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April Heinrichs: Coaching Boys vs. Girls -- More Similar than Different
by April Heinrichs, February 7th, 2014 1:50PM

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TAGS:  youth boys, youth girls

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By April Heinrichs

Here's what I know after coaching girls and women for 25 years, and coaching our nation's best female players for the last 15 years:

Like any coach in any sport, to be successful you must have a vision for the way you want to coach, a vision for the way you want your team to play, and a vision for what steps (there are always steps) you must take in partnership with your players. It must be a partnership!

Players grow at different rates and different times in their development, hence the need for patience and being able to coach players differently. No two players are the same and no two players respond the same, thus, you must coach each player individually.

Finally, the key to coaching is being able to communicate your vision, plan and how a player fits into it all. Planning and preparing is a great part of a successful journey, so too is communicating and connecting with your players.

A great coach taps into each player's mind and their heart. A great coach motivates and asks a player to become more self-aware in order to reach the "next level." Ultimately, the most important lesson in coaching -- there is no finish line in communicating with a player. It's an on-going process.

I have limited experience coaching boys and men. But what is clear to me -- as I have many friends who coach males and of course I'm always watching the men's game -- is that in the last 25 years, coaching men and women is becoming more similar than different.

Twenty-five years ago you could make grand statements about the differences. "You can scream and shout at men and they'll respond." ... "Men don't care about team chemistry they only care about winning." ... "Women are not competitive." ... "Women are soft psychologically."

I don't think any of these old statements hold true today. Some of the most amazing competitors are women (athletes and businesswomen).

Women will really get after it in the competitive arena, and relentlessly so. They can unleash their furor on the field; just watch the U.S. women against any of the top teams in the world. There are fearless tackles, along with tactical adjustments communicated by their coaches.

As for men's teams and coaches today, a good team can beat an average team any day, but if a good team meets another good team that lacks cohesion, inevitably the team without good cohesion/chemistry will collapse under the pressure.

And, we hear today in men's soccer about the coach who has good "man management skills." These are some of the most successful and respected coaches in the men's game.

This sounds a lot like coaches of women's soccer. Coaching women and men is becoming more similar than different. And, one day soon, we will see a female coach coaching men at the highest level.

(April Heinrichs is U.S. Soccer's Technical Director and the head coach of the U.S. U-18 women's national team. She served as the U.S. women's national team head coach in 2000-2004, which included a gold medal win at the 2004 Olympic Games. Prior to coming back to U.S. Soccer, Heinrichs served as a Sportfolio Leader for team sports at the U.S. Olympic Committee. As a player, Heinrichs captained the USA to the 1991 Women's World Cup title and scored 35 goals in 46 U.S. appearances. She won three NCAA titles at the University of North Carolina.)

Editor's Note: A year ago, the Youth Soccer Insider ran a four-part series on the whether coaching girls and boys required a different approach ...

Girls vs. Boys: Should they be coached differently? (Part 1)
'It's about how the individual ticks' (Part 2)
A Difference in Social Dynamics? (Part 3)
Should coaches communicate differently? (Part 4)


5 comments
  1. Peter Calabrese
    commented on: February 7, 2014 at 3:21 p.m.
    Men vs Women at the highest levels, yes April you are correct. But boys vs girls, I'm sorry, you haven't a clue. I coached my daughter from u-4 to u-19 and my son from u-4 to U-12 and let me tell you there is a big difference. I think you should coach at the youth level and then come back and say there are few differences. You yourself state that you have limited knowledge coaching boys and men. You should try it. Then go an coach young girls and tell me there is no difference.
  1. clarence gaines
    commented on: February 7, 2014 at 4:51 p.m.
    Peter, jumping down April's throat. I've coached both for years. There's differences, especially at the younger ages. With most young females, you have to give them the license to compete or coach aggression. Most boys are very aggressive. All kids have to be nurtured to learn how to compete effectively. I'm keen on developing all kids competitive character. Play Hard, Play Smart, Play Together & let's have fun doing it. April was coached by Anson Dorrance in college. It would be interesting to get those two in a room to discuss this matter. Created a chirpstory that somewhat focuses on this issue by highlighting passages in Dorrance's book. I entitled the post - "The Ways of Anson Dorrance - 'The Man Watching'" by Tim Crothers http://chirpstory.com/li/5843
  1. cony konstin
    commented on: February 7, 2014 at 7:01 p.m.
    22 years ago when we started to take females to train at the Tahuichi Soccer Academy there was no girls at the academy. The head coach Ciro Medrano was asked by a parent of a girl are you going to train the girls different from the boys. Ciro said no. Then the parent asked why not. Ciro said because the ball is round. 22 years and 2000 players later The Tahuichi Way continues to train the girls the same as boys.
  1. Allan Lindh
    commented on: February 8, 2014 at 3:24 p.m.
    Only single reference to one big difference. Young males are testosterone driven, and growing up watching American "brain-damage-ball" they bring that mentality to real football. This remains the problem with American college soccer, and to a large degree MLS. And the owners, many of whom are clueless, defend smash mouth soccer as "what American fans expect." Change will only come when the smash-mouth young gentleman are set down until they begin to understand the difference. One will know that change is occurring when young players start to help their opponents up after a hard challenge. What is wrong in American soccer is the "spirit of the game", and it is up to coaches and refs to teach that at the youth levels, problem is that many of them will have to learn it first.
  1. Oscar Castro
    commented on: February 9, 2014 at 10:39 a.m.
    Dear All; I found the article incomplete (time wasting) as the statements are made without any evidence. Your feelings even though are back up form years of experience in women and girls soccer are only reflections of your own (somehow limited). A more insightful note will reflect on other views. Regards

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