Does a ‘one size fits all’ approach work when coaching boys and girls?
Explicit instruction, knowing how your players learn best, engagement, motivation, empowerment, providing feedback and developing positive relationships is universal when coaching both genders. However, in saying that, it is important to understand that your approach should differ depending on the gender you are coaching.
Boys and girls are genetically different in so many ways (physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually) and it is because of this, that it is necessary to be aware of the best ways to approach your role when coaching youth girls. Treating them the same way as boys will lead to poor results, both individually and as a team. Girls will not reach their full potential, but even more concerning is that girls will stop playing and leave that sport altogether.
As a coach, it is important to acknowledge certain general traits and tendencies that distinguish boys from girls. Boys tend to be more analytical and logical when processing information. They prefer information to be presented in a fact oriented and objective manner. On the other hand, girls tend to like the whole picture meaning they like to understand why they are performing certain tasks and what they are achieving by doing so.
When learning new skills, boys enjoy experimental learning and hands on activities, which is important for them in terms of development of fine motor skills. Boys learn effectively when there is a challenge involved. They require clear, concise and minimal instructions and as a coach, you need to allow greater response time during questioning. For boys, having a significant male role model is crucial to their learning outcomes.
When learning new skills, girls enjoy problem-solving, inquiry and activity based learning. When explaining new drills, try to include questions that involve inductive thinking skills of prediction and forecasting. Girls learn best through what if scenarios in training as they can apply this thinking to new concepts. Using a strengths based approach to communication will develop their self-esteem and build their confidence. Focus on cooperative learning because girls enjoy social interaction while learning.
Boys are action seekers while girls tend to react on an emotional level. How you communicate between genders can make a difference in how your message is received. Girls are more interested in how you say things as opposed to what you say. The tone of your voice and body language is more important to girls than the words you are conveying to the team. Girls tend to internalize or personalize criticism. They also worry more what others will think of them, thus when communicating your message, never single a girl out in front of their peers. Boys enjoy being praised and are likely to take criticism a little better than girls.
Differences between boys and girls is more than just physical. There are differences in mindset and mental approach, which a coach needs to consider depending on the gender they coach.
The following is a checklist to consider when coaching girls:
• When learning new skills girls enjoy problem solving, inquiry and activity based learning. When explaining new drills, try to include questions that involve inductive thinking skills of prediction and forecasting.
• Strengths based approach to communication will develop their self-esteem and build their confidence. Focus on cooperative learning because girls enjoy social interaction while learning.
• Avoid tough talk: girls tend to be open to coaching and trying new things. However, they will shut down with a hard line coaching approach.
• Competitiveness: both boys and girls enjoy winning opposed to losing, but boys tend to let a defeat linger more than girls. Therefore, move on as quickly as you can and avoid getting too disgruntled because it will be fair to say that the girls already have.
• Fairness: equality is important for girls. Make an effort to invest time speaking with all of your players during training. Girls tend to notice when they are not being spoken to. Avoid having favourites.
• Feedback: give positive feedback to the group and let them know that it is ok to make mistakes, as it is all a part of learning the game. Furthermore, girls embrace feedback, so the more you can give them the better, as they want to learn and improve (Praise – feedback- praise).
• Attentive Listening: girls are more inquisitive and tend to ask more questions than boys on how they can improve their skills and knowledge of the game. Therefore, coaches must be excellent listeners.
• Build positive relationships: girls primarily want to be liked by their coach as a person. If your bond is strong with your players, they will give their all for you. Be conscious of your body language and the tone of voice you use with your players, because any slight change to your demeanour, they will pick-up on it, as they are sensitive to these sorts of things.
• Internalise criticism: boys tend to deflect criticism onto the team, but girls will allow personal criticism to ‘eat away’ at them. Girls are more sensitive to criticism, therefore never criticise a girl in front of their peers because you will lose not only that girls’ trust, but most likely others who hear it. Be aware of their emotions and do not dismiss, even if you might think that is trivial.
• Friendships: girls are more likely to form little ‘friendship’ groups making it hard for others to join in. Therefore, as a coach, you must keep a vigilant eye on the demeanour of your players and notice any subtle changes. If you notice something, you need to act on it immediately rather than pretend not to notice.
• Sensitive to body image: girls are sensitive to size and are conscious of their athletic ability, so any derogative comments directed towards this are insensitive. Girls will cry and show their emotions, so you need to embrace this and empathise with them.
• Avoid making comparisons: girls do not like being compared to their peers. This especially is the case between siblings. Brothers may embrace it and go hard at each other, but girls who get a position over their sister are more likely to feel upset for the sister, instead of enjoying the spoils themselves. This approach will end your relationship with them and most likely, turn them away from the sport.
• Talkative: girls love to chat, so make time for them to have a catch-up. Allow time at training and on game day for them to talk and articulate what they are thinking.
• Perfectionists: girls like things to be perfect. They tend to look for an exact way of how something should be done. Therefore, attention to detail is more important to them than it is to boys.
• Intelligence: girls seem to be able to engage and sit through team meetings for longer. They have the ability to remember what you say and do not forget about it, so clear instruction and communication strategies is imperative.
• Teach the basics well: for many girls entering a team sport for the time, the teaching of the fundamentals becomes crucial. Therefore, it is important to use whiteboards, game vision, oval mats and handouts to help increase their knowledge base.
• Clear Guidelines: as a male coach, have clear rules around when it is appropriate to enter the change rooms.