Navigating body image as girls go through puberty is challenging. Add in sports and there is an added level of complexity. On the one hand, sports teach girls that their bodies are to be celebrated for what it can do; being strong and capable. On the other hand, media informs girls that they are being evaluated solely on their appearance. As a parent, this drama plays out in small ways – is there an after-game team snack and does it have to be “healthy?” Are matchups with size differences – “that team is so huge” — seen as intimidating or “unfair?”
I was that mom. My middle daughter who played a lot of soccer was usually the smallest kid on the field. A matchup with a girl much taller seemed like a doomed proposition. Team snacks were also a minefield had to be carefully considered for parental approval, and I usually provided multiple options just to be safe. But this was the tip of the iceberg.
My oldest daughter played town soccer for a volunteer dad coach who also happened to teach at one of our local middle schools. My daughter was an awkward phase of puberty – she would gain weight first and stay the same height for a long time, before shooting up. She also had knee problems from tight hamstrings and puberty and often couldn’t participate from being in pain. Her coach was not sympathetic, and called her out in front of her teammates for being lazy and unfit. This ended up being the last year she played soccer.
Body Image, Puberty and Sports
Even a decade ago, I noticed that young girls in the age range of eleven and twelve, weren’t thinking about their bodies. But now puberty is happening at a younger age. There’s also a trend in more form fitting soccer uniforms. Even for youth players like U12 girls, the kits are more narrow and it makes girls more conscious of body image. One consequence of these trends is that some young girls will restrict their eating, and that’s where the coach can come in and be a positive influence.
My daughter’s club volleyball coach is an amazing coach. He would thank players for running for an out of bound ball that they had no hope of getting to. He’s say, “Thank you so much for running after that ball.” And they would walk through fire for him. I asked him walking over to the team dinner that night if he had always coached this way. He said that he used to be the coach that was the hardest on the most promising player, but he learned that you can’t coach girls that way.
Positive Reinforcement is Critical
Girls want to be pushed but they need some positive reinforcement. They have to feel that when you’re pushing them, you still believe in them. Which means that you can’t tell them at the end of practice; they need a small amount of positive feedback during practice. Continue reading “Positive Reinforcement is Critical”
My kids probably respected and sometimes even feared their coach more than any other authority figure in their lives. That’s the person they worried the most about. Does my coach like me? Am I going to start? I noticed that my middle daughter’s town coach would work with her team on kindness and appreciating every member of the team through “pump up” letters before games. In small ways and big ways, coaches have enormous influence that can be tapped and used to encourage athletes to develop not just as good players, but good people.
Developing Good People Not Just Good Players
The role of the coach can influence far beyond the field. It’s really important to recognize non-soccer things to help develop players into good people. For example, I coach U14 girls on a club team and I might recognize the player for being courteous because they let someone cut them in line. Somebody didn’t have a change to go so you recognize that and you let them go ahead of you. As opposed to I am going to be the first one in front the college coach who’s recruiting here today.
One issue for my middle daughter when she played club soccer was car pool. The problem was that she was the only person on her team from her town. There three other car pools based on location and then a few girls who also were the only ones from their town. It wasn’t that the girls from town car pools were inherently mean or exclusive or catty … but they came into practice as group who just car pooled together, and most played together for years on town teams together. They talked about people that go to their school that no one else knew. And, on the field, one group had a, most likely unconscious, tendency to pass to each other.
How To Deal With Cliques
If you tell girls to form teams of four, they will naturally go into groups based on who they socially know. It might be a group of girls from the same town who car pool together. It might be from the same elementary school if it’s a town team. It might be by age group if it’s a mixed age team. My daughter’s town team is comprised of 7th graders and 8th graders and you can see the girls stand in groups by age. Continue reading “Cliques On and Off the Field”
As a mom of two girls and one boy, I would say that coaching boys versus girls is a continuum, and that this is not a hard and fast rule of differences for all boys and all girls. But I observe that the coaches of my girls who were most impactful took a Whole Child approach, with the social-emotional piece a significant one. Alison’s approach to this chapter is both her own experiences plus she polled many of her coach friends, both male and female, to get their take on what they think are the differences coaching girls versus boys.
What Are the Differences Coaching Girls versus Boys?
The University of North Carolina coach, Ansen Dorrance, gave me a really valuable piece of advice when I first started coaching. His advice was to give the girls on the team the first ten minutes of practice. Let them catch up with each other during this time, and then you will have their attention for the next eighty minutes of practice. If you don’t, they will try to get their ten minutes the entire practice, meaning they are distracted. Continue reading “What Are the Differences Coaching Girls versus Boys?”
At the very least, you want the parents to make the call after a field injury if their child should return to the game.
My kids get nosebleeds. We refer to them as “gushers.” For the uninitiated, it looks like they are bleeding out at a frightening rate. The real issue, though, is keeping the blood off their uniforms, because they can’t go back into to play during a game with blood stained clothes, and they definitely want to keep playing once their nose bleed ends. My kids know what to do when the nosebleed ensures, but on the field, invariably, no one has tissues, and sometimes my car is parked quite a distance away. Even if I jog to my car, they are literally holding the blood in their cupped hands as it streams down, trying to keep it off their clothes. Finally, I made them each a “nose bleed kit” for their sports backpacks. I include four packs of travel tissue packs, one pack of baby wipes, bandaids, and an ice pack. It usually gets used at least once per season, either for themselves to help out a teammate.
Creating Your Medical Emergency Plan
Concussions are top of mind for any coach. If an athlete hits her head on anything, she’s done. You can’t have her come back in.
What if the wind is knocked out of her? This is when an assistant coach or an assigned rotating parent helper provides another set of hands during a game or practice. I have that person sit with the player while you call 911. Continue reading “Creating Your Medical Emergency Plan”
We will be posting the first drafts of each chapter of our book. This is the chapter on The Pitfalls of Choosing A Captain.
It’s an act of graciousness to be a good follower.
My daughter was on a new club soccer team in which half the team were friends of hers from a previous team. The captain selection process seemed arbitrary. Right before every game, the coach would need a captain to start the game, and she tended to choose the same person, Anna*. Anna is a good player – there’s at least a half dozen players at her same level – and she’s a good friend of my daughter from playing on the same team the previous year. Even though the captain’s duties on this team was solely to represent the team before the game started and determine who kicked off, my daughter felt like Anna was “coach’s pet” and resented her and the coach. Continue reading “The Pitfalls of Choosing Team Captains”
These are some of the coaching challenges we will be addressing. What are we missing?
How To Coach Girls
– Keeping It Fun
– My kid won’t participate
– Handling a Losing Streak
– How to make each player feel valued
– How to make team feel successful even when they lose every game Continue reading “Coaching Challenges”