Boys, girls and sports

Differences: The ways male and female athletes learn and play require that coaches tailor their instruction accordingly.

Howard At Play

February 13, 2005|By Nancy Menefee Jackson | Nancy Menefee Jackson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Every girls lacrosse coach probably has seen a player bonked with a ball during a shuttle line drill - a fast-paced routine that sharpens passing and catching skills - because the players were talking, not paying attention.

It is not that girls don't have quality stick-work. But unlike boys, experienced coaches will tell you, the girls are fulfilling a need to socialize.

They will also tell you that is only one difference between coaching boys and girls in any sport, individual or team. Other differences include how a player responds when a coach yells to correct an error, a player's mental approach to a competitive sport and a young athlete's opinion of his or her ability.

Understanding the differences between girls and boys helps coaches motivate players.

John Dingle, father of two daughters and a son, is assistant director of coaching for boys for the Soccer Association of Columbia-Howard County and coach of an under-15 boys travel team. He also coaches Seton-Keough High School's varsity girls soccer team.

"Girls are eager to please, and boys are concerned with outcome," said Dingle.

In teaching game tactics, he said, "with girls, you have to present it to them, and they want to please. With boys, I have to show them why it's important and how it will help them win. Then they have to buy into it. Generally, boys are concerned with outcome, and girls with the procedures and the process."

For girls, the social aspect of being a team member is critical, while boys care more about results, he said. "If a girl has a friend who is not as good, they include them in everything and they pass them the ball," Dingle said. "Boys won't pass them the ball if it won't help the team, but the flip side of that is that they'll pass them the ball, even if they're not friends."

Ellicott City resident Jim Long, a girls coach and age group coordinator for the Howard County Lacrosse Program, also has coached boys and officiated boys lacrosse.

"Some girls are very much into the sport and pay attention, but a lot of girls are there to be seen and chitchat - they're there because their friend is on the team," said Long.

Socializing before and after practice, he said, is important to girls, who might be talking about their new screen name or cell phone rather than the sport. Boys don't seem to need that, he said.

A key difference, Long added, is how he motivates boys and girls.

"Boys are not [necessarily] rougher [than girls], but they're certainly not as emotional, in general," he said. "Boys are out there, and they want to put their helmets on and hit someone. With boys, you can be more challenging. You can't yell and scream at girls - especially at the younger ages. You'll have them in tears."

"Yelling at girls to correct an error simply doesn't work," said Judy DeJong, a developmental psychologist and a soccer and volleyball player, and president and co-owner of Volleyball House in Elkridge.

"Yell at girls," she said, "and they'll wither on you. You can see little girls run out of steam if they got yelled at. They slow down and become immobile."

DeJong also pointed out that yelling is no longer seen as effective coaching, regardless of gender.

"Basically, there has been a shift toward people emphasizing cooperation and encouragement as opposed to yelling at kids," she said. "The typical old paradigm - the coach who yells at a player - pushes this whole macho thing, and that doesn't even work with little boys."

Don't think that means girls are delicate, though. Donald Gibson, an age-group coordinator and former coach in the Columbia Basketball Association, believes that girls are a little more aggressive than boys.

"They play harder, and they're more competitive," he said.

If that's true, it only reinforces another observation by coaches who have led both boys and girls: If girls get down on themselves, it's trouble.

Boys, said Dingle, tend to think they're better players than they really are, while talented girls sometimes don't have self-confidence and don't believe they're good.

"I've seen players self-destruct who were actually playing well," said DeJong, adding that boys have more of a tendency to see errors as not being normal for them, but girls quickly fall into the trap of thinking, "I'm not very good. I'm worthless."

Once such a meltdown starts, it can be hard to reverse, said Sue Mangan, head age-group coach for the Columbia Aquatics Association's Columbia Clippers youth swim team.

"I have to think before I talk - `You did this right.' I know which kids are more sensitive to [critical] comments - and it's all girls. A girl might not brush it off, and she can be in a funk for hours. ... Boys are more inclined to shake it off."

Whatever the sport, said DeJong, such insights into how male and female athletes differ are important, especially if a coach switches from one gender to the other.

"A coach makes a tremendous difference in attitude," she said. "The important thing is, the kid needs to function internally. A good coach watches the players and pulls out one who isn't making the right decisions and reprograms that player's thinking. You shouldn't yell anything but encouragement."

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