“I am an enthusiastic UEFA B football coach with a particular interest in goal keepers and I love a challenge. I coach both boys and girls but the majority of my coaching is with girls and ladies. I have coached for nearly 20 years but only now realise how much I have yet to learn. I am involved in coach mentoring as a more recent activity which I find nearly as rewarding as working with the players themselves. I have an almost unhealthy interest in evidence-based approaches to coaching and
performing and my relentless curiosity about why coaches and players do what they do and the potential effectiveness of different methods drives my passion. I am a lecturer at the University of Worcester in sport and exercise science and this enables me to explore my interest and enthusiasm in the world of academia.”
The difference between coaching boys and girls…
Research suggests that there are differences in how boys and girls learn; boys tend to think that having a go and then having more goes, trying harder and harder will make them better. They also prefer more factual information asking questions related to general curiosity and seem to enjoy and work harder in game-related training. Whereas girls are more concerned with whether they actually have the skills and abilities to do this in the first place and how would they begin to develop them. Girls prefer explanatory information, asking questions related to their direct observations and tend to perform better initially in more direct instruction situations.
Both styles are important; the boys preferences I would tend to call ‘practice’ and this seems to be a very underrated phenomenon in the many and varied coaching sessions I have observed over the years. Questions I ask myself include: how many times should you practice something, how many goes should each player have in the drill? There is a (generally misinterpreted) theory about this called the theory of deliberate practice, but it is not specific to each session, more a long term observation. As a football coach I am always asking how many touches would each player get on average in training? If this is less than in a game (and sometimes it has been as I have counted without the aid of video!) then what is the purpose and has any learning taken place? I set challenges for players to see if they can improve their touch on the ball by completing 1500-2000 touches per week. Touches can include any exercise, keepy ups, short passes against a wall or to a player/friend/parent, ball taps and any individual ball exercises you can access for free on youtube!
How long does it take to complete 300 touches per day? Why don’t you try it out and see, I think you will be surprised and it all counts! The changes in some of my players’ ball control skills all over the pitch were very noticeable that season.
In girls sessions wondering how you can develop the skills and abilities you think are important in sport or football can lead to a chicken and egg situation whereby the coach is trying to encourage the girls to have a go. The girls want to be shown how to do it and there are often low levels of confidence almost stopping them from having a go. Lots of evidence is available that shows getting better at a skill generally improves confidence that the player can perform that skill on demand, hence the chicken and egg.
Lots of positive reinforcement is required and this can lead to girls taking on board what the coach says and allowing themselves to be very much coach directed and controlled. Perhaps this is an ideal coaching scenario, players who actually listen to instructions/feedback and then try it out. However, often the girls carry out the coach’s wishes to the letter and although it may not be the wrong decision, what does this say about the player? Only last week some coaches and I were discussing the differences in shooting between girls and boys sessions.
We reflected that boys would have peppered the goal with shots and there would have been balls flying around the astro. The girls’ session we were watching was fantastically well structured, however the end results were few and far between. We watched a player make a brilliant and full-paced run with the ball towards goal to be met by one defender. The player then stopped her run, turned around and passed the ball back almost to the starting point of the practice activity, to another team mate. Would the boys have taken on the defender and got a shot away? This player obviously feels she cannot ‘be selfish’ (a term one of the senior ladies said to me when I asked her why she did not shoot more when the opportunities arose) and must pass as soon as there is a 1v1 situation? Or it may be that she is carrying out exactly what she has been coached… Again it is not necessarily an incorrect decision.
My mantra for my girls coaching sessions is along the lines of I will never tell you off for having a shot!
So there are differences between boys and girls learning styles in sport, there are differences in training intensities, and game play too. The question for me is how best to work with my girls to help them all progress and develop to their potential?
Baram-Tsabari and Yarden (2008) Girls’ biology, boys’ physics: Evidence from free-choice science learning settings.Research in Science and Technological Education. 26 (1), 75-92.
Smith, L., Harvey, S., Savory, L., Fairclough, S., Kozub, S. and Kerr, C. (2015) Physical activity levels and motivational responses of boys and girls: A comparison of direct instruction and tactical games models of games teaching in physical education. European Physical Education Review. 21 (1), 93-113.