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January 19, 2013
Girls vs. Boys: Should coaches communicate differently? (Part 4)

By Mike Woitalla (from Soccer America's Youth Soccer Insider)

A few years ago, I asked a man with plenty of experience, and a fair amount of success, coaching both genders about whether he takes a different approach. He didn't want his quotes attributed, but ...

... after answering “Yes!” provided an example.

If he felt a male player needed to correct something about his game, he’d simply point out the player’s flaws and tell him how to improve. With a female player, he’d first praise something in her game, and then say, “Oh, and you might want to consider working on this …” And then he’d end the conversation with another bit of praise.

The notion is that the “sandwich method” is even more important when dealing with female players. And that coaches should be more sensitive in how they communicate with female players comes up often when the girls vs. boys question is posed to coaches who have experience with both genders.

Anson Dorrance, the most successful, by far, women’s college coach ever, said in his biography (“The Man Watching” by Tim Crothers):

“When a man is criticized on the soccer field, he understands that a coach is taking his game apart, not his life apart. A woman does not separate the two.”

Another longtime coach of both genders, who didn’t wish to be identified, said that self-esteem can be a bigger issue with girls than with boys. “I’m not saying boys do not hurt as much, but it shows differently. … If you are a bully of a coach, I think you damage the female player more than the male overall. … A coach may be perceived more as a ‘father’ with girls as opposed to ‘teacher’ with boys.”

Dorrance says that when he coached men, he would show them videotape of their mistakes so they would see the proof, because “I have never met a male athlete who has ever felt that he made a mistake in any athletic competition in his life.” As for women, he said, “I am constantly amazed at how little confidence even my most talented female players have, so if you tell them they did something wrong, they’ll believe you. Video makes it worse, because they see how bad they actually were. A woman takes full responsibility for her problems emotionally, and you have to be careful not to destroy her psychologically. I stopped using videotape for the women except to show the positive aspects of their play to try and build confidence.”

Dorrance also says that women, much more than men, pick up on body language that shows the coach is upset with their play and verbal criticism isn’t necessary. During halftime after a poor first half, they sense the coach is unsatisfied, so all he has to do is ask, “Well, what do you think?” ... And “You can hear a chorus of self-flagellation as every women in the room is taking full responsibility …” The coach can then interject some suggestions about how to improve in the second half. "Now they think you're a coaching genius. You haven't criticized them at all, you've just reconstructed them a bit ..."

Some youth coaches agree that girls are more sensitive to how a message is delivered.

“With boys, challenge them with negative comments and they can get stronger by trying to prove you wrong,” says coach Jon Nishimoto, coach of Bishop O’Dowd’s girls varsity team in Oakland, Calif., and the assistant coaching director for East Bay United/Bay Oaks. “With girls, if you approach them and say the wrong thing -- or say the right thing the wrong way -- they can turn you off and you can actually lose them from any further information that you give them.”

Tony DiCicco, who coached the USA to a Women’s World Cup title, Olympic gold and U-20 Women’s World Cup, also has vast experience coaching youth soccer. In his book, “Catch Them Being Good,” co-authored by Colleen Hacker, DiCicco interprets how he believed women felt they should be coached based on Mia Hamm’s comment, “Coach us like men, treat us like women.”

“I think what she meant was, ‘Coach us as you would coach an elite men’s team. And at the same time treat us like women, which means don’t be in our faces, don’t be confrontational. Challenge us, but do it in a humanistic way.”

Christian Lavers' 2011 FC Milwaukee U-18 girls team became the first Wisconsin team ever (boys or girls) to win a USYS National Championship.

“From a psychology standpoint, any player needs to know you care about them and their development -- how you express that may vary a little bit between the genders,” says Lavers, now the ECNL Director at FC Wisconsin. “I think the phrase ‘They have to know you care before they care what you know’ is true on both sides of the game. All coaches need to be true to their own personality -- because players will see right through a fake. Within your own personality, if the players know you are on their side through the ups and the downs, and that you are there to help them accomplish their personal goals -- you will be effective.”

Wes Hart, a former MLS player who is the Director of Coaching at Colorado Rush and has worked with the club’s U.S. Development Academy (boys) and ECNL (girls) teams.

“I try not to change my style too much when coaching the girls vs. the boys. I try to treat both genders as soccer players," Hart says. “I definitely do not believe in treating all players the same, though. A coach needs to learn what makes their players tick. They have to figure out which players need their egos stroked and which players respond to having their head ripped off. They need to know which players learn verbally and which ones need to physically see things in order to process it. This is player management. And the best coaches are those who can differentiate the different needs of the players.

“I think a common misconception is that you should be ‘hard’ on the boys and a bit ‘easier’ on the girls. I've coached plenty of girls over the years who responded better when I was tougher on them. And plenty of boys who didn't respond well to having their head ripped off. It just goes back to knowing your players.”

Cindi Harkes, recently named assistant coach of the NWSL’s Washington Spirit, is the U14-U18 girls Age Group Director for McLean Youth Soccer and has also coached boys youth soccer.

“I think boys in some regards are easier to coach because they just get after it,” Harkes says. “They prefer to play instinctively and therefore sometimes lack the discipline to improve their technique and tactical awareness. The mental aspect of the game is the area with boys that I least have to be concerned about. As I mentioned, they just get after it.

“Girls, on the other hand, respond very differently to coaches and coaching style. A large part of coaching girls is centered around the mental aspect of the game. Girls are more sensitive. These observations are for the majority of the girls I coach, but not all. They are very hard working and disciplined and also want to please.

“But I wouldn't say that there are necessarily unique challenges to coaching girls vs. boys -- it is all the same game, it is just how you present it to your players. I also would not say that there is one certain coaching style that works best for each gender. I think each team, player and environment you coach in is unique and offers up different challenges.”

Should they be coached differently? (Part 1)
'It's about how the individual ticks' (Part 2)
Girls vs. Boys: A Difference in Social Dynamics? (Part 3)

(Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, coaches youth soccer for East Bay United/Bay Oaks in Oakland, Calif. He is the co-author, with Tim Mulqueen, of The Complete Soccer Goalkeeper. Woitalla's youth soccer articles are archived at YouthSoccerFun.com.)

January 12, 2013
Girls vs. Boys: A Difference in Social Dynamics? (Part 3)

By Mike Woitalla (from Soccer America's Youth Soccer Insider)

By Mike Woitalla

The YouthSoccerInsider continues its series on the differences between coaching boys and girls.

A common response we’ve gotten from coaches – especially male coaches -- is that girls place a greater importance on their relationships with teammates than boys do.

“One of the most interesting things I've noticed over the years is the difference in the social dynamics of the two genders,” says Wes Hart, a former MLS player who is the Director of Coaching at Colorado Rush and has worked with the club’s U.S. Development Academy (boys) and ECNL (girls) teams.

“Girls typically need to like a player in order to accept her on their team,” says Hart. “I've seen good players not work out on teams, because she did not fit in socially. On the boys side, that does not seem to matter as much. A good player typically will be accepted on the team, regardless of how he fits in socially. I find this very interesting and frustrating.”

Jon Nishimoto, coach of Bishop O’Dowd’s girls varsity team in Oakland, Calif., and the assistant coaching director for East Bay United/Bay Oaks, has a similar view.

“My experience has been that the female players have to get along really well,” says Nishimoto, who’s coached both genders at youth and high school levels. “The better the female athletes get along, the better the team will be. If they’re connected off the field, it really translates on the field and makes a difference in those tight games. … Whereas with boys, I think they care more about your ability. They don’t care if they like you or not, as long as you do the job with their team.”

Christian Lavers, the ECNL Director at FC Wisconsin, says that regardless of gender, a team that gets along is going to typically outperform one that doesn't, but …

“Just as the game differs in some ways between boys and girls, the team dynamic is also a little different,” says Lavers, whose 2011 FC Milwaukee U-18 girls team became the first Wisconsin team ever (boys or girls) to win a USYS National Championship. “And while we can talk in generalities, there are always individual players that break the stereotype. But on average, I think girls are more attuned to each other's personalities and the relationships between them have a lot more impact on the way they play, and boys are more likely to separate personal relationships from soccer performance.”

Nishimoto says he does more off-field team-bonding activities with his girls teams than with his boys teams.

“Success I’ve had with girls teams -- I personally believe they’ve won games because of the stuff we do outside of soccer together,” he says. “The boys you have to do more on the field to gain that connection and trust.

“The team-bonding activities I do for the boys are ones that relieve tension and tries to get that extra energy out. That would be something like bowling. Something active. With the girls, they like doing the scavenger hunt, the movie night, hanging out with each other at the hotel.”

Theresa Echtermeyer, the Director of Coaching of Highlands Ranch Soccer Association/Colorado United, is also boys and girls varsity coach at Mt. Vista High School.

“Overall I don’t see big differences between my boys and girls teams,” says Echtermeyer, who’s also an NSCAA staff coach. “I actually see it from team to team. Teams take on certain personalities and tendencies. …

“The main thing, whether they’re boys or girls, is be consistent and send a clear message. For me, getting the players to buy in, take ownership of their team and their team’s goals, that’s how I get the most out of my boys and my girls.”

Echtermeyer, with more than two decades of experience coaching boys, does accept the generalizations about gender differences.

“In general, yes, I think it’s true that it’s more important for girls to get along than for boys,” she says. “But I have had a team with guys who had a tendency only to pass the ball to the ball to their buddies – a boys team. …

“And I would say that for both genders, the more cohesive a unit they are off the field, the better they’ll be on the field.”

Should they be coached differently? (Part 1)
'It's about how the individual ticks' (Part 2)

(Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, coaches youth soccer for East Bay United/Bay Oaks in Oakland, Calif. He is the co-author, with Tim Mulqueen, of The Complete Soccer Goalkeeper. Woitalla's youth soccer articles are archived at YouthSoccerFun.com.)

January 02, 2013
Girls vs. Boys: 'It's about how the individual ticks' (Part 2)

In Part 2 of our series we speak with Minnesota coach Julie Eibensteiner, who has coached both genders at the youth and college level for more than a decade.

By Mike Woitalla (from Soccer America's Youth Soccer Insider)

Considering different approaches to teaching based on the students' gender has become a hot topic in the educational world, so we’ve been asking experienced American coaches if it’s also an issue to consider in youth soccer. In Part 2 of our series we speak with Minnesota coach Julie Eibensteiner, who has coached both genders at the youth and college level for more than a decade. She's currently the goalkeeping coach at Woodbury SC and head coach of U14 & U16 teams. She’s been a Region 2 ODP staff coach for both boys and girls.

SOCCER AMERICA: What should coaches keep in mind if they move from coaching one gender to another?

JULIE EIBENSTEINER: I coach both genders -- field players and goalkeepers -- and I coach them as soccer players and not so much by if they are male and female. I think you need to look at how the individual ticks and not just group them in one heading by gender ... and you can only effectively do that by getting to know the player.

At the end of the day, it's pretty to safe to say that the majority of players seek personal development, a positive environment, a confidence-building experience, and fun (however they define that).

Other than that, you need to get to know the player and their motivation, learning, and feedback preference ... and I am not convinced that is gender-specific especially as you get to the higher competitive levels.

SA: Are there unique challenges to coaching girls vs. coaching boys?

JULIE EIBENSTEINER: Generally, girls tend to be a little more hesitant with feeling confident and competent with how they are doing more so than boys, at first.

Boys probably overestimate their ability a little bit more so you need to find the middle ground with both and there certainly are exceptions.

Early in their careers, boys tend to be more outwardly competitive where girls tend to want to look out for the greater group and be a bit more cooperative ... again you just need to find the middle ground because both aspects are good.

SA: Are there coaching styles that work better with one or the other?

JULIE EIBENSTEINER: I have found that with no matter what age and what gender you coach, the best coaching style is one that demonstrates you are genuinely interested in their development, genuinely interested in them as a person.

To effectively explain the whys behind the whats … a coaching style that keeps the expectations of the coach consistent with the expectations of the player.

Read Part 1 of our Girls vs. Boys series HERE.



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