The difference between coaching boys and girls…



Julia West“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?


Interesting reading.

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.



  1. I have not coached boys or men only amateur adult women and more often women who have started football (soccer) as an adult.. My observations about goal shooting is that it is not necessarily a lack of confidence for many female players but rather wanting to share the experience, whereas it seems males want their name on the goal.
    The other thing I have observed is about substitute players. Men will want the best players on the field and are happy to see lesser players spend more time on the bench, whereas the women want players to have a more equal game time on the field.
    I think the motivations for women to start playing soccer are more diverse than for women. At one club I coached I ran end of year surveys about the player’s satisfactions with their coach, and one question was why they started playing soccer. The same question asked by men gave very different results. For women it was frequently the social aspect, and getting over change of life experiences such as relationship breakdowns. Another motivation was that unlike netball (popular with women in Australia) which is non-contact, soccer being a contact sport offered more opportunities to let off steam. I am about to start my 18th year of adult women football coaching.

  2. Thank you for your comments. Do you think the girls feel an added responsibility and pressure for shooting (if it is saved or they miss there is a big chance of losing possession) or is there a possibility we have coached them too much and they are just doing what we asked them to do? I was part of a discussion where one coach suggested that over the period of a 6-8 week block they were working on dribbling in the final third. Players knew this and it was part of their individual learning outcomes they needed to achieve, which lead to players choosing to dribble and not necessarily looking for opportunities to shoot. Perhaps this was to achieve the learning outcome, but surely an outcome of dribbling in the final third would be to open up space to shoot or pass to someone in a better position to shoot? Another bug bear of mine is players taking too many touches, particularly when in a shooting position. I know from experience that the quicker the shot gets away the less time the keeper has to prepare, therefore the greater the chance of a goal! The likelihood of a poor first touch, just slightly heavy puts the odds straight back to the keeper or defenders to gain possession.

  3. This is a great read. I coach with u14 boy’s and u14 girls and often do the same session with both. But found that I need to take a different approach for both as you stated. The boys want to take the whole team on and are not bothered if they lose the ball every time, where as alot of the girl’s would rather pass and are alot more unselfish. I’ve also found the boys like to do drills with lots of repetition. Where the girl’s get board with drills and prefer to be challenged more mentally.

  4. Interesting article, I’ve never been involved in boys football so can’t compare but I don”t find female youth players particularly unselfish, some are and others really need to learn those other girls with the same coloured shirts on are on the same team.

  5. Great article and very accurate observations. I coached girls from 2006 to 2010 and found the girls on the whole to be overwhelmingly unselfish. I think we’ve seen the girls’ game develop at an even greater rate over the past five years and selfish behaviour (in a positive sense) becoming more apparent with great results. ‘If you don’t shoot you can’t score’ is sinking in more and more and the girls’ game is ever more exciting as confidence and skills develop further in girls who are ever more willing to give it a go.


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