This Girl Kicks - Coaching Women and Girls in Sport

Encouraging female participation in sport.

Coaching Women and Girls in Sport

In order to get the best out of an athlete, it is important that the coach understands her. A coach once said that he always asks his athletes the following question: tell me one thing about yourself that once I know it, it will help me coach you better. This question is a good start to building-up trust and respect in the coach-athlete relationship and these two elements are key to developing an athlete successfully.

We know that statistically a majority of girls drop out of sport when they hit puberty. There are many reasons why: they don’t like competition, they don’t feel they are good enough, they have low self-worth and a feeling of failure, they don’t feel they are the ‘sporty type.’ They may have a lack of confidence over body image and appearance. They sometimes feel pressure to prioritise schoolwork, as they don’t see the skills they learn in PE as relevant to their day to day life. Often girls feel physically and emotionally vulnerable during puberty and there is also often a lack of understanding of managing puberty and sport. They fear missing out on time with friends and it doesn’t fit in with friendship groups. They hate sweat. They think sport is for boys. When you look at that list, you can see how vital the role of the coach is when training females and how critical it is that the coach understands that these barriers exist, in order to help the girls break them down.

Let’s take the first reason: girls don’t like competition. Females tend to be far more interested in connections than competition. One coach said that boys will get engaged in small competitions among themselves whilst waiting for a session to start, whereas the girls are more likely to spend the time chatting – connecting with their team mates. It’s important for a coach to understand this and to adapt their teaching methods accordingly. Males tend to see themselves as part of a hierarchy, whereas females see themselves in terms of their connections with the other people around them. They are more likely to want to keep things calm in the camp, so tend to be less openly critical of their team mates than their male counterparts. Males don’t mind shouting at each other when they aren’t happy about what a team mate did, but females tend to be less vocal. In fact, one area for growth in female sports could be encouraging females to give constructive feedback to each other. Females tend to be more sensitive than males and for this reason it can be harder for them to communicate criticisms.

This issue of sensitivity feeds into the point about girls having low self-worth and a feeling of failure. It is true that women athletes tend to feel more inferior than male athletes. Men seem to be naturally more confident in their abilities. This is a societal issue and with all things societal, these issues feed into the sporting environment and coaches need to be aware of this. A coach needs to see their female athlete holistically. They need to focus not just on developing their technical skills, but their communication skills and their emotional awareness. Female athletes struggle to separate the performance from the person. For girls, a bad performance affects their ego and their self-confidence. A good coach must make the athlete realise that a bad performance isn’t ‘her’ it’s a ‘performance’ and she needs to compartmentalise the two. A coach plays a key role in this element of a female athlete’s psychology.

Female athletes want ownership of their performance. They need to know specific reasons why they weren’t picked for a team, for example and how they can improve and they need to be given strategies on how to achieve this. They must be encouraged to take ownership of their training and goal-setting, by learning proactively. The coach must develop autonomy in their female athlete, encouraging them to measure themselves against themselves. Anyone can coach a player, but only a good coach can coach the person. Females thrive on that 1-1 approach and it’s imperative the coach takes time to know the person. Females are very task-focussed, an element that makes them highly coachable.

The final reason why so many girls drop out of sport at puberty that I want to pick-up on is that often they feel physically and emotionally vulnerable during this time and there is also often a lack of understanding of managing puberty and sport. It is important that coaches of females are aware of issues surrounding puberty and the female hormonal cycle. Girls become extremely self-conscious around this time and may not want to be picked out to demonstrate a technique, for example. Other issues relating to their menstrual cycle may come up and it is essential that there are always trusted females as part of any coaching set-up, whom a female can talk to. There are also studies that have been done on the different ways a female should train, at different times in her cycle. Coaches should keep up-to-date with any new research that becomes available and be prepared to adapt their coaching accordingly.

Coaches are influencers, who must understand the athlete and put them at the centre of their approach, thus developing a passion in them for lifelong activity. Building this relationship takes time, focussing on the five C’s: confidence, character, collaboration, communication and commitment, in order to create that holistic approach to coaching females, that is so imperative to their development and their enjoyment of sport.

Author: Alison Hadlow

Source: Game Changers NI Webinar Event: Coaching Females

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