If you’ve been involved in Christian school athletics for any significant amount of time, then at some point you’ve probably coached both boys’ and girls’ teams. As you prepared for and executed each season with your respective teams, undoubtedly you encountered some differences between coaching the two different genders.
It is no surprise that coaching boys and girls can yield different experiences. God created man and woman to be distinct from one another.
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. – Genesis 1:27
Since man and woman were created by God to fulfill different roles, it is logical that there are definite differences in how each gender operates.
This post aims to highlight some of the differences between coaching boys and girls at the high school level.
This is the most obvious difference between male and female athletes.
Due to their higher levels of testosterone, male athletes are more capable of building muscle and possess capability for more explosive athletic movement.
Female athletes, while possessing less muscle mass, generally have more flexible joints. This higher level of flexibility allows for some sports to come more easily to female athletes. Despite this flexibility, female athletes are more prone to joint injury.
ACL injuries are very common in female athletes. All athletes run the risk of tearing an ACL, but female athletes are four to ten times more likely than male athletes.
If you are coaching a girls’ team, it would be wise to spend more time leading injury prevention exercises than you would with a boys’ team.
In personal experience, male and female athletes can be equally tough when dealing with injury. Be quick to identify which athletes are playing through significant pain. Allowing athletes — male or female — to push themselves too hard can result in more serious injuries.
Another physical issue is the effect of the menstrual cycle on athletic competition. I am not a woman, so I will let the words of NFHS instructor and successful coach Karen Coffin from the winter 2009 edition of Coaches’ Quarterly take it from here:
The hormone changes before a period begins may affect coordination, timing, energy level and emotions. Some girls experience significant pain… Issues are generally kept private, but coaches must remain sensitive to the fact that problems may arise.
Emotional issues are more subtle and can lead to a disconnect between a male coach and female players or vice versa.
Generally speaking, there is a big difference in why boys play sports versus why girls compete.
Richard Ginsburg, Stephen Durant, and Amy Baltzell state in their book, Whose Game Is It, Anyway?: A Guide to Helping Your Child Get the Most from Sports, Organized by Age and Stage:
Boys tend to be more outcome- or task-oriented, whereas girls, though they too care about success, tend to primarily focus on relationships with teammates and coaches and on fitness. (p. 160)
Boys tend to gravitate toward competition due to their genetic makeup. Testosterone drives competitiveness to a higher level. Winning quickly becomes a high priority. Most boys will value competition, as well as anyone who helps them succeed.
Boys are more likely to play for a coach that they don’t like in order to be successful, respect a star athlete, and get along with other teammates as long as they are working to achieve similar goals.
Girls are a bit different. Many high school girls compete in athletics because they value the relationships that competition brings. Girls tend to enjoy being on a team more than boys. This aspect of coaching girls can be very enjoyable from a coach’s point of view.
However, female athletes are less likely to play for a coach that they do not like. They are also more likely to form cliques within teams or ostracize some teammates. (We do not deny that this happens on male teams as well, but it is less likely.)
Karen Coffin also indicates that girls tend to view sports in a more democratic fashion:
Girls do not accept the function of a depth chart. The important thing to them is everyone being equal… A depth chart or ladder should go sideways rather than up and down in their opinion.
Ginsburg, Durant, and Baltzell also note that boys are less prone to empathizing with teammates and generally are more focused on fairness:
Often [boys] will not consider how an action will make a friend or teammate feel; what seems right or fair is more important. (p. 161)
The idea of a depth chart going vertically is fair to boys. The best players who work the hardest and give us the best option to win will help us more and should get more playing time. That’s not to say that there aren’t complaints on a boys team, but boys are more likely to keep that to themselves.
Boys also tend to compartmentalize emotions. Therefore, something that happens during the school day, even between two teammates, will not usually affect performance.
Girls, however, are more likely to bring their problems or emotions with them to practices and games.
The biggest myth about the difference between coaching boys and girls is that girls need a less intense coach.
A head coach can be just as intense with a girls’ team as he or she would be with a boys’ team. They just need to properly channel and execute the intensity.
Many men coaching female athletes fall into the trap of thinking they have to be more friendly or “gentler.” They change their entire coaching style, and then become frustrated when they don’t see the same results that they may have had with a boys team. This will also frustrate many girls on the team because they feel that their coach does not care as much as he should.
Generally, girls playing team sports do not want to be singled out, whether for good or bad. They tend to have a distaste for both public criticism and public praise. They joined the team to work as a team. Therefore, the team as a whole is more likely to accept an intense challenge from a coach to excel as a group. Individual encouragement or criticism is best done privately.
Boys, on the other hand, are more likely to respond to a face-to-face criticism in a positive way. They also don’t mind being praised publicly. In fact, they usually prefer it.
Of course, no two athletes are alike, regardless of gender. Some girls may respond well to public criticism, while some boys may wilt under the same pressure.
The most important thing as a coach of any gender is to know your players individually and collectively. Whether you’re coaching boys or girls may change your strategy of coaching, but it shouldn’t change your intensity, desire, or commitment.
The ultimate goal of coaching either gender at a Christian school should remain the same. You are leading the student-athletes to follow Christ, using sports as a vehicle to teach important lessons about serving Him.
What differences have you seen in coaching boys and girls?