Gender Differences in Coaching

Good coaching is good coaching, regardless of athlete gender.

Male and female athletes are much more similar than they are different. There is just as much variability within females and within males, than between males and females. Despite the popular Mars/Venus perspective that females and males are vastly and inherently different, psychological research has not proven this true (see APA keynote from Janet Hyde titled “The Gender Similarity Hypothesis”).  Similarly, despite widespread opinions, anecdotes, quotes from famous coaches (i.e. Anson Dorrance), and popular press “coaching girls” books that are not evidence-based, research in coaching science and sport psychology does not support the idea that coaching males and females is different.

The only statistically significant difference, but has a very small effect size, is that female athletes prefer more democratic leadership styles from their coaches.

The Self Determination Theory states ALL human beings have 3 inherent needs-belongingness, competence and autonomy (I call them The 3C’s = care, competence and choice). Similarity.

Here are some common stereotypes I hear about coaching girls: more emotional, take criticism personally, too sensitive, hold grudges, need to talk and socialize, value relationships more, less competitive, need a cohesive team, lack killer instinct, and are better listeners. I would argue, yes this is true for SOME girls, but it is also true for SOME boys.

A Mars/Venus “difference” approach to coaching exaggerates, promotes, and reinforces outdated and dangerous gender stereotypes that are potentially harmful to BOTH males and females.

For example, if a coach believes or uncritically accepts that boys are inherently more aggressive and competitive, the coach may have different expectations and ways of structuring practices, interacting, communicating, motivating and leading girls. Similarly, if coaches believe boys don’t value connections and friendships, this too erases boys’ need for feeling a sense of belongingness. Coaching based on opinions, beliefs and popular press coaching books of inherent difference is dangerous and can limit the experiences of athletes, regardless of gender.

Coaching science researchers have demonstrated that good coaching is good coaching.

NOTE: If you would like to read a more in depth critique of this topic, please consult: LaVoi, N.M., Becker, E., & Maxwell, H.D. (2007). “Coaching Girls”: A content analysis of best-selling popular press books. Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal, 15(4), 8-20.

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