basketball-girls-coach_tssBy: Emma Glasgow

In light of the upcoming FIBA 2014 Women’s World Championship in Turkey, I found myself thinking about female involvement in sport. Certainly it takes the same things to make it to high levels of competition in male and female realms – a combination of hard-work, dedication and talent – but did it take a different approach from coaches? Do girls in general require different things from a coach?

Part of me wants to say “No!”, coaching girls sports is the same as coaching boys, but having grown up as a female in the world of sports, I know this may not be true. Having witnessed a high turnover of coaches and an increasing rate of females dropping out of sports the older I got, I began to piece together that girls sports may come along with different challenges than boys.

Navigating the world of sports and gender can be a tricky area. Before I get too far, I think it is important to note that gender is not a dichotomy, it occurs on a spectrum. How individuals conform to gender roles and stereotypes can be versatile and even more difficult to navigate. It is important to allow for this individuality to occur, but may be helpful to be aware of both the similarities and differences within male and female sports.

The way males and females participate in sport is often grounded in social interactions at a young age. Factors like parental involvement, for instance father-son play versus father-daughter play, can have profound effects on the way males and females engage with play/sport/activity, and can provide messages, unknowingly, about his or her own physical skills for the rest of his/her life. We often see, even at recess, males engaging in more sprawling, competitive play, while females are involved in more intimate, cooperative play. This competitive versus cooperative play can be both the how and why males and females participate in sport.

Regardless of gender, it is is important to know what motivates your athletes to play. I think it can be agreed upon that participation in sport, for males and females, is largely based on fun! Both initial and long-term participation often relates back to level of enjoyment. Keeping the sport fun, will keep the athlete involved! Where an athlete derives that fun may be where males and females differ. As mentioned before, males often play competitively and as a result participate in sport because they value independence, status and achievement in order to create a hierarchical social order. While females often play cooperatively, this results in engaging with sport because of the social belonging and network it creates. They value relationships and fear isolation and separation from the greater team. This can create challenges with competition because of the challenges being placed on the social network; a fear that winning or being the best will isolate them from the group. These are general trends in male and female sports and there are obvious deviations. One example is the “tomboy”*. Tomboys (“sporty” or “athletic” girls) are females who play with or “like” males to a greater degree than their female peers. Their values are often more inline with their male counterparts in that they derive satisfaction and self-esteem from skill level rather than socialization. I think it is fair to say that males and females, are often not all competitive or all cooperative, but at varying degrees some combination of the two. Moving forward, I cannot stress enough the importance of merely keeping these generalizations in mind. They can be helpful in understanding male and female sports respectively, but you must take the individual’s and greater team’s unique motivations into account. Tailoring your tactics to each team will ensure it is more fun.

Knowing that in general girls prefer cooperation to competition, here are some tips when coaching female sports!

1. Add in competition while respecting cooperation!

Competition is important to sport and to the individual. Re-framing competition with teammates from individual wins and losses as improvement to the overall team can strengthen the team atmosphere. It may also be helpful to capitalize on the cooperative nature of female sports by adding in team building games and opportunities for socialization. Another solution may be shifting focus towards intrinsic (internal) motivation rather than extrinsic (external) motivation. Intrinsic motivation is a stronger factor to performance than extrinsic. Having females compete against her own performance will add competition and individual improvements.

2. Be mindful of feedback!

The social network females value in the sports environment can result in sensitivity to feedback. Relationships are important to the female athlete, which means her relationship with her coach is important. Too much or too little praise can result in an individual feeling isolated from the team. While too much criticism, can feel personal, kill confidence and perceived isolation from the group. Here are some tips:
  • be positive
  • be objective, not subjective
  • keep it simple
  • be consistent
  • listen
The Oreo or sandwich technique of “positive, constructive, positive” is often well received. It is also important to be aware of verbal and physical cues you are sending and receiving!

3. Mind the Pressures

Body image and social stigmas surrounding gender identity and sexual orientation can be issues in female sports. Of course this is true of male sports as well. With regards to females, disordered eating and overexercising are becoming increasingly common and at younger ages than ever before. Females, of all ages, are bombarded with images of the ideal female leaving young players feeling subject to the same social pressures as older athletes. While disorder eating and over-exercising often require expert intervention, you can play a role as a coach. Be aware of behaviours like compulsive exercising (extra runs despite hard workouts), obsessive interest in nutrition and calories, hypercritical and perfectionist tendencies, and regular reference to weight, size or fat, all of which may be helpful signs of a larger issue. If it becomes a concern, parental involvement is absolutely necessary. In order to avoid these things, creating safe environment and small changes in language can be all that is needed! Gender identity and sexual orientation are extremely difficult to navigate. Once again, ensuring a safe, accepting space for everyone involved is a huge comfort to all players regardless of gender, sex, religion and/or race. Your own behaviour may be all that players need.

In conclusion, males and females may participate in sport differently and may require a different approach from their coaches, but overall, are engaging in sport because it is fun! It is important to keep in mind that these differences exist, but that doesn’t mean they should be perpetuated! Being aware of the differences is helpful, but focusing on them can create more problems than solutions. Creating competitive and cooperative opportunities for all players is important. All in all, we want to provide equitable athletic opportunities and experiences for everyone involved!

*Fun Fact: A Women’s Sports Foundations Survey of female executives at Fortune 500 companies found that 80% self-identified as “tomboys” in their youth.

If this topic is of interest to you, there are lots of resources out there! Here are the ones I used:

  • Coaching Girls’ Basketball–Sandy L. SImpson
  • Canadian Journal for Women in Coaching–
  • Lost in the Sticks: Coaching Girls is Different than Coaching Boys–Inside Lacrosse –

Let us know your thoughts below!

Source: Steve Nash Youth Basketball Blog
Subscribe to Email Newsletter
Share this article to...