Eight tips for coaching girls at all levels
The goal for coaches is to win games and turn athletes into quality people. But there may come a time when you’re asked to adjust your style to accommodate the opposite gender or coach a group of athletes you may not be familiar with.For some, that means coaching girls.
Unlike their male counterparts, female athletes are socially constructed to be feminine. As portrayed in the media, women are expected to be beautiful and thin. Television shows and movies don’t portray women as competitive or aggressive, so this oftentimes needs to be taught.
Michele Lewis Watts once spoked at the Michigan High School Athletic Association’s Women in Sports Leadership Conference, offering these eight recommendations for coaching girls. Lewis Watts classified herself as a student, coach and feminist. She teaches sports marketing and coaching at Wayne State University in Detroit.
1. Check your language.
Do not use the word “tomboy;” it implies that there’s something wrong with your female athletes. There’s nothing wrong with being athletic, physical and aggressive. Also, your athletes don’t “throw like a girl;” they throw like someone who has never been taught to throw.
2. Get to know your athletes as individuals.
Each athlete needs to be coached a different way; each has a different personality. Know their names, ask them about their academics and meet the people close to them. Show interest in their lives.
3. Know your biases, prejudices and stereotypes.
Realize the social pressures that female athletes are under, and think about tradition and history. Look through the lens of a high school girl and understand their situations, their lives at school and their lives at home.
4. Handle errors and mistakes to avoid embarrassment.
Your athletes know when they do something wrong; they don’t need you to remind them. They’re already embarrassed. Unless you’re saying something corrective or helpful, avoid saying anything at all.
5. Practice competitively.
Oftentimes, you have to teach girls to be competitive, but you need to do it in a fun way. Get creative and share ideas with other coaches. Challenge them to get better and work hard. Set individual and team goals, and keep pushing your female athletes to improve.
6. Develop a team attitude.
Female athletes want to be supported by their coaches and their teammates. They want to work together to achieve their goals, so host events that allow them to do that.
7. Allow time for socialization.
Girls are taught to be social, they are going to talk, so let them. Start your practice 15 minutes early and create a designated social time. They’re going to socialize, so you might as well build it into the practice schedule.
8. Expect tears.
They will cry because they’ve been told their whole lives that it’s OK to cry. As a coach, you need to learn to deal with it. Talk them out of crying — your captains may be able to help. Know your athletes, know who needs to be taken out of the game, and know who can stay on the court and recover.
Female athletes want to know the Xs and Os, but they also want personal communication and engagement, Lewis Watts said. Female athletes expect challenges, patience and positivity. They want to build relationships, feel valued and learn in a supportive environment. Coaches should expect sportsmanship and expect higher grades.
And what don’t they want?
Female athletes don’t want yelling and “tough love,” Lewis Watts said. They don’t want to be embarrassed, and they don’t want unprofessional or soft coaches.
And above all else, have fun, she said. Provide your team with challenges, and teach your female athletes to be competitive while providing them with a pleasurable atmosphere. Teach them new skills and allow for team bonding activities. And remember, music can change the mood.
Lewis Watts coaches volleyball at Martin Luther King Jr. High School in Detroit. She uses these tips during every practice and match, and she said they have paid off.
This article appeared in the March/April 2014 issue of Coach & Athletic Director