a sport as Wilt Chamberlain was at basketball, I doubt that this would significantly enhance her reproductive success. Men’s attraction to her would still be primarily a function of her appearance. Plus, a woman can only give birth so many times during her lifetime.

What does that have to do with it, Surreal? Just because you can have more offspring, doesn’t make you a better performer/athlete/artist/etc. I suppose it might make your children slightly better, but you aren’t going to be a good basketball player just because your father was.

Tell that to Kobe Bryant.

What I’m saying is that if a man has a gene that causes him to be intensely competitive, he will likely become very good at something. He will achieve dominance in some field, and he will gain social status as a result of this.

Being ambitious and having high status are things that women find attractive in men. Therefore, he will have lots of women who are attracted to him, which usually means lots of sexual partners and more attractive partners.

With lots of attractive (i.e., healthy, fertile, good DNA) sexual partners, his competitive genes will be passed along to his sons. Multiply this effect over thousands of generations and you’ll see why the top men are better than the top women at just about everything.

That certainly is a significant factor that will influence any contemporary statistical evidence we might call on. Far fewer women participants mean we have no way of knowing whether the comparison is fair or not.

The rules of that sport strictly prohibit male and female players appearing on the same teams above a certain age (14?), but although size and muscularity provide a big advantage for many playing positions you’re right that there are exceptions. There have been cases of female players appearing in men’s teams at an amateur level until complaints were made by their opponents. The complaints were phrased to cite the rules I mentioned already, but the true motivation semmed to be that the girls were embarassingly good.

That’s a mater of opinion, but there certainly are a few women jockeys and they have competed with men in the most prestigious races in the USA and UK. Equestrianism (show jumping etc.) is also a sport where men and women compete in the same events up to Olympic level. There are no separate men’s and women’s events.

The same goes for sailing. Ellen MacArthur finished second overall in the Vendée Round the Globe yacht race 2001 having made a detour to rescue another competitor and is highly respected in that sport.

I see no connection whatsoever between the fact that men use sperm to reproduce as opposed to becoming pregnant and their being good at sport. You’re going to have to do much better than produce an anecdote about some famous guy screwing around.

How about Car Racing, Horse Racing/Harness Racing, Steeple Chase/Equestrian Riding?

Ask Billie Jean King - if she’s better at Tennis than a Man.

Here’s something that explains the biology behind the sex differences-

In most species, mating efforts are most likely to be male, parenting efforts female. Mating and parental efforts have different “return curves.” Mating effort has a high fixed cost, typically, a male has to establish himself as successful in order to mate. Once a male has been established as a successful resource provider, his fitness in sexual selection multiplies. The return for parental behaviors is more linear to energy expenditure (although in highly polygynous societies, return curves for sons and daughters reflect mating and parenting curves). This dichotomy creates a strong bias in polygynous species such as our own. Because of the higher variability in reproductive success for males, maturation is delayed to achieve larger size and competitive ability. A greater expenditure and risk may be profitable for male mating effort, but not for parental effort (Daly & Wilson, 1996).

Maybe it’s because I’m just a girl, but I don’t find that to be true at all!

That doesn’t make sense though because the offspring are not all male…the “talented” genes are passed down to male and female alike. Same goes for the woman’s attractive genes…it’s not as if men’s genes only go into male children or female genes only go into female children…traits from both sides are passed down, regardless of the sex of the child…

One of my beliefs, and I admit it is a belief not something I can cite, is that males have greater variability than females precisely because males are more expendable than women. Being bigger and having more muscle tissue is a survival gamble. It takes more calories to get big, and to maintain muscle. If, in times of drought say, you lose most of a generation of males because of their greater caloric needs, so what? The species can still survive. The same is not true of females. So, the males of many species are larger. (Hyenas are the only large mammals I know of for which the females are larger.) Thus, even for some trait where the two sexes have the same average, or the guys even a “worse” one, their may be more males at either extreme.

This logic can be extended to willingness to participate in risky behaviors, devote oneself to just one task, etc, and it might account for most sports, and such nonintuitive things as putting and car racing. However, some sports, like running, lend themselves to addictive personalities, and many women do take them too seriously. Just like guys like me.

I suspect in some sports it is the case that chauvinism keeps significant numbers of women out. Perhaps that accounts for sports like car racing, that are heavily dominated by men. It could also be a spatial perception thing. (And don’t bash me about that, I’m just postulating. Certainly the military instructor pilots I know believe that is real, but then, they might be chauvenist.)

I must point out that men do currently dominate ultramarathons. The best women are closer to men in ultras than in other running sports, but the best times are still men’s. Look at the Leadville 100 (top 13000 feet, twice!), where one woman has an awesome time, better than all but three or four of the guys’ times, but still not the better than the best men. Perhaps it is the numbers participating, but I haven’t seen that. Most participants are Westerners, and the women have every opportunity. The lesser size of women is an advantage, but stride efficiency and ability to stand up to the training our king.

When I started teaching, girls in basketball could play only with half court rules. There was a big debate at the time about whether women had the stamina to play full court.

My biology teacher told me that the reason men were better than women in most things was that, women have the ability to multi-task. There brains can handle many things at the same time.
Men, on the other hand, can focus on one thing in perticular. That is why the best chef in the world is a man. He is so engrossed in his work, that that is the only thing he can do, but he does it real well.

Barry Bonds might be a good case that athleticism is genetic to some degree. Yiy. Then again, athlete dads probably coach and push their sons harder - and plenty of them never amount to anything in sports anyway.

But to address the topic: I see no reason women couldn’t beat men at bowling (I’ve posted that before), or billiards, cards, and so on. If there are unequal skill levels, I’d be interested to find out why - unless it’s just a matter of men’s sports getting more financial and popular attention, I can’t imagine why it’d be the case.

Here’s another factor to consider:

Males have been encouraged to compete in sports, games, etc. for generations, while females never have been, and still aren’t… not with the same level of intensity.

As a result, a male who has a talent for some event is FAR more likely to DISCOVER that talent and be encouraged to PURSUE it, than a woman with the same talent would be.

In short, we probably haven’t FOUND the best female poker players, bowlers, target shooters, etc.

Then, among those women who ARE competing in male-dominated events, they are vastly outnumbered. If 999 men and 1 woman, all with exactly equal skill, compete in an event, it is 999 times more likely that the champion will be a man.

After women have had a few generations of being really ENCOURAGED to seriously pursue sports and games, only then will we really be able to make valid comparisons between the inherent skill potentials of the sexes.