Girls, Confidence, and Giving Feedback

Is it surprising that girls and women regularly underestimate their abilities and intelligence? It’s the opposite for boys and men who overestimate theirs.

Katelyn Cooper, a doctoral candidate at Arizona State University, and her team asked 250 undergraduate biology students about their intelligence as compared to their colleagues.

“I would ask students about how their classes were going and I noticed a trend,” Cooper said. “Over and over again, women would tell me that they were afraid that other students thought that they were ‘stupid.’ I never heard this from the men in those same biology classes, so I wanted to study it.”

She found that men are 3.2 times more likely than women to believe they are smarter. On average, a man has a 61% chance of believing he is smarter than his colleagues, while a woman has only a 33% chance.

This confidence disparity by sex is not just true for biology students. Girls (and women) also underestimate their abilities across the board from academics to the workplace to sports. And, also notable, is that boys (and men) are the complete opposite, believing that they are better than they actually are.

Coach Alison Foley with South Shore Select

What does this mean for coaches of girls? The key to coaching girls is to establish a trust relationship with each member on your team. Only when this exists — and this means getting to know the whole person not just the athlete — will that player be able to accept feedback.

Coach Alison Foley recommends finding opportunities to give positive feedback to each player during practice. She says that it doesn’t always have to be skill based. Recognize players who shown empathy on the field. Praise teammates who have contributed off the field by doing service work. Celebrate teammates’ extracurricular achievements in performing arts by supporting their events.

She advises that girls can never be in the unknown. “Girls needs constant positive feedback because if they are not receiving it, they assume that either they are not doing well or that the coach doesn’t like them,” counsels Coach Foley.

Coach Alison Foley and Coach Ainslee Lamb

Field Hockey Coach Ainslee Lamb, who contributed to HOW TO COACH GIRLS, recalls asking her college players what they thought they do well. Even players on the national team were hesitant to acknowledge anything they do well. It’s not false modesty; it’s this same phenomenon that girls and women truly underestimate their own abilities.

It’s the small things that matter. Taking the time to connect with each player on an individual level will keep her in the game. She might not have the best shot. She might not be the fastest on the field. But if coach take the time to compliment a cool pair of cleats or thank her for doing something thoughtful or recognize her improvement, she’ll keep coming back. And one day, she might be even be the best on the team.

Alison Foley Mia Wenjen How to Coach Girls

Did you know that 70% of all kids quit organized sports by the age of 13, with girls quitting at 6x the rate of boys? 

Alison Foley, Boston College’s Women’s Head Soccer Coach, and Mia Wenjen, parenting blogger at, help coaches — both parent volunteer and professional — crack the code of how to keep girls in sports. 

Twenty-two chapters cover major issues, including how to pick captains, the importance of growth mindset, issues around body image and puberty, as well as the challenges of coaching your own daughter. This is a hands-on manual to help coaches keep girls in sports!How To Coach Girls by Mia Wenjen and Alison Foley

To examine our print book more closely at Amazon, please click on image of book. Our ebook version with 3 bonus chapters is here.

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