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5 Ways to Effectively Coach Female Athletes.

It’s no secret that female-athletes are different in male-athletes. I’m not saying they are less talented or capable – absolutely not! But the way they should be coached should be different because we are not wired the same. I wanted to share tips on coaching female-athletes so that together we can continue to encourage them to be strong, resilient, and empowered through sport.

  1. Watch what you say:

Be careful what you say regarding their bodies, making mistakes, and providing criticism. Praise in public, criticize in private to avoid embarrassing and humiliating your athletes. Also, do not degrade them with terms such as, “You run like a girl.” Are they a girl? Yes. Are they running? Yes, and they probably are running faster than you! Their gender does not matter in regards to how they perform. 

2) Get to know them outside of their sport:

Your athletes are more than athletes. They might also be a sister, a musician, an artist, or a damn good euchre player. Learn about who they are outside of the sport. Females seek out connection and it will do wonders to your coach-athlete relationship if you take the time to connect with them.  

3) Practice how you want them to play:

Sometimes female-athletes need to be challenged and expected to practice as they would compete. Especially with younger females, do not think that you need to go “easy” on them. Obviously, don’t run them into the ground but you can make practices fun AND competitive. 

4) Allow them to be social:

Girls like to talk and be social. I guarantee you they are going to talk, so instead of fighting against it, let it happen. Allow a chunk of time before practice to chat, or tell them that their warm-up run is their social time. Or allow them to socialize between drills and during water breaks. They’re going to socialize, so you might as well build it into the practice. Just make sure they understand that there is a time and place for it. 

5) Females wear their emotions on their sleeve:

Females can be emotional and sensitive creatures and there’s nothing wrong with that! Understand this and accept it. Instead of becoming upset and yelling at them to “suck it up,” take an empathic approach. Being able to understand and express your emotions is a strength, not a weakness. Also, teach them how to best handle emotions through emotional regulation techniques such as deep breathing, self-talk, and mistake routine rituals. You are their coach and you are teaching them more about the sport, you are teaching them about life. 

The courage, strength, and character gained through sports participation are the very tools girls need to become the confident leaders of tomorrow. Keep fighting to make sure all women and girls have the opportunity to play!

The Power of Community

Two years ago I moved to a small Wisconsin town, which is my husband’s hometown. I did not know many people, other than my husband’s friends and family. 

Before moving here I attended a Female Athlete Empowerment Symposium in another small town near Mankato, MN. While I was in graduate school I had the opportunity to be a break out speaker at this event. It was for all High School Female Athletes in the area and had an amazing line-up of keynote speakers, break out sessions, and female college athlete panelists. Ever since I had the opportunity to be a part of this event I knew that someday I would love to host one myself. 

With this goal in the back of my mind, I started to make this new town my new hometown. I got involved in a gym, yoga studio, and started to market my sport psychology services to the local high school and sports organizations. I knew that in order to get this event going I would need to get to know the town more so I put the idea on the back burner. 

A year in I was welcomed with open arms from the local high school and fitness studios in the area. Once I was offered the assistant track and field high school coaching position, I knew that this would also be my way in to get to know more coaches and the athletic director to pitch my idea for this event. 

Once I brought it up to the athletic director he was on board instantly. He offered any help he could and we solidified a date. From there on was a lot of work on my part. I had to figure out who to reach out to for sponsorships, who to invite to be speakers, and how I was going to market this event to the community for registrations. 

After months of creating forms, reaching out to potential sponsors and speakers, the event started to become real. The response from the community was absolutely amazing. I had so many people interested in joining this event as a speaker that I actually had to turn some away. This was very challenging to do, but also exciting that I was getting so much interest in the event. 

Next was figuring out how to fund this event as I did not have the expenses myself and I was passionate about making this event free for all attendees. A few sponsors trickled in right away and then after that, it went quiet. I learned that it appeared to be much more effective to call for donations rather than mailing in sponsorship forms. Even though it was time-consuming, it was more effective because I was able to connect more with the sponsors through the phone rather than through the mail. 

Within a few months of the event, I had an amazing line-up set up and very generous sponsors. All that was left was finalizing the details and getting more girls to sign up for the event. 

Looking back it was a struggle to get sign-ups early on because it was over the summer. I tried to market the event the best I could before the summer, but I had very few sign-ups. As the summer drew to an end I had more and more sign-ups each week. 

To be honest, I was getting nervous that I had this amazing event in the making and that the day of I would have very few attendees for my sponsors and speakers. I really thought getting into this endeavor that getting girls signed up wouldn’t be the issue, but rather gaining sponsors and solidifying speakers. 

With the help of the athletic director, high school coaches, my speakers, and sponsors we were able to push the word out more in the final weeks of the event. The sign-ups rolled in and we had enough numbers to make this event a success. 

I learned right away as I was finalizing the details that I needed help. I was overwhelmed, stressed out, and felt that time was escaping me. With the help of amazing friends and family, I was able to gather everything I needed for this event on time. The day of I had all hands on deck and between myself and two family members was able to set everything up for the event. 

My husband’s family and our friends were an amazing help to assist with signing in the attendees, helping answer questions, and refilling the food and drinks to make the event run smoothly. The athletic director was also very helpful since he knew the school building and was able to make sure the AV systems were all in place. 

Looking back on the event I realize how grateful I am to be in an area with a supportive and strong community. Taking on this project taught me the importance of asking for help and delegating tasks because we definitely can not do it on our own. 

Maybe you have a project or goal in mind that you want to go after. That’s awesome! Go for it, but remember to seek out guidance, support, and help along the way. 

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

College student-athlete panel

Why 110% Doesn’t Exist

 Practice begins and we are about to start drills. It’s a hot humid summer day in Minnesota and our coach explains what we are going to do for practice. Before the drills begin the coach yells out, “I know it’s hot out but I still want 110%!”

Wait, what does that even mean? 

Last I checked 100% is the most you can possibly give. I mean, math is not my strong suit, but I’m pretty sure 110% doesn’t exist. 

This is a phrase that I often hear whether it’s in the sports world, during a workout or even in the workplace. I appreciate the point and meaning behind it, but let’s face it, it is unrealistic. 

Instead of expecting 100%, or an unrealistic 110% from your team, expect them to give you 100% of what they HAVE that day.

You might think that you are motivating those around you by always saying, “Give 110%,” but you are actually saying, “Make sure you go above and beyond your actual capacity.” 

100% is a flawed mindset that does more bad than good. If we think we need to always ‘do more’ than we become fixated on overdoing things, extending ourselves too far, and overstepping onto others. 

I understand that as a coach, parent, or even boss you want to get the most out of your players, children, and employees. No one wants a slacker and someone who gives less than they can. However, even expecting 100% from everyone day in and day out isn’t possible. 

Life happens! 

For example, if one of my athletes recently had a loved one pass away, or has endured an injury, I would not expect the same output that they formerly produced. Do I still expect them to work hard though? Yes, absolutely! 

Our energy fuels are similar to that of a gas tank. Some days we have 100%, but some days we may only have around 50%. 

Instead of expecting that everyone has a full tank each day, get to know your team and understand how much they have to give. If someone is having a tough time let them know that you understand that they might not have 100% in them, but that you still expect them to give everything that they can, whether that’s 75%, 50%, or even 25%. 

Remember to give what you have. Some days you might only have half a tank, some days you might have a full tank. Use as much as you have to give! Setting realistic expectations will go far for yourself and your team.

Effort Counts Twice

“Coach thinks I suck,” she states as she kicks some sand around.

“What do you mean?” I ask.

“I use to be the top athlete on the team, coach use to always look to me. Now I haven’t gotten better and he thinks I suck compared to everyone else. That’s why he doesn’t put me on varsity,” She lowers her head and kicks some more sand.

I look at her for a moment, considering what she just said. I think back to the practices so far that year.  During the drills, there are other athletes who are taking it more seriously to improve their skills. She tends to be off to the side, striking up side conversations and not putting in the same time and effort as the other athletes.

“Coach doesn’t think you suck,” I tell her, “He knows you are capable of performing at a greater level, we all do. Your ability isn’t in question, I think maybe you just need to show everyone that you care to get better.”

“Really?” She asks sounding surprise, “Maybe…”

As a coach, what matters more isn’t the natural ability or skill an athlete has, it’s the effort that they put in and out of practice. I would rather play my less skilled, but more hard-working athlete than a more skilled athlete who doesn’t seem to do the work to improve.

Many athletes may feel that a coach is treating them unfairly when they aren’t given enough playing time or placed on the varsity team when they feel their abilities compare to those who are given that chance. If that is the case for you, maybe it’s more than coaches opinion of your ability. Maybe you do have the same ability that the other athletes do, but what else is going on?

Pay attention to the other components that matter to a team and a coach. How is your attitude at practice? Are you upbeat, positive, and encouraging? Or do you complain and sulk around. Consider the work ethic you put into the drills as well. Do you do them halfway and put in limited work, or are you actually focusing on the drill and putting in everything that you have?

Talent doesn’t trump work ethic.

“Hard-work beats talent, when talent doesn’t work hard.”

If you can show a coach that you care about improving, that will go much farther than simply accepting and being ok with the ability that you currently have. Other players will step up their game and eventually you will lose your spot because their improvements will outshine your stagnant abilities.

As coaches, we should also put greater importance on hard-work and improving our skills rather than focusing on those with “natural talent.” This will instill and foster a growth mindset in your athletes, which will boost their self-confidence and encourage them to work harder at honing in their craft. If you focus on natural talent, that willl only encourage a fixed-mindset, which will decrease their efforts and make them believe that they are unable to improve and grow their skills. Don’t you want a team that works hard, believes that they can improve, and strive for getting better every day rather than settling for what skills they already have?

Demonstrate this in and out of practice by praising hard-work and effort, over outcome and abilities. The athletes that keep trying to improve and put in the work to do so are the ones to focus on because they will help set the tone for the team that we don’t settle where we’re at, we always want to improve and get better.

Coaching Confessions

This year I had the opportunity to be a part of the coaching staff for a high school track and field team. I coached collegiately with sprinters and relays for a year and really enjoyed it, so this opportunity definitely piqued my interest.

However, here was the catch; due to the lack of coaches, I will need to pick up a field event. I was always a sprinter, mainly the 400-meter dash. The only field event I attempted was high jump for about two years in high school, and I attempted it rather pathetically might I add.

My options were: pole vault, high jump, throws, or long & triple jump.

This was my thinking process:

  • Throwing and sprinting does not have much relation to one another.
  • The high jump was something I at least tried, but I don’t know how to coach it.
  • Pole vault – what if I kill someone?
  • Long and triple jump, hey at least there’s sprinting involved!

I found out that one of the coaches was a high jumper so I removed that one from my list of potential options and decided to take on horizontal jumps.

I highly encourage and talk to others about the importance of getting out of your comfort zone. Well, here I was DEFINITELY out of my comfort zone being the long and triple jumps coach. In the minimal spare time I did have I found myself researching the event. I read articles about the different phases, the different styles of starting, and the landing components. Then came the drills and technique drills – wow there were so many! How was I ever going to decide what would be best?

Well, I had to look inside and reflect on what type of coach I actually wanted to be for these kids. I wanted to share the 10 pillars of my coaching philosophy that I established with you. I also wanted to share my coaching triumphs and failures along the way, because let’s be honest; coaching is not as easy as people may think.

  1. Connecting before Coaching:

Since I was still new to the long and triple jump, I cared more about trying to get to know my athletes rather than teaching them all of the skills of the jumps. The ways I reached out to connect and show them I care was getting to know their name, which for me was hard-work because I do not have the best memory with names I would also ask about how school was going, got to know their interests outside of track, and introduced myself to their parents and families at meets. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to impress them with my lack of knowledge of the jumps, so instead, my focus was on connecting with my athletes before I actually coached them.  

2. Less is more:

The jumps, especially triple jump, has so many components to it that it’s confusing as a coach to even learn. How was I going to teach all of it to my jumpers? Instead of bombarding them with a lot of information I wanted to keep it simple. I referred to the KISS method, which means Keep It Simple Stupid, for my coaching philosophy. Less is more in my mind and I wanted to target only a few key drills. If we could consistently work on only a few parts of the jumps, then the athletes could master those before learning the rest. I would rather by very strong in certain phases, rather than being mediocre in all phases. Besides, high school track is already a short season and I did not have a lot of time with them.

3. Make it fun:

If the athletes are not enjoying their event or having fun at practice and meets, then what’s the point? Constantly being criticized or yelled at is what makes athletes quit, not better. Some rules I had to keep it fun was to never yell at my athletes, always provide positive and constructive feedback, and to not take it so seriously. This is high school after all, not the Olympics. Yes, I’m a competitive person and want my athletes to succeed, but that’s not my sole focus. I’d rather have them enjoy what they’re doing and perform poorly than hate what they’re doing and perform well. Plus, the more fun that they have, the better they’ll perform in my book!

4. Mindset Matters:

My educational background includes an MA in Sport and Exercise Psychology, so mindset is huge for me. I always wanted to know what was going on inside of my athlete’s minds before, during, and after their performance. Checking in with where they are mentally was crucial and I often asked them what they’re thinking about or what self-talk they were having.  I also did a lot of goal-setting, which I think is important because it directs their motivation and helps me as a coach to understand what they wanted to achieve. The very first practice I also asked all jumpers why they wanted to jump to understand their purpose and reasoning for being a jumper. I think that this is important for me as a coach to realize because it can help me understand what can motivate them and understand them a bit more.

5. Focus on the positives:

I’m naturally a pretty positive person, and I definitely believe in the power of positivity. I wanted to drive this home with my athletes and bring it to the forefront of my coaching style. I understand that in sports everything can’t be rainbows and unicorns, but there is good in every practice and every meet. Every time I offered feedback I tried to use the sandwich approach, which means I would start with something they did well then add in the constructive feedback before ending with another positive. I also had the athletes tell me what went well at practice for each day. There were some days I forgot to bring it up before practice was over, but I attempted to do it often so that they could also try to find the positives in each day. After their performance at meets I would also make them tell me something that went well, even if they were extremely frustrated with their performance. This makes them get out of their anger to focus on what they actually did well.

6. Be honest and open:

As Brene Brown says, there is no courage without vulnerability. I also believe in being honest and open by being willing to be vulnerable with your teams. Showing vulnerability teaches your athletes that you are also a regular person who makes mistakes, messes up, and forgets things. I would often do this by telling them right off the bat that although I have a lot of experience with track and field as an athlete, I was never a long or triple jumper and am still learning. I wanted them to know that although I am unfamiliar with their event, that I am passionate about making them better and that I am learning everything I can to be the best coach I can be for them. I think showing this vulnerability to them helped them connect to me more, and it also allowed for them to teach me about their field event as well, which created leadership moments.

7. Provide autonomy:

The top 3 factors that create intrinsic motivation include competence, relatedness, and autonomy according to the self-determination theory. I highlighted autonomy by being able to give them moments in and outside of practice where they had control and a choice. I would create ownership by asking them what they wanted to work on at practice, what drills they liked, and also what they didn’t like. I wanted to create an environment that supported honest feedback so that they could add in their input and opinions. I also increased autonomy by creating the SP GRIT awards, which is an acronym of the team’s values After each week they were able to nominate and vote for an athlete who upheld the values the best.

8. Develop leaders:

Since I was stilling figuring out what I was doing as a coach, I wanted to create strong leaders within the jumps crew to help the team and myself. I also wasn’t at practice some days and I wanted to trust that certain athletes could lead practice effectively without me there. I would establish leaders by having athletes demonstrate certain drills, assign older athletes to help out and support the younger athletes, and to lead practices in my absence. It’s important as a coach to find leadership moments, no matter how small, to build strong leaders on your team. I was fortunate enough to have three amazing seniors in my jumps crew who were some of the most trustworthy, kind, welcoming, helpful, and strong leaders I’ve seen.

9. Continuous learning:

I think it’s important to always be learning, whether it’s from someone else, with each other, or teaching someone else what you know. I was constantly learning throughout the season about how to coach high schoolers, how to coach jumps, and how to connect with my athletes. I would learn from my own athletes, from other coaches, and from my colleagues and friends. I would pull helpful tips and information from others, watch many videos, read several articles, and even have other professionals come in and work with my team. I was able to connect with an awesome coach from the Milwaukee area who was willing to share his time with my team by coming to practice and teaching my athletes, and myself, drills for the long and triple jump. This also showed my team that although I didn’t know much when it came to jumps, I was willing to learn and still offer opportunities for them to learn and grow.

10) Join in with them:

I always appreciated as an athlete when the coach was physically able and willing to demonstrate the drills themselves. Even though I wasn’t a jumper, I would attempt to do what I wanted them to do in order to show them what I am looking for. Sometimes it went well, other times I humiliated myself, which also increased my connection with the athletes because we had something to laugh at. I learned a lot about jumps about doing the drills because I had a sense of what it felt like to actually do it and also helped me to figure out what I wanted to look for. If I am unwilling to try it, why should I expect them to do it? One day I was feeling athletic and courageous and joined in on one of the lactic acid workouts. It boosted my credibility, but wow did I hurt for several days afterward!

After the lactic acid workout.

Whether you’re a coach, parent, or athlete I encourage you to reflect on your philosophy for what you do and why you do it. For me, it’s the joy of seeing others improve both physically and mentally while doing something that they enjoy.

This year was a blast coaching and I look forward to continue coaching next year, and hopefully many years to come!

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