Sports for Dummies: Men’s and women’s sports have several differences

Ashley Potts

So far, “Sports for Dummies” has been a simple breakdown of rules and terms that might not make sense if you’re not a “sports person.” This has been a very surface level explanation of basics that might cause weird looks if you asked for clarification in the midst of a rowdy crowd. It has also assumed things are the same across the board, for the sake of keeping things simple.

Unfortunately, sports dummies, things are not as simple as I have tried to make them. The rules I have explained to you thus far have variations. Between high school and college, college and professional, between leagues, between countries and between men’s and women’s sports.


Most of the differences are subtle, and you might not notice them unless you’re paying close attention. For example, women’s basketball is played with a ball that has a circumference that is one inch less than the ball men play with. While the both games is the same length, the women’s game is more broken up. They play four 10-minute quarters, while the men play two 20-minutes halves. You might pick up on those things during this weekend’s CSU basketball games. 

There are differences between the men’s and women’s game in pretty much all sports. This varies from actual rules to attitudes and playing styles. 

Soccer is a sport where playing styles are often cited as a big difference between the men’s and women’s game. Especially on a professional level, men are known for “diving,” or making hits look worse than they were in an attempt to draw a penalty call on the other team. Women will very rarely do this, and if they do, they won’t commit to it for as long as men’s players before getting back up and continuing to play.

In lacrosse, there are different rules regarding checking for men and women. Men can check, so long as it’s safe, while women are only allowed to check stick to stick and can’t be aggressive. Lacrosse is also a sport where the differences are visibly noticeable. Men’s lacrosse players wear pads and helmets, while women wear goggles and skirts.

Hockey is similar, in that checking is basically not allowed for women. It is acceptable in the men’s game so long as it’s not deemed dangerous or a hindrance to a play, in which case they will be called for boarding. But women simply aren’t allowed, dangerous or not. While fighting is never technically “allowed” in hockey, it’s something that happens in men’s hockey, but I can’t think of an example of a women’s hockey fight happening ever.

And why bother when you can’t even check someone into the boards to fight for the puck?

This is a big draw to the game of hockey, it’s part of what makes it exciting. Fans absolutely lose it cheering when players slam into the boards in front of their seats. But that excitement is missing in the women’s game. 

There are gender-based differences in the rules of pretty much every sport. I don’t claim to understand the small rules which govern sports like track and field, gymnastics, golf or swimming and diving, but I know they have different standards for men and women.

If you ask me, this is all outdated and rooted in sexist ideas of femininity and women being “more fragile” and “weaker than men.” I think society has given us plenty of examples of this being false, but it’s still built into the foundation of women’s sports.

The effects of rule differences on the popularity and respectability of the women’s sports world is a topic for another time, but it is being talked about and has become a topic of research in fields like women’s studies and sociology. 

For now, if you notice things like women’s basketball having quarters and men’s basketball having halves, know you aren’t crazy. The differences seem subtle, but they’re there, even if the reasoning is questionable. 


Ashley Potts can be reached at or on Twitter @ashleypotts09.