Five Things To Consider When Parenting and Coaching Female Athletes

Female Athletes Celebrating

I have three daughters who all play or have played competitive sports. I have watched them rise to incredible highs and face several lows along their journey. But no matter where they were on that continuum, one thing has remained constant: understanding our female athletes and how they differ from male athletes is critical to their success and happiness.

Why are sports so important for girls?

High school girls who play sports can be less likely to be involved in unintended pregnancy, more likely to get better grades in school, and more likely to graduate than girls who do not play sports. They have higher levels of confidence and self-esteem and lower levels of depression. Girls and women who play sports have a more positive body image and experience higher states of psychological well-being than girls who do not play sports. Study after study shows that female athletes do better than their counterparts in GPA and graduation rates.

But keeping our girls playing sports can be challenging because so many drop out before age 13, and girls tend to drop out earlier at higher rates than boys. So, being thoughtful and purposeful about how we parent and coach our female athletes is critical to keeping them playing longer and staying healthier and happier while they play.

Five Things To Consider When Parenting and Coaching Female Athletes.

1) Motivate female athletes with positive reinforcement, not criticism.

UNC Women’s soccer coach Anson Dorrance, the winningest coach of any sport at any level, gave up his locker room scream fests for halftime speeches that typically consisted of, ‘Well, what do you think?” Research supports that girls respond better to positive reinforcement and collaboration than the more confrontational approaches often used in male sports. Recognize their achievements and provide constructive, positive feedback to foster a sense of self-efficacy. Empower your female athletes by fostering an environment where they feel safe to try new things and make mistakes, knowing they will receive guidance and support rather than criticism.

2) Recognizing and Respecting Physical Changes

As athletes, young girls endure many physical changes that need to be recognized and addressed with respect and care. Coaches should be sensitive to the unique physiological journeys girls experience, be it puberty or susceptibility to ACL injuries. Open and informative dialogue should emphasize health and well-being rather than performance alone. Parents and coaches should be knowledgeable and proactive in promoting injury prevention and holistic health, ensuring that athletic pursuit does not come at the expense of well-being. This is essential for the girls in shaping a positive body image and approach toward fitness for life.

3) Know them as whole persons, not just for their abilities as players.

Recognize and celebrate not only their athletic accomplishments but also their personal growth and development and what makes them special outside of their sport. Check in on them with personal questions and follow up if there are any red flags. Allow them to share and be vulnerable within the team dynamic and one-on-one. When a girl believes her coach cares about her as a person, she will be motivated to work at her highest level and will feel good about their contributions to the team.

4) Integrate a social aspect into their sport.

Girls play for each other and for their coach. It’s the connection to others that drives them, unlike boys, who innately play to win. Coaches, allow time each practice for your girls to socialize and connect. And for parents, when choosing teams, it’s important to consider friendships. Girls will be more motivated and enjoy playing more if they are among friends. I know for all three of my girls, having a good friend on the team was the most important factor they considered when deciding which team to play on. A great coach or competitive team won’t matter if your daughter isn’t excited to go to practice every day.

5) Provide positive female role models and mentorship.

Seeing themselves reflected back is inspiring and a powerful catalyst. Female coaches can play a pivotal role in the development of young athletes. My daughter’s first club soccer coach would write positive messages about each player and have them put the little paper pieces in their shoes for added confidence. Female coaches break down gender stereotypes and inspire young girls to see sports as a viable and rewarding path. Also, actively seek out media and examples that showcase women in sports to underscore the notion that girls can achieve greatness in any area they choose.

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