Wait…didn’t you just write about how we should treat girls differently just last week?
Well yes. And no.
Let me explain.
I’m in the middle of “Catch them being Good: Everything you Need to Know to Successfully coach Girls” by Tony DiCicco and Colleen Hacker, the coach and sports physcologist at the front lines of the famous Women’s World Cup win. An early quote from Mia Hamm sums up my thinking about working with girls:
“Coach us like men, treat us like women.”
Last week, I wrote about how and why I treat female athletes differently, but it’s important to note that I want the same result that any coach wants: TO WIN*. In order to get there with women I believe you have to acknowledge difference, but I also know you must demand much of the same technically and tactically out of all athletes, male or female. I can guarantee you that Katie O’Donnell, a member of the National Field Hockey team, who is ran a clinic with us on in both 2014 and 20, doesn’t want a “girls” version of a game plan when they play an international match.
Why? Because eventually, we are all judged simply by how we perform as people, not in shades of pink or blue. When former female athletes enter a work environment their presentation won’t be judged by different standards or reports won’t be assessed differently because she is a women. Although biases certainly still exists, good work is good work. The path to success may be slightly different based on gender, but sometimes we (coaches, athletes, parents) drift TOO far into the “women are totally different” camp. I hate to admit it, but it is often females’ coaches who interpret treating women differently to mean coaching women differently. Not understanding the difference between the technical coaching and the relationship building of the job may be why higher level female athletes tend to like male coaches better. I’ve noticed 3 big ways that we as athletes, coaches and parents sometimes apply different standards to women that hurts them rather than helps.
1. We don’t demand the same work output.
I’m not saying we need to run a 40 yd dash in the same time, or be able to tackle a 200 lb lineman, but have you ever noticed a difference in intensity between a men’s preseason and a women’s preseason? It’s not everywhere, but in talking to my male coaching friends they often have a much higher expectations of the work they want their kids to put in. It comes down to pushing for those intangible athletic traits: intensity, pain thresholds, and individual effort. Of course I look for players who are naturally athletic, but the good thing about these traits? You can control and influence them. You can’t control the talent you’ve been given, but you can control how hard you work. Your non-athletic freshman may run the mile in 8:00 minutes while your 120 pound junior flew by in 6:30, but those numbers don’t tell you who worked harder for it. Often, when you look at the pained look on the 8:00 minute milers face and the sweat drenched shirt, that’s the mental toughness that matters more. That is using the mile to grow, not to just coast. Demand effort and intensity during the two hours you have them and focus on how they are competing against themselves. They’ll thank you when they get in overtime and outwork the other team.
2. We hold them to a different standard of accountability.
This is a related to demanding work, but the quality of work increases when we ask our players to focus. When a person can visually and mentally prepare for the task at hand, they actually see results increase, statistically. I tell girls they can chat in line only if they can focus and do the task as soon as they enter the drill. If it is a tactical drill, they should be watching their teammates to try to understand what is going right and wrong. This doesn’t mean we don’t have silly dress up practices (we do…a lot), but it’s important that you ask your players to mentally put away schoolwork, relationships, phones, and simply focus on sport. This ability to focus on the task at hand helps us over-ride our automatic muscular response and in turn, learn to master a skill through small tweaking or to learn how to create muscle memory by creating the correct neural pathways. Drills aren’t about checking the block, it’s about finding a way to over-ride the natural way of doing it and working towards the right way. That takes focus and they’ll thank you in overtime.
3. We don’t prioritize weight-training.
It’s 2014, I’m past being simply annoyed when girls tell me they don’t lift because they don’t want to get big. If lifting got you big overnight, do you think that tiny freshman boy who spent his ENTIRE summer in the gym would only be a TINY bit bigger? Weight-training correctly helps give you muscular endurance**. Remember when your legs died in the second half? Go do a circuit that includes body-weight squats, lots of ‘em. Not able to reach or dive as far you want? Go incorporate box jumps into your next conditioning session. When you move past the body-builder style of weight-training, you improve your neural response, your coordination, activation time (think RPM), your central nervous system connection, and make your engine more efficient (aka increases VO2 max). Finally, when you add weight, form becomes important, helping girls learn to focus on HOW their body is accomplishing the task at hand. By focusing on how we land, how we cut, we can increase bio-mechanical understanding of ourselves, which can, in turn, help prevent injury like the dreaded ACL (which women are MUCH more likely to suffer from). So get a great strength coach, get in the weight room and teach them how to clean and jerk, dead lift, and snatch. They’ll thank you in overtime.
This is Lizzie. She now plays hockey in college. According to Lizzie, weightlifting “helped her get less tired” at the end of games. As her coach, I noticed a difference in her play when she started lifting.
Again, I firmly believe that when you look at the whole, coaching men and women is different, but a lot is clearly the same. Women and men want to be pushed to be better. Do you disagree? Or see somewhere else where we apply a male/female standard when we shouldn’t?
*Our Organization is a proud partner with the Positive Coaching Alliance and I completely subscribe to the Double Goal coaching model of never allowing winning to usurp teaching positive life lessons. But I’m a coach-I can’t pretend I don’t love wining!
**If you’re a pre-teen, you can still do weightlifting, but body-weight, light weight and focusing on form are where you’ll get a lot out of it. You can still get incredibly strong with just your bodyweight. Don’t believe me? Go do 200 burpees and come talk to me.