Empowering Girls Through Sports: The Importance of Tailored Coaching
Jenelle Maul
Kinesiologist, Sport Strength and Conditioning Coach

Before I begin, I think it’s pertinent to understand that I was once a young female athlete. I’m a competitor. I hate to lose. I want to be the best. But I also put my pants on one leg at a time, cry at sad movies, and enjoy the beach on a hot day. What I’m getting at is that my perspective is not unlike a lot of young female athletes. And it’s no secret that athletes need a coach! 

My life changed drastically when I got a coach that understood my learning style and tenacious approach to sports. This knowledge allowed her to light a fire within me and inspire me to greater heights. I had been coached in the past by a number of coaches; individuals that filled the role by orchestrating a lineup, cheerleading, or providing canned and/or nonspecific feedback. Instead of yelling at me to, “get my head in the game”, or simply benching me without explanation (“tough love”), this particular coach pulled me aside and offered me guidance, belief in my abilities, and specific tangible changes to make for immediate incremental improvement. My mindset shifted from being good, to being great. I became a top performer and won a lot of awards that year. All because she believed in me and took the time to understand me. 

By age 14, girls are dropping out of sports at approximately twice the rate of boys 

Is coaching the reason girls are dropping out of sports at a higher rate than boys? Perhaps. Girls have differing needs, motivations, and responses to coaching. Taking a one-size-fits-all coaching approach could be a contributing factor to why girls are not getting the support they need. We know that keeping girls in sports has a long list of benefits. It is not simply about being physically active, it is about providing them with a space where they can develop life skills. Sports offer a platform to build confidence, resilience, teamwork, foster leadership skills, and perhaps most importantly, develop lifelong friendships. We acknowledge the scope of the benefits, yet can’t answer the question, “why are they still quitting?”. 

Girls often face unique challenges in the world of sports. From a psychological perspective, studies suggest that they tend to take criticism more personally, perform differently depending on time of month, and generally exhibit a tendency to require cohesive team chemistry in order to play their best game. Girls tend to put more pressure on themselves sometimes due to societal pressures and the need “to be perfect and look perfect,” which spills across to their academics, appearance, relationships, and extracurricular activities. This mindset is even more heightened when you factor in fundamental cognitive and developmental changes that come with adolescence, navigating identity formation and societal expectations. So what should coaches do? The most critical change that a coach can tackle is to create a team culture that celebrates individual strengths, encourages collaboration and self compassion, and prioritizes collective success over individual achievements. I understand that on the surface this looks like I took a thesaurus and pulled out a random series of big words. But at its core – the “team” that you’re coaching needs to function as a “team”. A first step can be to distribute an automatic negative thought journaling exercise at the end of the next practice, or offer a more compassionate response when they mess up a drill (this may not come naturally to a coach, but coaches have room to grow and improve too – talk to a therapist or counselor if this seems like an insurmountable feat). If we help our young players to develop a growth mindset and focus on progress instead of perfection, they are more likely to want to show up for practice the next day. It’s time to re-write the adage “practice makes perfect”! 

Another unique challenge girls face when they reach the age of adolescence is getting their menstrual cycle for the first time. It can be scary, uncomfortable, painful, unpredictable, and let’s be honest, taboo to talk about. All these changes are going to have an impact on how they play sports in some capacity. The hormonal fluctuations can impact performance on a physical or psychological level, sometimes leading to a decrease in performance which can result in a negative self talk loop if not coached appropriately. 

When was the last time a coach considered what phase of their cycle they are on and had a discussion on their capacity for that day? 

Providing emotional support and fostering open communication while athletes navigate these big changes is the all-inclusive approach they desperately need. 

At the end of the day, I fundamentally believe girls keep coming back to play sports because they truly enjoy it. Girls thrive in environments that promote inclusivity, respect diversity, and empower them to be their authentic selves. That means letting them be goofy on the bus ride to a game or promoting their individual strengths and how their individual contribution helps make the team better and even saying “I’m proud of you today”. Every girl wants a seat at the table and it’s up to coaches to give them one. Girls are not going to remember all the games they won or the goals they scored, but rather, they are going to remember the coach that believed in them, the teammates they had, and the experiences they shared. It is up to the coach which memories you are going to leave with your athletes.

By recognizing and addressing the unique needs of girls in sports, we can create a more inclusive, supportive, and empowering environment where every girl has the opportunity to thrive and succeed. Let’s continue to champion girls in sports, promote gender equality, and empower young athletes to reach their full potential both on and off the field. Together, we can create a brighter future for girls in the world of sports. 




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