At a young age (before those pesky growing pains start!) most youth athletes, regardless of gender, have similar skill sets, talents, size, and so forth. Sure, there are bound to be exceptions but until puberty most male and female athletes are on the same playing field. Don’t believe it? Check out this great video of 9 year old female football player Sam Gordon who smokes her opponents on the field. Granted, when her teammates get their growth spurts it might be a different story but for now Sam can play just as well (if not better) than the boys.
But just because boys and girls can and do play the same sports, sometimes even on the same teams, does that mean they can be coached the same way?
There are plenty of studies out there that show boys and girls do actually learn differently, and those differences translate into youth sports. Many coaches find that boys and girls tend to internalize their comments and critiques differently and this has had dramatic implications on their coaching styles. For instance, if a coach says the team must do a better job in the next half, a girl will feel the coach is talking specifically about her, not the entire team. On the other hand, a boy will be sure the coach is talking about his teammates, not him.
Montana State University put the theories to test and here is the conclusion those researchers came to;
…males valued KNOWLEDGE (of the sport) and TEACHING SKILLS more than females. Females appeared to value EMOTION and POSITIVE characteristics of coaches more than males. These findings appear to support the thesis that females tend to be more internalized than males in some motivational aspects of sport. Females are apt to valued performance improvements based upon positive interactions and self-comparisons, while males base some motivational factors on externalized factors which would be impacted by a coach’s KNOWLEDGE of the sport and the ability to TEACH.
The big difference that Montana State University points out is how boys and girls react to different types of motivation and coaching styles. While coaches shouldn’t assume that this is how every boy or every girl they coach is going to react, it’s important to keep in mind.
Anson Dorrance has been the head coach of the University of North Carolina women’s soccer team for 33 years. But he also coached the Carolina men’s team from 1976–1987, which means he coached both teams for about eight years. He says;
.…every guy pointed to someone else when he asked “who didn’t do their job.” Even when one individual clearly dropped an assignment. When responding to the same question to the women’s team, not only did the beaten player raise her hand, but three other teammates did too, with explanations like “she was out of because she was covering for me being late getting back, so it’s my fault,” or “I didn’t back her up effectively.” Big difference.
“I’m not saying men are better, or women or better,” Dorrance explained, “they’re just different, and you have to manage them differently.”