I followed his advice and I give my team 10 minutes of warmups where they can ask each other about tests, boyfriends, roommate situations, and all the other things that are on their mind. This bonding time is really important for them, and once they have reconnected with each other, they are ready to get to work.
The same theory applies to younger girls who have been sitting in school all day. They want to chat. They need this time at the start of practice to decompress and connect with their teammates. This is a significant difference in the ways that girls and boys can differ in sports, but it’s not the only one. When polling other coaches, the following comparisons emerged from our discussions:
• Girls tend to be better listeners.
• Girls are more likely to play for each other.
• Girls are more likely to feel an attachment for their coach.
• Boys can still perform for a coach to whom they don’t feel connected, in a way that girls are unable to.
• Boys tend to be braver and more confident.
• Girls want to be accepted.
• A female player can’t be in the unknown, she can’t be uncertain about how the coach feels about her.
• Girls want you to know them as a whole person, and not just for their abilities as a player.
• Girls are more likely to be perfectionists.
• Girls tend to doubt their abilities.
• Girls are more afraid to fail.
• Boys tend to inflate their abilities.
Fundamentally, boys tend to be overconfident in their abilities when compared to girls, and this has significant consequences when developing players. Boys tend to think they are better than they actually are, and as a result, they are unafraid to take risks such as partnering with the best player on the team.
The confidence to take risks is actually a big factor in developing a player’s skills and so I find that I have to take a different approach with girls than I would with boys. I need to create a safe and nurturing environment so that they feel comfortable with the possibility of failing, whether it’s in front of me or their teammates.
If I have succeeded in developing a nurturing relationship with a player, she’s then willing to take risks for me on the field, whether that means playing in a different position, or working on a specific skill that requires her to "fail" for a long period of time before she masters it.
It’s important that I connect with each player on an emotional level, so that she feels that we have a relationship and that I understand her as a complete person, not just a player on the field. Therefore, I’ll spend time learning about each athlete’s family, her extra-curricular activities, her recent vacation, and, if she trusts me enough, even her relationship issues.
In learning these things about my players, I’m building an emotional connection with each one of them. Seeing them as more than just an athlete is crucial both for the girls and their parents, because parents also want to know that the coach genuinely cares about their daughter and understands that there are other things going on in their lives. And today, there is a lot pressure in all areas of their lives, whether it’s grades or relationships or their future.
(Excerpted from "How to Coach Girls," by Alison Foley and Mia Wenjen, courtesy of Audrey Press, Foley is head coach of Boston College's women's soccer team. Wenjen covers education, parenting and multicultural children’s books at PragmaticMom.com. The book, which focuses on the key elements
to keep girls coming back next season, covering topics like Coaching Your Own Daughter to Pitfalls of Choosing Captains to Developing Team Chemistry, is available on Amazon).