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First, let's be objective. Not sexist, but objective. Remember the "Mars" and "Venus" conversation?


And remember, any time we talk about a general population, there are exceptions. Some women need to be coached the way men are generally coached and vice versa. The concept below simply outlines research conducted to identify general differenced between the sexes with regards to how to best coach them.


If you ask any group of coaches if they think male and female athletes require

different coaching approaches I'm sure you'll spark a lively debate. When I ask

coaches who have experience coaching males and females whether it is best to

coach them differently, they overwhelmingly say “Yes!” Similarly, research with

coaches confirms that this is a commonly held view.


Two personal experiences illustrate the strong views on this issue that

pervade coaching practice. In the first situation I was speaking with several

coaches at a hitting clinic with both baseball and softball coaches present.

With authority the lead instructor of the clinic, a clear baseball guy through

and through, proclaimed that you can’t coach boys and girls the same; “You

should be more blunt and direct when coaching boys because they aren’t as

sensitive as girls.’ The next 20 minutes was fun to watch!


In the second situation I was talking with two successful experienced coaches – one male and one female – both of whom coach female athletes. They couldn’t agree on whether you should use completely different approaches when coaching males or females. However, they did agree that male athletes were quicker to move on from team conflict whereas arguments among female athletes would often fester and disrupt team performance.













When pressed to explain their perceived need to adjust their coaching style based on athlete gender, coaches often justify doing so based on their personal experience. And this anecdotal evidence oftentimes fits a familiar narrative (e.g., Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus).


Well-known coaches such as 21-time national women’s soccer championship coach Anson Dorrance reinforce this view. Referencing his experience coaching both male and female teams, he believes males often are over-confident while females tend to lack confidence: “In coaching women, there is more of a need for 'ego-boosting.' With men, it is more 'ego-busting.”


Coach Morgan's take: This means it's crucial to nurture the ego of females. Harsh criticism, while should never be applied to a youth athlete in any case, could be especially damaging to female athletes.













There can be no denying that there are some real and important gender differences for coaches to consider. For example, male and female brains have important structural and functional differences. Certain parts of the female brain are larger than the male brain, and vice versa. Also, the male brain is designed to process serotonin –a key factor in regulating mood and emotion – over 50% faster than the female brain. And gender is typically the single greatest predictor of many mental health conditions. Males are much more likely to succumb to drug and alcohol addiction whereas females experience much more depression and anxiety.


Some additional gender differences

that can have direct implications for

coaching relate to memory,

communication, and relationships.


• Memory: Females recall

experiences with more detail and

emotion, males typically remember

the ‘gist’ of an experience (big

picture); the female brain is

designed to see events in emotional


• Communication: When stressed

due to conflict females focus on

nurturing (‘tend and befriend’)

whereas males tend to withdraw; female brains are wired to have stronger and more elaborate verbal communication skills (cables connecting the right and left hemispheres of the brain are thicker in the female brain).

• Relationships: Physical activity and competition are the preferred method for building relationships among males; females prefer to bond through talking and sharing stories.




Coaches should at least consider these important

gender differences when thinking about their

approach to coaching.





For example, when teaching new material, males may benefit more from having an opportunity to first try it without paying too much attention to the minor details or each component of the skill or tactic. Females, on the other hand, may be more ready to work on component parts of the skill or tactic immediately after a vivid demonstration by the coach.















When teaching athletes how to handle interpersonal conflict or control and use emotions appropriately, it may be more useful for females to have time to talk about the issue in a group setting. For example, time can be set aside at the start or end of practice sessions to talk about team issues.


Female athletes may also benefit more from spending time in social situations outside of their sport, such as watching movies or eating meals together, to build relationships with their teammates. On the other hand, when coaching males it may be more effective to have athletes engage in competitive games to allow them to resolve conflict through physical activity. To build team cohesion outside of practice, males may benefit most from being active together in low-key competitive situations such as mini-golf, go-karting or bowling.


Lastly, male athletes may be more motivated to practice and learn new skills when their performances are compared to teammates. Conversely, female athletes may respond best when their progress is charted against their own performance standards.


While male and female athletes may differ in some important ways, coaches should also understand that in general, males and females are much more alike than different, something referred to as the gender similarities hypothesis. In fact, comprehensive reviews of research on this topic show that the few gender differences that do exist often can be explained more by environmental or cultural influences than genetics.


In the end, coaches should hold the same high standards for their athletes, whether coaching males or females. Yes, female athletes may sometimes respond differently than male athletes to training demands and performance stressors. However, championship coaches such as Russ Rose, Anson Dorrance, Geno Auriemma or Pat Summitt are living proof that coaches should not shy away from creating tough and demanding practices when coaching female athletes.


All athletes, regardless of gender, respond best when coaches set challenging, yet realistic, training and performance goals and emphasize skill development and improvement (often referred to as a mastery approach to coaching).


The best approach is to familiarize yourself with what is known about some of the potential differences between male and female athletes and then get to know each of your athletes on an individual basis. Showing your athletes that you are genuinely interested in their unique needs, motivations, and learning styles – while being sensitive to potential gender differences – is the surest way to find the ‘right’ coaching approach for helping your athletes reach their goals.


Here's a link to another great article on this topic by Julia West, an author for the Female Coaching Network.

Dr. Wade Gilbert

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