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If you love coaching and coaching well, you love any challenge that’s presented to you. A woman coaching men is a far bigger challenge than a man coaching women, yet it is a challenge all the same.
In my experience, male coaches do need to take a different approach to coaching women. But, and crucially in all coaching, it’s to do with knowing and understanding each individual that it makes a difference.
I can draw on some experience of coaching women myself.
I taught at a mixed school, and if you class teaching as coaching (some won’t!), I developed by own understand of the best approach to each student. I was head of rugby and basketball, which were exclusively boys only. In the Lent term, given my horrendous hockey skills, I ran the 3rd team netball (including one unbeaten season). When I moved to Wales, I was assistant coach to Welsh Women Rugby team, and went to the World Cup of 2010.
In all that time, I received about five minutes of “formal” advice on the difference between coaching men and coaching women. Perhaps that’s how it should be. Take each individual as they come and try to learn as much about them as you can to help them develop.
Okay, the obvious stuff is about health and safety and discrimination, but that comes from teaching/coaching any age group, gender or background.
Given I’ve coached rugby to representative level to both male and female players, here’s my take on some of the differences.
Coaching rugby to women
Perhaps women’s or girl’s rugby shouldn’t start with the words women’s or girl’s in front of the word rugby. It’s just rugby.
Though that would be a valid approach to any sport, any coach new to this form of the game needs to understand three things and judge how to use this knowledge.
1. The language is different
Be aware that there are some male terms used in the game: “Man-on-man defence” for example. Frankly, you are better off saying that and just getting on with training.
However, remember who you are talking too, and show them the respect they are due as players of the game.
That’s what any athlete expects.
2. Competitive natures are different
All sports people are competitive. Yet, you will find that girls don’t bond as a team in the same way as a group of boys might. It’s the speed of bonding that is different.
For example, you put together two teams of 5 v 5 and play a game. You won’t necessarily find the teamwork to be as good as quickly. This is different with more experienced players, but when you are working with players who are new to the game, you need to give them more time to find this bond.
3. The skill set makes the game different
Girls are definitely on a par with their male counterparts in terms of contact and tackling skills. Where the game changes are with handling and kicking. Not at the top level, but across the grassroots game, there’s a significant gap.
Generally, the speed of the pass is much slower and length shorter. That means that the game is played in a narrower sector.
And kicking isn’t good at all. Because the players don’t kick much outside the training, the skill is rarely honed apart from a few players.
Overall, that makes the game compact. Hence, a fast player can really dominate the game.
Changing your approach...
Any coach’s approach to rugby (or any sport) should be based on the team in front of them, no matter who they are. You will have your own philosophy, but that means nothing if you can’t coach the basics and identify what the needs of the team are.
Not changing your approach…
Like coaching kids when you shouldn’t expect to the see the adult game played on a smaller pitch, it’s the same when comparing a women’s event to a men’s event. It’s not a question of what’s better, it’s a question of where they are going and what you should expect.
My advice to any male coach who’s just starting out coaching women: coach the sport, coach the person, know where that level of player should be going, and, most importantly, know where that person has come from. It’s only different because many girls haven’t had the same sporting environment as boys, and culturally, we have some way to go on treating female athletes as athletes, not females.
What do you think? Do you agree with me that male coaches should have a different approach to coaching women? Share your experiences by adding a comment below.
If you enjoyed this you can find all my other ConnectedCoaches blogs here.
I have found in my sport (Australian Rules football) that the basic skill sets have the same impact on the game. Instead of 3/4 kicks down the ground, the girls will be having 7/8 kicks maybe. This makes the game slower but arguably places more importance on the execution of the kicking and marking of the girls. I also agree in terms of contact and tackling - ferocious and no noticeable difference!
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