Mean girls. We’ve all heard that phrase and I worry that we all believe it on some levels. I’ve heard coaches, mothers, and female athletes themselves talking about how girls and women can’t get along and that their team’s had “girl issues.” I don’t believe that issues or conflicts have a gender attached to them. What I do believe is that women can, in fact, get along and they can compete (together!) at amazingly high levels. So now, let’s look at the…
2 prevailing myths that too many people believe about female athletes
- Myth #1: Women aren’t competitive.
This is usually uttered by the exasperated male coach of a female team. Check out this scenario: it’s game point in a close volleyball match. The two teams are pretty evenly matched…they’ve been trading points the whole game. Your team is about to serve for the game and the opposing coach calls a time out. You huddle your team close around you and you look your server in the eye very intensely and tell her, “it all comes down to you Susie…we won’t win without you!” You think you’re firing her up and showing her that you believe in her. She hears: “Don’t screw up! If you miss this serve, your team will hate you!”
Women are very competitive and will rise to any occasion…together. Studies show that women get onto teams to be a part of something and to socialize, then once they realize that they’re good, they’ll keep playing. That’s exactly the opposite of guys who join teams because they’re good and happen to make friends along the way. So, the moral of the story is, if you want to motivate your female athletes to greatness, remind them of their teaminess. At that same time out, bring your team in, huddle them up close and (while making eye contact with all of them) say: “ladies, you all have worked your tails off to get to this point. You’ve hit, you’ve passed, you’ve set, you’ve played amazing defense. Now, Susie is going to crush this serve and we’re going to win this game.” You’ve said the same thing as the first example, but now you’ve included her in a group effort.
- Myth #2: Girls can’t get along.
If I could have a cause as a coach, it would be to eliminate the world of this perception that female athletes can’t get along. You’re probably thinking…well Dawn, you coach collegiate athletes, but my middle school girls are ripping each other apart! I’ve coached middle and high school as well as at the Division I and III collegiate levels and I’ve learned one major lesson: the coach sets the tone. It’s our job as the coach to understand what makes female teams tick and what motivates each athlete. As Kathy DeBoer says in her book, Gender and Competition: How Men and Women Approach Work and Play Differently, “until recently, it was not politically correct to think of women as different. If you said women were equal, then they couldn’t be different. The wonderful news is we can now say women are equal and different. And that’s a huge and dramatic breakthrough.” So now that we know it’s kosher to say that female athletes are different than male athletes, let’s cut to the crux of the issue.
The coach runs the show. Do you secretly believe that females are “catty” or can’t get along? Then that’ll come across to your team. How? You’ll let bad behavior slide because you think that it’s somehow a female trait. If two people have a conflict and they’re men, it’s no big deal…if they’re women? They’re catty. So the first thing is to evaluate your belief system and make sure that your team understands what you will and will not accept. I’m pretty explicit with my team about this whole “girls can’t get along” thing and how I think it’s a crock. The next step is to empower them with conflict resolution skills and also to help them understand the different personality types and how they interact with each other. I certainly don’t expect my team to make it through an entire season and not have issues that need to be addressed, but I haven’t given them license to brush it under the rug as “girl problems”. Conflict doesn’t have gender and we, as coaches, can’t give our teams excuses to not learn how to effectively deal with those conflicts.
So I’m hoping that this has confirmed what you already knew about your female athletes: they’re strong, confident, competitive, and resilient problem solvers who will run through walls for their teammates and their coaches.
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