Girls vs. Boys: Should they be coached differently? (Part 1)

By Mike Woitalla

The first time I heard the question, it took me by surprise.

“Coach Mike, can I have a Kleenex?” the young girl asked.

I had a well-stocked first-aid kit, but it never occurred to me to keep Kleenex on hand. I’d never used one on the soccer field as a player and had never seen a male of any age require a tissue to blow his nose on a sports field. Apparently, though, the snot rocket is not a popular method among the other gender.

So, if you’re about to coach a girls team, make sure to have plenty of Kleenex in your bag. But what other differences should coaches expect between boys and girls? And is it necessary to adjust one’s coaching style when moving from one gender to another?

Considering different approaches to teaching based on the students' gender has become a hot topic in the educational world, so perhaps it’s also an issue in youth soccer.

For sure, in the early history of girls soccer in the USA, girls were generally coached by men whose entire background in the game had been with boys. In today’s youth soccer scene, it’s common to have coaches move from one gender to another during their careers.

In Part 1 of a YouthSoccerInsider series on this issue, we consulted Sam Snow, the Technical Director of US Youth Soccer.

“On the one hand, when coaching either boys or girls a coach should approach training sessions and matches thinking of them as soccer players primarily, and considering their gender secondarily,” Snow says. “Coaches will need to make more adjustments based on the age group and the level of play -- and therefore the level of expectations -- than gender modifications for soccer development.

“On the other hand, coaches must be aware that the psychological, social and emotional approach to coaching boys or girls does differ slightly. Necessary adjustments will likely increase as the players age.”

“Girls want the coach to show caring about them as individuals above the team dynamic. Boys do care about the team first, but the coach giving them individual attention is still important. Girls will need social time within the team, boys less so. Individual and group relationships are an important part of team culture with both genders. Off the field, treat them as young ladies and gentlemen and expect them to behave like ladies and gentlemen.”

Snow says there are physical differences to consider.

“Prior to puberty there are more differences in athletic capability within the genders than between them,” he says. “Boys and girls in the U-6 and U-8 age groups are all quite similar in height and weight. In the U-10 age group the girls are now leading the way in physical maturation.

“Generally girls grow 1 to 2 years biologically faster than boys. Once the players reach adolescence, then the tables turn in regard to height, weight and power. The difference in the teenage years of strength and speed will have an impact on some tactics, but still there will be more similarities in their tactical play than not.”

On how coaches should adjust their approach, Snow says:

“The coaching style must be within the coach's personality. The coaching methods, though, will change with the age group and indeed to some degree with the gender.

“It has been noted, as an example, that if a coach states at halftime that the team must do a better job of marking up, a girl will feel the coach is talking specifically about her, not the entire team, and a boy will be sure the coach is talking about his teammates, not him.

“Given the differences in learning styles, a coach must vary the means of communication regardless of the gender. Some players need to hear the coach's message in a blunt and direct manner and others need the sandwich approach.”

(Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, coaches youth soccer for Bay Oaks/East Bay United SC in Oakland, Calif. He is the co-author, with Tim Mulqueen, of The Complete Soccer Goalkeeper. Woitalla's youth soccer articles are archived at

6 comments about "Girls vs. Boys: Should they be coached differently? (Part 1) ".
  1. Dave Krygier, December 20, 2012 at 12:04 p.m.

    Yes. They should be coached different and coaches should be trained to understand the differences between boys and girls. It's amazing to see how many boys coaches are not able to work with girls and all they do is make them mad, which in turns hurts the team, the coach and the game. Maybe it's time for someone to introduce a new series for soccer coaches on how to relate to kids and get them to perform!

  2. Bob Dawson, December 20, 2012 at 2:40 p.m.

    I have coached boys and girls and have always found success by adhering to the principal that boys are mostly about the status and girls are mostly about the friendships.

  3. David Whitehouse, December 20, 2012 at 4:28 p.m.

    Some years ago I talked about this with a friend of mine. Mike always coached boys but for six years had been the head coach of a DIII Women's team. I always got a laugh out of his description of the difference between women and men.
    If a player makes a bad mistake and comes back up the field a girl will have her head down and feel she's let her teammates down. The coach's job is to encourage her and get her head back into the game.
    A boy will stare at the coach, who's yelling at him for being a bone head, and wonder to himself "What the F... is his problem?".

  4. David Whitehouse, December 20, 2012 at 4:32 p.m.

    Coaching female goalies can also have an odd cultural challenge. They often don't back pedal well and have trouble tipping a ball over the crossbar.
    This isn't always because they're shorter, although that can be a problem, but often because they never played baseball or softball. Most boys have learned to back pedal to catch a ball - a skill that helps out goalies enormously.

  5. James Madison, December 20, 2012 at 10:51 p.m.

    I learned early on that coaches have to deal with different tendencies between young female players and young male players. In line with Bob Dawson's comment, for example, girls will tend to interpass with their friends, whereas boys will tend to interpass based on their perception of the skill of their teammates.
    More recently, I had a team of U14 girls who wound up winning a championship by defeating their prime rival. The girls approached me as a group afterward and said that, despite their pleasure at winning the title, they would have preferred me to allocate playing time in the crucial match more equally instead of playing the strongest players as much as I thought necessary to secure the win. I have never had a boy's team raise a social issue like that.

  6. Bill Anderson, December 24, 2012 at 8:36 a.m.

    Pecking Orders vs Cliques.

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