Watch this, then read:
This is part III in the three part-series on coaching girls. Hope you've had a chance to check out the other two parts already posted.
How is the Communication in your Performance Environment? Put simply, communication builds rapport between coaches and athletes. As we learned in Part II of the series, women may listen less to cues about “what” and more to “how” when they are learning a new skill. Women and girls in general are thinkers and analyzers, and some would say over-analyzers. Because of this, we know that women are more likely to internalize general comments. Their coach may have nonchalantly told them they could afford to lose some weight, and years later, they are too afraid to put on a bathing suit and swim publicly because of a general comment that touched them years prior. Favoritism or perceived favoritism is another example which can be highly destructive with girls. Coaches should try to minimize favoritism, and be more aware of general comments they are saying to their athletes. Furthermore, women and girls may have more need for feedback than boys, in order to learn the skill, remember the skill, and perceive a positive experience.
An example of an athlete internalizing a comment is John Herdman – the women's Canadian coach for freestyle ski – who works with athletes still struggling with messages they received from coaches back when they were 10 years old. Case and point, you have to be extremely conscious of what you say to your athletes around commitment, talent, effort, body image, and social standing, to name a few.
Note that one comment about being overweight or fat, or connecting body fat to performance can trigger a spiral into bulimia and anorexia that can be potentially life threatening. As a coach always refer to experienced nutritionist/psychologist/ and notify parents to manage these issues. An individual trying to counsel an athlete through psychological issues without the appropriate qualifications and training can just exacerbate the issues more.
What should I pay attention to as a coach?
Consider the social interaction and team dynamic:
• Relationships – implications of good/bad athlete-coach relationships or implications of girls sticking with the sport due to close social relationships within the sport.
• The social side - implications of needing a social aspect for higher retention and less dropout, particularly in young girls.
• Team chemistry - a highly valued quality for minimizing dropout in girls.
• Social web - Implications of a good social web for the sense of belonging.
• Higher expectations of women coaches - women coaches tend to be less forgiving than male coaches, and this can be damaging to female athletes.
• Team issues can destroy performance - if there are any team issues that arise, try to minimize or extinguish the issues as soon as possible.
• Lastly, modify your coaching style based on the personality of the girl - as coaches we need to be adaptive, forgiving, and understanding of each girl's individual struggles.
Females athletes tend to prefer a positive coaching style, however they do expect and appreciate constructive feedback. Female athletes expect to be told when they are doing something wrong.
Positive Feedback: Women want to know what they did right in addition to what they did wrong. Yelling and constant negative feedback will cause the female athlete to ‘tune-out’ the coaches’.
Encouragement: Female athletes appreciate praise, and knowing that they can be successful and do things well.
Sandwich Technique: Do not be afraid to provide constructive feedback to female athletes. Surround constructive feedback with positive comments. Athletes want to know the reason for doing something – explain and teach them what and why you want them to do it. If athletes see value in what they are doing, they will work extremely hard
The Solo Girl
What are the implications for being the only girl in the group of athletes? Many coaches could probably vouch for having experienced this in the past. Recognize that these girls are often hiding their emotions and take a lot of pressure to act like one of the boys. Romantic interests can really wreak havoc – and coaches must protect girls and keep in tune with underlying dynamics.
The Social Side
Manage the team environment. We KNOW that girls tend to stick in sports because of the social aspect of the team. To maximize their attendance and minimize dropout, consider the following:
• Team unity and identity are vital – (t-shirts, slogans, traditions, cheers)
• Prevent cliques from forming - Examples to help prevent cliques: During course set up and breakdown (freestyle ski specific) or general warm-up and cool-down (general sports), rotate the groups of girls and make different girls perform the set up and breakdown. Mix up and deliberately change the groups of girls that interact with each other.
• Do not be afraid to have fun - a non-traditional practice can go a long way towards team morale
• Create external sources of fun: pre-season activities, team meals, movie nights, bowling, or overnight trips • Make sure EACH girl has the chance to develop their leadership skills (allow them to lead warm up drills or plan a social event for the team)
Let's come full circle back to the point of the first Coaching Girls article (Part 1):
Social connection – accept that girls need social connection, and are less likely to dropout of sport if they feel that connection.
Role models – girls need strong, confident role models. Be aware where they are seeing the models (whether in magazines, or directly looking up to their parents).
Skill acquisition - girls need a ton of external cues and information to better develop their confidence in performing a skill. The great example of this is in Part II's 2nd video of the girl needing the coaches help figuring out more information about the ski jump before actually attempting it.
Also, back to the main reason why girls drop out of sport:
1) Lack of friends
2) Lack of role models
3) Lack of confidence in ability
4) Interest in other sports
5) Financial Limitations
It is no surprise that girls who participate in sports at a young age are more likely to participate in sports and fitness activities when they are grown adults. The benefits of physical activity are massive, and include decreased anxiety, depression, chronic disease, eating disorders, and long-term mortality. That aside, girls who participate in sport are more likely to develop confidence, perceptions of self-worth and self-efficacy, and less likely to perceive themselves as incapable. The top 5 reasons for girls to dropout of Freestyle Skiing as a sport can likely be transferred to top reasons for dropping out in other sports. Coaches should recognize these reasons, and try their best to minimize dropout.
Lastly, we know that girls are more likely to join and play sports for the following reasons, in order:
Acceptance → Effort→ Performance
Knowing this, we can work to be more accepting of our female athletes, while creating a warm and positive training environment, before we push them to give their best efforts or excel in performance. Contact me for any questions. I would love to hear feedback!
Remember, strength and fitness are VITAL to your health and well-being. #VitalStrength
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