COACHING WOMEN: GOING AGAINST THE INSTINCTS OF MY GENDER
By Anson Dorrance, University of North Carolina
Although I was young, when I was first asked to coach the University of North Carolina (UNC) men's soccer team in 1974, I was prepared. Being male, and a devoted athlete and scrappy soccer player myself, I understood training men. The shock came in 1979, when I was asked to coach the women. The feminist literature at the time was telling me there were no differences between men and women; however, I have spent nearly my entire career discovering, and appreciating, those differences.
Perhaps the best way to view coaching women is to explore how different it can be from coaching men. In fact, our program at the UNC is largely defined by the social (and yes, athletic) differences between men and women. And while we, as coaches, never want to cease learning about our sport, ultimately, coaching development ceases to be about finding newer ways to organize practice. In other words, you soon stop collecting drills. Your coaching development shifts to observing how to support and motivate your players, and how to lead them to perform at higher and higher levels.
Equality between the sexes doesn’t necessarily mean that men and women need to be led the same way. In fact, I find that the way to coach women is a more civilized mode of leadership. There’s a coaching cliché that states, “You basically have to drive men, but you can lead women.” Women relate through an interconnected web of personal connections, as opposed to a more traditional male hierarchal style.
To that end, what is critical in coaching women is that all the players on the team have to feel like they have a personal connection with the coach, and it has to be unique. So, your effectiveness with women is not necessarily through a powerful presence and force of will; it is through your ability to relate to them.
Obviously, what I am sharing with you are generalizations—truths in my own experience. But for the sake of illustration, I will summarize the differences between coaching men and women with some specific examples.
Leading by the force of your personality isn’t effective. When I first began coaching women, I was the typical sideline critic. I think every coach interested in developing players has the habit of being critical. Like many coaches, I couldn’t keep it to myself. In the beginning, I was continually muttering about mistakes or poor performance--some comments were quite harsh.
During the beginning of one women’s game, that had immediately followed one of the men’s game I had also coached, one of my wing midfielders, who was closest to the sideline and thus got all the abuse, said to me, “Sit down Anson; you’re coaching the women now.” Since I had just finished coaching the men (and was in men’s coaching mode), my natural instinct was to continue aggressively coaching in what my gender dictates. The great lesson was that in this environment (with our young women), it didn’t work.
Leading with your humanity. While you may successfully lead men with the force of your personality (In general, men respond to strength; burying them verbally doesn’t crush them, their egos are too strong), it is more effective to lead women with your humanity. Early on, I learned you don’t lead women effectively with intimidation. You have to be savvier than that. You lead by gaining their respect, being sensitive to their strengths and weaknesses, and showing that you value their contributions. You will not succeed if women feel their relationship with you is simply dependent on their soccer success.
Men need videotape; women don’t. If you make a general criticism of a men’s team, they all think you are talking about someone else. Videotape is proof of the guilty party. You don’t need that proof with a woman. In fact, if you make a general criticism of women, everyone in the room thinks you are talking about her. If you tell a woman she made...
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