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Tuesday, May 21, 2024
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The biggest supporters of women’s sports teams? Male practice players

Women's sports train with male practice players

From the Newsstands: This story appeared in The Eagle's April 2024 print edition. You can find the digital version here

It was a normal Tuesday afternoon for freshman Marin Broadbent-Bell, who laughed as blood pooled on his bottom lip. A basketball had just slammed into his face after a pass from senior guard Anna LeMaster, before senior Ivy Bales recovered the ball and ran him straight into an Emily Johns screen. 

“DI women’s basketball is no joke,” he said. “It’s a grind practicing with them every day.” 

Broadbent-Bell is one of the several male practice players who consistently train with American University’s women’s basketball team — a strategy that women’s collegiate sports have used for decades to bring more physicality to their training. Women’s soccer has also recruited male practice players in recent years and currently has five men’s club soccer players training with them. 

“The reason we play against guys is because they’re usually bigger, stronger and faster,” said women’s basketball head coach Tiffany Coll. Training with male athletes gives the women’s players experience against a greater variety of players so that they are prepared for any in-game scenario. 

The role of the practice players is to adapt the style of play of opposing teams. They act as a scout team, which helps the athletes get a better feel for the players they will soon face and determine their strategies beforehand. 

“Our role in the team is different some days than others,” said junior Leon Bellenbaum, who trains with women’s soccer. “Sometimes, it’s to act as a defender to apply pressure on their backs during passing drills. Other practices, it’s acting as a center back to block crosses and shots.”

Another benefit of having practice players is that the athletes have to take fewer repetitions of drills in training. Fatigue is common, especially near the end of the season. 

“They can get worn out,” said freshman Garrick Onggo, who trains with women’s basketball. “I think it’s refreshing to play against new bodies who aren’t in your team.” 

The male practice players are responsible for pushing the athletes physically, but they must be conscious of their size and physicality so that no one gets injured. 

“We obviously know we’re a little bit bigger, so we’re just more cautious with any sort of physical contact,” said junior Farouk Chehabeddine, a women’s soccer practice player. “But other than that, we go full on 100 percent. The coaches have an expectation for us, just like they do with their players.” 

Importantly, the teams have great relationships with their practice players — the coaching staff, athletes and practice players say they have a unique bond. 

“They’re just as much a part of our team as we are,” said women’s soccer freshman Lily McBride. “They’re a key part of our team’s culture.” 

Practice players are invited to pregame meals, team dinners and formals just like the rest of the players, even receiving Patriot League rings when women’s basketball won the conference championship in 2022.

“It’s a family,” said Broadbent-Bell. “It’s truly our favorite people, and we get to spend every day playing a sport we all love with each other.” 

This story was edited by Penelope Jennings, Zoe Bell, Delaney Hoke and Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing done by Luna Jinks, Isabelle Kravis, Liah Argiopoulos, Sarah Clayton and Ariana Kavoossi.

Section 202 host Gabrielle and friends go over some sports that aren’t in the sports media spotlight often, and review some sports based on their difficulty to play. 

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