fitness · fun · kayaking

Night Kayaking in Costumes

Wonder Woman and a boy of about 11 paddled by on light-bedecked standup boards. “He’s never done this before” Wonder Woman shouted proudly. From their also light-bedecked kayaks, Green Lantern, Poison Ivy, and the Joker cheered.

This was a scene from a free event called “Light Up the Night” kayaking in Stratford, Ontario. Folks meet monthly around 8:30pm to paddle together after decorating their non-motorized water craft with lights. There’s also an optional theme for each outing, including Canada Day, Romantic Evening, and (of course) Superheroes.

It was silly fun to transform this daytime activity into a water-based costume parade of about 40-50 “floats.” I should mention our audience: because we were in town, folks watched and took pictures from the banks of the Avon River as they picnicked or waited for their theatre show.

Participants were instructed to put in before dusk, then paddle together at the same time around a tiny island. So while it was a very leisurely pace, we did end up paddling for quite a while as it got dark. Here is part of my friend’s recorded route.

We were to paddle around the island 3 times, but because we dressed as superheroes and supervillains, we had the strength to do a 4th.

A few of our friends supporting this silliness took pictures from atop the island bridge while we paddled underneath. Afterwards, folks shared their snaps on the group’s Facebook page. Alan Hamberg used a drone to capture in video the paddle as well.

Kayaks and other watercraft on the Avon at Stratford as night falls.
Screen capture of drone footage of light up the night kayaking. The video is available on the FB group.

Overall, this night kayaking event offered outside activity, happy folks, and lots of pretty lights! Next time, my friends and I will likely picnic again before decorating our kayaks, as doing so made the activity into a whole fun evening. We’ll bring bug spray and headlamps for re-packing kayaks in the dark. I may also buy better quality lights and avoid the dollar store glow sticks that ended up glowing in my garbage the next day.

FIFI bloggers: what silly summer fun will you get up to and share about?!

inclusiveness · media · sexism · team sports

Sports Podcasts and Gender Unawareness

I recently listened to an episode of Adam Grant’s podcast Rethinking, entitled “Life lessons from sports,” featuring Jody Avigran. Avigran is passionate, fast-talking ex-athlete and sports commentator who has a new podcast called Good Sport. This was one TED podcast boosting the signal of another.

Avrigan’s Good Sport podcast is about the deeper meaning of sports. In the Rethinking episode, he says stuff like this:

You’re telling me that the thing that is really fun to do, that like keeps me in shape, […] will also teach me like, how to be a better human and how to like trust others and how to build teams? And like is a place where I can also like, figure out all these things about the real world, which I’m gonna have to go back to anyway at some point?

I am on board with Avrigan’s idea that sports can teach us about how to be good humans, good team players, and a good supporters of others. It’s what FIFI is also about, in my view.

I also found myself interested in Avigran’s focus on not only the brilliance of top-tier athletes but also the communities that nurture athletes, the supporting role that high-impact coaches play, and those who are the keepers of team culture, which Avigran describes as the “glue guy”:

I’m very fascinated, and I like asking athletes of all stripes: who’s actually the person who, who brings you all together? Who’s actually the star in the locker room? You know, they call it “glue guy” […].

To illustrate, Avigran describes the Miami Heat’s Udonis Haslem, and Grant supplies former MBA player Shane Battier, as another example of a glue guy.

And I started thinking: Glue guy. Glue guy. Glue girl? When are these two seasoned podcasters— who are nerding out on the “life lessons” sports teach us—going to give examples of female athletes, female coaches, women’s teams, and gender (diversity) and sports? Why would a 40-minute episode on what sports teach us about ourselves and our world not reference a single person from over half that world? Did Grant or Avrigan even notice how this podcast advertising another podcast would appear so gender unaware?

I scanned the Good Sport episode titles and found one called The Past and Future of Gender in Sport. Okay, that sounds good. But, in 2023, are female athletes and women’s sports teams only mentionable in the solitary “gender in sports” episode, or can we also normalize gender inclusive examples in every episode?

I realize I am drawing conclusions about the enduring gender unawareness of sports media based on a single episode of one podcast and a quick scan of another. But if I want to learn more about glue girls in team sports (which I do), how many podcasts will I have to comb before I find that information?

@samanthabrennan has recommended to me The Gist, and I also found the Women in Sport podcast. FIFI readers, what other inclusive sports podcasts would you recommend?

Error and Update:

I apologize for including in my post an ableist expression to convey my negative view of sports podcasters who fail to include gender and gender diversity. The expression was disrespectful and has been removed. It’s an important reminder to me, as the author writing about the very topic of inclusion in the media, to be vigilant about ensuring that what we (including me) say and write in the public sphere does not exclude or diminish others.

Today I listened to Adam Grant’s Rethinking episode featuring soccer star, author, and podcaster Abby Wombach, which was brilliant and awesome and everyone should listen to it.

aging · beauty · body image · fitness · inclusiveness · objectification · stereotypes

Martha Stewart, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Cover Model

At 81 years old, billionaire and business mogul Martha Stewart is the oldest swimsuit cover model of Sports Illustrated, overtaking Maye Musk, who was the oldest last year at 74.

What can be thought about this development?

On one hand, we can celebrate new gains for representation and inclusion: Martha Stewart has cut through the spandex ceiling, making it possible for “older women” to be cover photo-worthy by Sports Illustrated (SI), a magazine whose annual swimsuit issue authoritatively confers the status of beautiful to its models. As an octogenarian swimsuit model, Martha Stewart brings diverse body image to popular media (and to the news media that reports on popular media).

As well, this development signals a growing acceptance of older women’s sexuality. Martha Stewart has left the kitchen and entered the swimming pool. According to a CBC analysis article, Martha Stewart said on Today that she increased her exercise regime and cut out carbs (but didn’t starve herself) to show that “You can look great at pretty much any age if you put your mind to it.” If Martha Stewart can put her mind (and enormous wealth) towards looking sexually alluring at 81, isn’t that permission for us all?

On the other hand, scholar (and aspiring clairvoyant?) @tracyisaacs might have foreseen Martha Stewart’s gracing of the cover of SI’s Swimsuit issue when she wrote about what she describes as inclusive objectification here at FIFI and in The Conversation. Tracy acknowledges that commercializing the sexual attractiveness of a wider spectrum of women’s bodies seems, on the surface, to be a good thing (or at least not harmful one). However, mainstream media, embodied by the swimsuit issue (pun intended),

“continues to promote sexual attractiveness as women’s main currency. […] (It’s) it’s not clear how the swimsuit issue, the very essence of which is to represent a particular type of sexualized bodies, could morph into something that celebrates the body in a different way.”

From this perspective, it may be said that Martha Stewart has escaped one form of traditional female currency (homemaker) to another (swimsuit cover model). SI has shown us that Martha Stewart is worthy of sex appeal, but nothing has fundamentally changed the “relentless message about what makes women worthy,” as Tracy notes.

The CBC analysis article quotes Anna Murphy, who finds it refreshing that Martha Stewart refuses to “age out of the public eye.” (This is a return to modeling for Martha Stewart). But the SI issue heavily suggests that, in order to stay in the public eye, Martha Stewart must, in her own words, continue to “aspire to look great.”

Let’s also note that Martha Stewart doesn’t look great on her own. The are four covers of the same magazine issue —featuring Megan Fox, Brooks Nader, and Kim Petras, singer and transgender model (perhaps the most interesting and progressive choice). So conventional sexy and controversial sexy can remain in the public eye together.

Author of the CBC article, Jenna Benchetrit, concludes her analysis with an unanswered question initially asked by Tracy: “It’s breaking barriers, yes. But are these the barriers we want to break?” We at FIFI have many diverse voices, so I speak for myself when I (and maybe some of we) say no. Or at least, certainly not only.

Another Jenna, Jenna Peterson, happens to answer Jenna B’s question in a humorously memed social media post. Jenna P doesn’t want to continue to “aspire to look great” as she ages. Jenna P sees “aging out” of sexy as precisely what she wants to accomplish.

“I hate this whole “women can be sexy at fifty!” narrative. At what age will society stop demanding I try to be hot and just let me turn into an old swamp witch, as nature intended.”

As a cis-woman who is just over half Martha Stewart’s age, I’m inclined to agree with Jenna P. Aside from discourse of what is “natural” for women (for instance, it doesn’t matter much to me whether or not Martha Stewart has had body modifications), women can transgress their worthiness via sexual objectification…by letting themselves just get (and look) old.

Perhaps Sports Illustrated might have photographed an 81 year-old, swim-suited Martha Stewart emerging from a witchy swamp? Well, maybe next year.

Readers, what perspective do you take on this issue?

diversity · fitness · Guest Post · inclusiveness

An Individual ND Approach to Fitness (Guest Post)

By Becky Sinnott

Becky Sinnott

I’m a late-diagnosed ADHD person (at 40!), with autistic traits, and a mom of 7-year-old neurodivergent (ND) twins, who are also ND.

As a youth, I struggled to be part of many fitness activities through school and with my peers, as I was excluded and bullied out of most team sports. As with most teachers, my physical education (P.E.) teachers treated me like I was intentionally weird. It was terrible for my mental health.

I was still fit and active; it just looked different from a “standard fitness routine.” I spent a lot of time walking, dancing, cycling, or being a “tourist in my own town.” I did a lot of gardening. Activity was part of life. 

As an adult, I’ve reflected on how many exercise routines are based on behaviorism:  Rewards, punishments, deprivation, gruelling hours, and misery. So I’ve always felt kind of glad that I wasn’t included in sports whose players trained that way. Behaviorism is the theory on which “conversion therapy” and Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) are based; these reward/punishment systems have been and continue to be used to abuse and manipulate people (but that’s a topic for another day.)

In contrast, the ND community is developing healthy, life-integrative tools, resources, and groups to overcome inertia (task paralysis), avoid fatigue, promote “stacking or scaffolding,” and curate activities around what ND folks actually like to do and are already doing.

Non-exercise Activity Thermogenisis [NEAT] is the increase in overall activity in your daily life rather than focusing on workouts a few times a week, which can be unattainable for many ND people due to various reasons including financial, safety, lack of supports, and infrastructure inaccesibility. 

Quite often the inaccessibility impacts the people that need it most, where taking a NEAT approach means it’s accessible to everyone. For example, according to NEAT, dancing (especially in your kitchen) can be as good as jogging when it comes to fitness, and because it’s fun you’re more apt to keep doing it! For further description of NEAT, here’s a High Brow description.

Here are some NEAT examples that help me to integrate fitness into my life:

  • Calling a friend (body doubling) and going for a walk is enjoyable, and we can be in two separate cities while doing it.
  • Gardening, which is great exercise and good for my mental health.
  • Volunteering, at a food bank or a library. Lots of heavy lifting and I’m doing some good for the world.
  • Becoming familiar with self-regulation tools and my own needs/accommodations list (I’m building a printable package right now) and putting them into place to structure more activity, which assists me regardless of my physical or mental health for the day.
  • Knowing when I need to rest.

It can be challenging for neurotypical people to make exercise more accessible for ND folks. I have a few ideas to consider:

  •  Team sports can be tough for anyone, but it’s especially the case for some ND people with sensory challenges. What supports could be applied in those situations? 
  • Many ND people have other hidden disabilities such as motor skill/coordination disorders like dyspraxia, or connective tissue disorders such as Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. What tools would assist in participation?
  • ND people may face additional challenges, such as Language Processing Disorder, that may not make them seem like good team players. How can you provide more time for folks to process in certain environments?

There are many benefits to having Neurodiversity in sport and fitness activities. ND athletes

  •  are good problem solvers
  • work well under pressure (ADHD)
  • are geat at seeing patterns and detecting flaws in opposing teams
  • help team members to develop new social skills, novel approaches to challenges, and the pride of being in a well rounded group

Many ND people (and people with other disabilities) have spent most of their lives building or finding workarounds and bending “rules” in order to have reasonably functional lives. Their non-linear experiences and creativity has helped the neurotypical and able world to find solutions to various challenges in various places in society.

When a person with a disability requests an accommodation or more accessibility, they need it in order to function, and everyone else benefits, so there’s no good reason not to work with those requests. I’ve noticed as I take my littles through the process of finding sports and other activities, being straightforward with their challenges has opened more doors than it’s closed.


  1. The ND community is actively building more manageable and positive approaches to fitness and health.
  2. NEAT is a great starting point in developing life structures help becoming more active for everyone.
  3. One particular routine isn’t necessary: do what you like and switch up often because variety is the spice of life.
  4. And when you just can’t, that’s okay: listen to your body and mind and give yourself permission to rest. Rest is a basic need. Self-compassion and un-shaming for when you fall off the wagon will help you get back on sooner.
  5. Accommodations and accessibility are necessary to some but beneficial to everyone.
  6. Inclusion in physical activity offers unexpected benefits to everyone. 
advice · fitness · health · motivation

Is it bad being negatively motivated to exercise?

The other day I was listening to American businessperson Carla Harris being interviewed on Adam Grant’s podcast about her successful career in the finance industry. My ears perked up when Harris described herself as “negatively motivated”:

but i am negatively motivated. you should know that about me. so when you tell me i can't do something, I'm all over it like a bad smell.

Harris suggests in the podcast that she took the underestimation of her as a black women in the white-male dominated finance industry as a challenge to overcome.

There are other, slightly different definitions of negative motivation, such as this one from Google:

Google defines negative motivation as behaviour that is motivated by anticipation or fear that an undesirable outcome will result from not performing. Fear is a powerful motivator, especially when that fear relates to your survival or, in the case of employees, their income and growth.

Negative motivation here is less about seeing adversity as a challenge and more about acting out of fear given the negative consequences of not acting. This definition aligns with how I often find myself motivated to exercise: not out of pleasure or reward but out of what I know will happen if I don’t exercise–namely stiffness, reduced flexibility, low mood, and inability to keep up with my friends.

Is it bad or wrong to be motivated by adversity, worries, or fears?

One fitness and wellness blog site suggests that positive motivation and reinforcement is more effective. The author uses an analogy of a gazelle being hunted by a cheetah to describe how “negative reinforcement works great temporarily, but falls short on long-term lifestyle changes” (p.18). Once the cheetah stops chasing the gazelle, the gazelle is no longer motivated to run at top speed.

However, positive reinforcements have been found to be effective only when they continue to be applied. According to one meta-analysis study, positive reinforcements improved exercise behaviours to a greater degree than negative reinforements, but once the positive reinforcements were removed there were mixed results in sustaining exercise behaviours.

Even if they are equally effective, I believe it is probably more difficult in the long to live among negative motivation and reinforcements all the time. A few years ago Kim Solga wrote about the underestimation of women cyclists. Even if female athletes are motivated to blow up gender assumptions and limiting stereotypes in their sport, Solga rightly points out that being on the receiving end of the negativity—the mansplaining, showing off, and the excessive complimenting—is exhausting!

Cheetah lying down. Photo by ray rui on Unsplash

I think I’d prefer not to be negatively motivated. I don’t want only hardship or fears to be what spurs me on. (And, of course, sex and race prejudice in sport needs to go away entirely.) Yet, when I’ve tried to be positive, set happy goals, and reward myself with bubble baths, they don’t always work.

Maybe it’s okay to be negatively motivated so long as I cut myself some slack occasionally, especially when I start to exhaust myself with all the worries. Some days, even the cheetahs and the gazelles hang around in the desert sunshine, watching each other but taking a break from the chase.

fitness · fun · soccer

The fun in not winning

I know I had said no more posts about the new women’s chill soccer league I’ve been following this year. But recently in our playoffs I was a part of some not-winning fun that I want to tell you about it.

What happened

It was nearly time for my team’s final game of the season, and we were waiting to play while the top two teams finished a shootout after their tie game. Many people looked on as players from each team alternately kicked the ball at the goal while the opposing team’s goalkeeper defended. Watching players remarked around me that shootouts are exciting but stressful. I agreed!

Both teams did a great job, and after the shootout the winning team stayed out in the field to take pictures with a trophy while the other team did not.

Then it was our turn to play. One of our teammates joined our opposition because they were short extra players, so both teams had two substitutions. At the end of our evenly matched game we were tied, just like the game before us.

Players from both teams were out on the pitch after the buzzer went, when someone asked, “Can we just end in a tie and not do the shootout?”

Did we have to go through the stress of a shootout to determine a winner and a loser? What did the team captains have to say? Both captains were okay with it, so then when we asked the ref he said needed to check first. As he trotted over to the other field to consult with the head ref, someone from our team said, “If we just all left the field now, what could they do?”

But we did wait, and it was fine. We two teams left the field at the same time, without a final game shootout, to get our drinks and celebrate a great season together.

What it meant to me

In considering what makes a non-aggressive rec women’s soccer league this past season, I also observed players trying to have more say in the type of game they wanted to play. Change was sometimes hard to make because of established regulations, different expectations, and traditions of past seasons.

I developed much admiration for the league organizer (Cindy) who involved players in some key decisions, the team captains who discussed issues that sometime arose during the season, and the officiants who adjusted their calls for our level of play, even when there were differing views about what aggressive play looked like.

In the end, our teams’ choice not to compete in a shootout embodied what I think this league was meant to be about. It’s will sound corny, but I think it’s still true: when we players decided to leave our final game as a tie, we all ended up winning.

See how the league developed in my post series:

  • Part 1: A new “chill” women’s rec soccer league league?
  • Part 2: What is aggressive play in soccer?
  • Part 3: What did the players decide, and did it happen?
  • Part 4: What did the team captains have to say?
  • Part 5: What did a female league officiant have to say?
covid19 · fitness · health · illness

Taking Sam’s advice when she was sick 10 years ago

In this #TBT post, I look back to what was happening with FIFI in 2013, the year the blog started.

In her March 23, 2013 post, Back after it after almost a month away: Rebuilding after illness, @samanthabrennan describes what happened when she got “a very nasty virus” that stopped her from exercising for nearly a month. She reports experiencing many bad symptoms: the worst was a “wracking cough” that kept her up all night. It’s tough on the body to be sick for so long, and it can negatively affect one’s spirits as well.

Ten years ago, Sam gave herself some motivational advice to help her get back to her activities: Aikido, soccer, CrossFit, rowing, riding, running, and swimming. Here’s a summary of the Sam-to-Sam pep talk:

  • Misery loves company (my expression, not hers): Sam notes that she will be no less further along than everyone else who has struggled to keep up exercising over the long, cold winter in Canada.
  • Baby Steps: Sam tells herself to take small steps and work out with others who may be in a similar situation.
  • Acceptance: Sam suggests checking her ego to help her to accept any nervousness she may be feeling.
  • Enjoyment: Sam has missed out, and she knows it will be good to return what makes her happy.
  • Focus on the good: Sam says that nutrition and on eating intuitively can be a productive focus as she rebuilds her strength.

At the time that Sam was recovering from her illness, she could not have predicted that, ten years later, millions of people around the world would have to rebuild their strength and their spirits after facing COVID-19 and other related viral illnesses.

This includes me. I’ve been sick with more than one viral infection for nearly three weeks, and although I’m recovering it’s had me feeling down.

So, I decided to apply Sam’s ten year-old advice pre-COVID advice to my current situation.

  • Same boat: I’ve heard of lots of folks who have been out sick for a long time these days. Although I feel like this illness will go on forever, others have struggled too and come out the other side. So will I.
  • Treadmill baby steps: I can capitalize on feeling better than I did last week by doing daily stretching, yoga, and some short treadmill walks before I re-join the world. (Also, I should really clean my home.)
  • Accept…and appreciate: Even when I’m healthy it’s hard to accept my skill levels, but there’s nothing like getting sick to help appreciate what it’s like doing stuff while illness-free.
  • My teams: I’ve played two team sports this winter, curling and soccer. I’ve missed seeing my teammates in both leagues, and the season is not yet over, so hopefully soon I will re-join them.
  • Tasting things: Like Sam, I haven’t been eating well while sick. Trying to get back to regular meals and healthier snacks will be good. Being able to taste things again will be even better.

Overall, I find Sam’s advice (to herself) reassuring for getting over an illness. Looking back has helped me to think more positively about moving forward!

competition · fitness · fun · soccer

Officiating in the Women’s “Chill” Soccer League (Part 5)

I sat down with Kayla Marcoux–a skilled soccer player, coach, and referee–who has officiated some of our Sunday “chill” rec soccer games. Kayla agreed to discuss her views on aggressive soccer and her experience as an officiant in our league. Note that we discussed our own views, which are not those of the BMO Center, Ontario Soccer, EMSA Referee, or Canada Soccer.

EP: Can you tell me a bit about your soccer career?

Kayla with the ball and goalie gloves

KM: I’ve played for 25 or 26 years now. I have played as striker, and I currently play as goalie. I am super passionate about soccer. I’ve also coached for 15 years.

After playing and coaching I figured the next thing to do was start reffing. I knew there weren’t a lot of female refs, and that didn’t sit well with me. Now, my friend and I and maybe one other are the only women refs who officiate in leagues at the BMO Centre.

EP: Can you describe simplywhat is aggression in soccer? When I think about what is aggression in soccer, I notice that sometimes more and less skilled players may see the other as being aggressive, for different reasons.

KM: It’s not a simple definition. For me, aggression is done with intent and has a lack of regard for the safety of themselves or the other player(s). It makes perfect sense to me that if players from different levels of skill play together, that the player who has less skill or experience could interpret a higher skilled or experienced player as making an aggressive play or challenge occasionally.

Since we cannot determine someone’s “intent,” we must consider their actions: are they trying to “run through people” or are they using their body to shield the ball and gain possession? Running through someone, kicking at their ankles or shins wildly trying to get the ball are examples of what I consider to be “aggressive.” Shielding a ball or going shoulder to shoulder chasing a ball down to me would constitute normal soccer play and not be deemed aggressive. Just because I see it that way, it doesn’t mean someone with less experience than me will see it that way. Opinions will differ for everyone which is why I find this hard to define.

EP: In a poll of the team captains in our “chill” league, some felt like there were too many calls on rough play. How do you call aggression in our league?

KM: Yeah, that’s interesting. It depends on the league. Every league has different calls. It can be a challenge to adapt to varying degrees and levels of play, especially in a league like yours.

Our role as officiants is to watch the temperature of the game but let play happen. Contact is a grey area, one opinion vs another. We normally watch for 50/50, but because there are so many variables we have to try to abide by the rules.

EP: I am afraid I need you to explain to me what you mean by “50/50.”

KM: 50/50 is two players from opposite teams who each have an equal chance of obtaining possession of the ball. But it’s not easy to judge what is equal because players may be of different speeds, sizes, and skill levels when they challenge or defend their possession.

EP: So you are reffing our games with that 50/50 idea in mind?

Kayla Marcoux at the London Optimist Sports Centre

KM: Yes, but that balance of power can change to 60/40 at any time. And that’s what we are looking for. If a player is defending very well, it might seem like a shift in power but really it’s just skilled play. They know how to move their bodies to their advantage. If a player is getting really frustrated, and their frustration builds up, it can also change how they play. They can start with elbows out or throw their body in the way, and that can lead to a collision. That becomes a safety issue. Body types can affect 50/50 challenges, but skill level and emotions can too. I’m not sure if that answers your question because it’s delicate. There are a lot of variables we are watching out for.

When I was asked to referee for your league for the first time, I was told that your players were really just out to get exercise and have fun, and that you didn’t want competitiveness and aggressive ball challenges. We were told this league was no contact at all. 

And then I reffed several more games, and I found that the teams were all kind of different. We don’t want there to be complaints for players not following the rules, but there should be some flexibility.

EP: Would you play in our “chill” rec league?

KM: No. Players should be classified appropriately for the leagues they play in. Me, I play in Second Division. I know that I don’t have the ability to bring it down. I would be considered an aggressive player in your league. So I’m better off to find people that are playing similar to me.

You can’t control what other players do. The onus is on the player to say to themselves, “Do I belong in this league or not?” If people aren’t getting what they want, there are many other leagues available at the BMO Centre that can allow players to find the level of play they are looking for & comfortable with.

But I did tell my mom about this league. “They are actually chill and very calm,” I told her, “and they’re here just to exercise and have fun.” If she were interested in playing soccer, she should come out to this league to play! 

EP: What do you think of reffing in our league?

KM: I’ve only reffed a handful of games so far. Everyone seems to be having a really good time. I’m on the field, laughing with everyone. I enjoy the games because there’s so much fun. I haven’t really seen any issues.

I like to talk to the players on the field, and have them talk to me because then I can keep an eye out for what they see as too much aggression. Of course, humans are going to make mistakes, but we as referees can respond to requests, so talk to us.

EP: What can refs do to support fun rec leagues like ours?

Kayla officiating a soccer game.

KM: Keep up with training. Stay on top of the IFAB rules and not become complacent. The rules change every year. Put player safety above all else. It’s our number one job.

Bring in referees that are like-minded and that want to officiate games at this level. Give them examples of situations that have happened, explaining what is okay and what is not okay. This can help us help you and your league.

It’s also a good idea to bring the officiants into the conversation. If you tell me what to look for, I’ll adjust my position to make sure I have a better view, and if I have to call something your team isn’t okay with, I’ll call it, no problem. For the most part, we’re all really easy to talk to.

EP: What can our league do to ensure its continued success in future seasons, in your opinion?

KM: A good conversation is easily had before it starts to get a sense of the team’s level of comfort with contact and what contact means to them. Identify what you are not comfortable with, and then bring it to the attention of the referee. If two teams are comfortable with a certain level of contact, then explain it. We want players to have a fun and safe environment but also be heard and feel like the officiant cares. Conversations can bring aggressiveness and animosity down. Even if teams don’t initially agree, they can come to a better understanding if we all talk and share our perspectives.

Maybe as well as make sure everyone else is signed on. Everyone signs something at the beginning of the season that says, this is what we all agree on.

EP: [Joking] Is it this complicated to be a referee for male soccer players in their leagues?

KM: In my experience, women are respectful and appreciative of having a female ref. I’ve had no grief or cattiness in this league at all or in any others.

In my opinion, women are superior players because we just go out and play and get the job done. When I officiate, most of the time everyone is respectful, but if I do get grief it is usually from the men. [Smiles]

fitness · hiking · motivation · traveling

Sometimes downhill all the way is okay

I am in Alvarenga, Portugal, a small town of just over 1000 people, about an hour and a half outside of Porto. It’s in the hilly countryside, filled with vineyards and orange and almond trees. I am with 5 other women, traveling on holidays.

Map if Arouca, Portugal
Arouca, Portugal

There’s a big, award-winning tourist attraction nearby in the town of Arouca, which was developed in 2020. After traversing the world’s largest pedestrian suspension bridge (516 metres), there’s a hikeout out on the Paiva Walkways. It’s about 8 kilometres, almost entirely downhill, on a series of wooden staircases and boardwalks that follow rocky faults on the left bank of a rushing river.

We are 6 relatively healthy middle-age women, wearing multiple merino layers and carrying full water bottles. We are traveling with 40 litre backpacks rather than suitcases. The day we went to Arouca, it was overcast but warm for an average February day in Portugal—perfect for a vigorous hike.

The suspension bridge and part of the wooden staircase and hikeout below
The suspension bridge and part of the wooden staircase and downhill hikeout below

We crossed the bridge just after 11:00am and started out on the downward hike, enjoying the green and rocky scenery. Used to day hikes of greater distance, many of us expected to refresh briefly at the end, then walk back up. As long as we arrived in time the final bridge tours that day, at 2:00 or 3:30pm, once back at the top we were free to recross the bridge at no extra charge. What a fun challenge!

Some of the staircase portion of the hike
Some of the staircase portion of the hike

We took our time on the way down, stopping to take photos and to watch rafters and kayakers navigate the white waters below. We nodded at the hikers who passed us going back up the walkway: that would soon be us! Then, suddenly, we were within a kilometre of the hike out exit, and noticed it was nearly 1:45pm.

Would we reverse course and start back up the hilly hike, returning to our start point? Would we shift gears from our leisurely pace and “hoof it” to make sure we would arrive on time to re-cross during the last bridge tour?

Some of the boardwalk portion of the hike​
Some of the boardwalk portion of the hike

We did not, because we knew that we have nothing to prove—to the trail or to each other. Instead of turning around to ascend, we continued downhill at our enjoyable pace, then had a celebratory beverage at the end. Rather than hiking back up, which we probably *could* have done, we took a cab back to our residence to celebrate our achievement—a beautiful day out walking in the Portuguese countryside.

Some days, you can hike downhill all the way and still have a great day.

competition · fitness · fun · goals · soccer · team sports

Checking in with the Chill Soccer League (Part 4)

We are midway through the season of a new +40 rec soccer league that over 100 women joined because they wanted less aggressive play. As I’ve reported in previous posts, there was an expectation that play would be less rough, but a series of decisions and limitations made it unclear (to me) what mechanisms would actually make that happen.

Has the league met expectations and achieved its goals? I asked the team captains their thoughts in a Facebook group chat they share.

Yes, Less Aggressive Play

Of the eight team captains who were polled, all agreed that the league was either a little or a lot less aggressive than other rec leagues they have played in (Poll 1):

Poll 1 of team captains

According to most team leaders, what has been different from other leagues is the higher frequency of penalty calls (Poll 2).

Some team captains also said they perceived more efforts of teams to be friendly. One or two captains said their teams talk with each other and the opposing teams about aggressive play.

Poll 2 of team captains

I think that team members talking before or during the game about their expectations (rather than just complaining after the game) shows goodwill and is more likely to improve league morale. Because aggressiveness is subjective, it can only help to have a more shared understanding of what aggressive play looks and feels like for each team.

A few captains added in the chat that their teams felt the league was fun. One captain said,

I think it’s going well, not as crazy aggressive as the other groups and no pressure we are just having fun and being active :)

Interestingly, no one said their own teams admit when they have been too aggressive. I didn’t ask whether it is because they genuinely don’t feel or notice when their play is too rough, or if it’s just not a good strategy for games.

Concerns and Reflections

Apparently rough play has not been fully eliminated: over the last few months, folks have brought forward concerns about a few aggressive players.

As league organizer, Cindy usually addresses concerns with team captains, who in turn speak with their own players. So, the process for dealing with the perception of over-aggressive play seems non-confrontational and a shared responsibility. As Cindy said, “Everyone is contributing to its success. It shows great community!”

While I expected Cindy to deal with these league issues kindly, I did not expect that over half of the captains would say “the refs also call out play that our team does not consider aggressive.” In other words, some feel that refs are making too many calls on aggressive play in this “chill” league.

Why might this be a concern for some teams? It can be difficult to avoid accidental contact on an indoor field. As well, some would say that defending space and moving into the opponent’s space is a normal part of soccer. And, every time a play gets stopped for a penalty, it’s less time to play soccer.

This idea that refs are calling aggression that players don’t agree to made me reflect on my own assumptions. A “rec league” suggests it will be social and fun, but for some women fun means competitive play. Have I been assuming that the only way to have a chill and fun league is to reduce aggression to the point of low or no contact?

I have noted in past posts that aggression is in part in the eye of the beholder. Those with less experience may see those with more soccer experience as aggressive, but the reverse can be true as well. At least the refs seem to be calling roughness due to unchecked skill and roughness due to lack of control.

ReDefining a League

This new rec league was organized by the criteria of age and intolerance for aggressive play, but there may be other ways to ensure safety but also give players what they want to have fun. One captain suggested to me that, instead of aggression level, league divisions could be based on experience or skill level. A beginner league for adult women of all ages could teach about safe play and what is appropriate contact. In such a league, frequent stops for penalties and game explanations might be more welcome.

At the same time, an adult beginner league begs the question of when someone is and no longer is a “beginner.” Sometimes experienced soccer players recruit their friends, and of course they want to play together despite skill level differences. (I’ve gotten better mostly by playing with friends more skilled than me.) It’s tough to make everyone happy.

If the “chill” league continues in another season, the norm for play might stay at low- or no-contact. In this case, how the game is played might need to change—and teams who plan to register in this league will have to be ready for that.

The beauty of sports is that they are what we make of them. According to most team captains, right now most members of this “chill” league seem relatively happy with the game that they have made together.