Coaching A Girls Sports Team: 6 Keys for Success

coaching girls fastpitch softball soccer basketball sports

Each weekend, fields & courts scattered across the country are filled with men and women coaching youth girls softball, basketball, volleyball, lacrosse, & other sports teams.  From t-ball to 18U, an army of coaches (mostly volunteers) is needed to make each game possible.

Teams are often being coached by men (typically a father of a player). And sometimes it's a Mom that perhaps played at the high school or college level herself. And then other times it's a kind soul that loves the game and just wants to give back & impact young girls in a positive way. 

Talk to many of the "Dad-coaches" and you will find story after story of former players that are now coaching their sport (and females) for the first time.

While many men find the change to be awesome, it can also create some unique challenges for a new male coach. But regardless of your gender, coaching girls softball for the first (or hundredth) time requires a spirit of learning and "moldability." 

So what can a guy (or gal) do to make a smooth transition to coaching a girls sports team for the first time? Or even the hundredth time? 

Keep reading below for 6 keys that are certain to help. 

Lets dive in...

Coaching Key #1: Learn About Gender Differences

Not to be “captain obvious,” but you are coaching females. And as such you need to learn about the differences of coaching females compared to males. (I am especially talking to my Dad's here). 

First, don't make the mistake of assuming that girls aren't able to “handle” as much as boys. I have coached girls with 10x the mental toughness of any boy their age. But to pretend they are the same would be a mistake at the same time.

While every young lady is a different individual and should be treated as such, there are some things that are commonly different when coaching girls compared to boys.

Mike Candrea has been known to state that “boys need to play good to feel good whereas girls need to feel good to play good.” His point is they both want to play well, and it is important to them. But oftentimes the perspective is different.

Jeff Jansen has identified different areas in which coaching girls is different from boys. Here are a few:

  1. Girls tend to be more coachable and receptive to new ideas. 
  2. Girls tend to struggle with confidence more frequently than boys.
  3. Females tend to take criticism more personally than boys.
  4. Chemistry is more important for females to play well, whereas boys have an easier time playing even if the team chemistry isn’t great.

Legendary soccer coach Anson Dorrance has been known to say that girls even accept praise differently. In his experience, his players have responded well to individual (1-on-1) praise but very poorly to public praise. Whereas his men’s teams seemed to love public praise.

Here is a great example of a couple of differences from Lori Thomas of ProActive Coaching.

Once again, these are tendencies and not hard and fast rules. And the aforementioned coaches work with grown women rather than 6-18 year olds.

But to pretend that gender differences do not play a role in your coaching can have negative consequences. It’s crucial to get to know your players as young ladies…not merely as an athlete.

Coaching Key #2: Learn Your Sport REALLY Well

It’s important to learn the game you coach really well.  Be a student of the game. And try to avoid falling into the “my coach told me to do it this way” mindset.

Your college coach may have been awesome. But every sport changes over the years. Technology changes, new ways of doing things emerge..and sometimes going back to old ways happens.

Coaching Key #3: Develop Your Coaching Staff

This probably applies more for varsity high school and travel ball or club coaches. While rec league coaches will need to develop their coaching staff to a certain extent, it's not realistic to spend as much time on this at that level.

That said, watch the video below as Coach Ritchhart discusses the importance of developing your coaching staff. 

Coaching Key #4: Have a Female Coach on Your Staff (If Possible)

This tip is for male head-coaches. If you can’t make this happen, you don’t need to panic. But…I would recommend keeping an eye out for a female assistant coach for the future of your team. At the very least have a "Team Mom" that can be at all the practices and games.

As a man coaching females, you are not a girl. Yes I know it’s “captain obvious” again. But as a man we simply can’t understand girls the way another female can.

Having a female on my coaching staff has saved me from doing or saying stupid “man things” countless times. For example, sometimes I need to be reminded that a player is only a 14-year-old girl.

And sometimes my female assistant coaches push the players harder than I think they can handle. It helps to have more than only the voices of men. And I would suggest that a female coaching staff would benefit from a male “voice” as well.  

We can help balance each other out.  The same concept applies to leadership within any organization. An imbalance either direction can be unhealthy. 

Coaching Key #5: Have a Positive Culture and Impact Mindset

Using Jansen once again, he has identified what he calls the 7 "C's" for successful coaching. You will notice that much of these factors fall into the “impact” category, which is something we love to talk about around here.

  1. Character Based
  2. Competent
  3. Committed
  4. Caring
  5. Confidence Builders
  6. Communicators
  7. Consistent

It can be easy to fall into the “win games” mindset trap and put impact on the back-burner. I will be the first to admit that maintaining the right balance is a constant challenge. But it can be done.

Reading things from resources like 3D Coaching and InsideOut Coaching will help a ton. 

When we completely neglect impact things can get really ugly and disheartening.

This is where some coaches struggle as they begin their coaching journey. But if this is missing, then we are missing the true purpose of coaching.

Coaching Key #6: Create Team Traditions & Do Team Building Activities

The last key that I would recommend is creating traditions and team building activities. Take time out of your practices to take 10 minutes for team building…at the very least occasionally.

A word of caution here, though.  For most teams of girls, this will take WAY longer than with a boys team. From my experience you will need to set specific ground rules or practice will turn into one long team building exercise.

And you will get nothing else accomplished.

But think through what types of activities you may want to do. For example, the “I Got Your Back” Drill is a quick and easy way to develop chemistry.

Traditions are also great. Something we started with our teams recently (which I stole from Anson Dorrance) was a letter to seniors from the coaches on senior night.  We read the letter that we wrote for each senior to the entire team.

It is a great way to honor a group of players that has committed themselves to playing for you. And it’s a great way to have your seniors leave your program knowing how much you appreciate them.

So there you have it. Six keys for success as a coach of a girls team!

But wait!  I have one more bonus tip, and it just might be the most important tip yet.

Keep reading!

Bonus Key for Coaching Girls: Make Sure a Coach is the Last to Leave, But Never Alone With a Player

So this is actually key #7. It has nothing to do with coaching. But everything to do with protecting yourself. Every team has that player or two that seems to be the last one picked up.

Make sure that you never end up the ONLY adult waiting for the parent to arrive.

Be proactive and create a protocol. Perhaps it’s that the last 3 players all have to wait with you until the last player is picked up. Or always have at least 2 coaches stay until everyone is gone.

In this day and age, you can never be too safe. Stay above reproach and keep yourself from any situations that could end up in your word versus another persons word. I wish I did not have to mention this key, but it’s too important to miss. So think ahead on this one and establish a policy!

If you follow these keys for coaching, you will be on your way to success on the field. More importantly you will be creating a culture that has a positive impact on the lives of the young ladies that you lead!

And that is more important than getting any weekend tournament trophy. 

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