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Thursday
Nov172011

Should boys & girls be coached the same way? 

Craig Stewart, Montana State University, USA

Website link: CoachesInfo


Introduction

"Should I coach girls differently than boys?" That is a question often heard in the private conversations between coaches. Coaching has survived a period in which that question, regardless of its legitimacy, would have instigated ridicule. The mere implication that there might be different methods for coaching the two genders was characterized as an assault on all females.
 
But as the number of athletic opportunities for females increased, the louder the question has become. It is not being asked to identify either gender as less competitive than the other, but by dedicated coaches who sincerely desire to use the best methods to prepare female athletes. 

Purpose of this Study

The purpose of this study was to determine if gender differences existed in former athletes in their perceptions of 'favourite and least favourite' coach characteristics. Former athletes have been identified as valuable sources of information from which little information has been gathered (Anshel, 1990). Smoll and Smith (1996) related athletes' memories and perceptions of coaching behaviours to coaching effectiveness, and stated that the psychological impact of sport participation on athletes could be examined by how players and former players remember their coaches' behaviours. Know and Williams (1999) found that surprisingly little research has been reported on the effects of coaching behaviours and its effectiveness. In their study, they found players who perceived their coaches as being more compatible, evaluated their communication ability and player-support levels of the coach more favourably. Conversely, if athletes disagreed with the coach's goals, personality, and/or beliefs, some psychological needs of the athletes were not met. That failure often resulted in frustration and a loss of self-concept by the player.
 
Therefore, it was hypothesized that if differences existed in how male and female athletes remembered their favourite and least favourite coach, understanding those differences would assist professionals in coach education in the preparation of future coaches. It would assist in clarifying any differences between genders in how each valued specific coaching characteristics, thus contributing to whether one should alter coaching behaviours dependent upon the gender of the athletes. Conversely, if no differences were gleaned in this comparison, that too, would provide valuable insight in coaching methods.
 
Holbrook & Barr, (1997) stated that while coaching females is not significantly different than coaching males, gender differences occur in some psychological domains. They wrote that there are differences in the manner women respond to positive feedback. Also, females seem to value personal improvement over winning more than males, and regard team unity as a stronger motivating factor than males. The authors were adamant, however, that these differences have nothing to do with the female athletes' skill levels, desire and willingness to work, capacity to learn, and mental toughness.
 
The President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports Report on Physical Activity & Sport in the Lives of Girls (1997) supported Holbrook and Barr that there are more similarities between the genders than differences. However, the report identified specific areas of differences requiring coach awareness. According to the report, females, in general, are more internally motivated by self improvement and goals related to team success and appear more motivated by a cooperative, caring, and sharing team environment. The authors cited Garcia (1994) that some female athletes actually can be 'turned off' by coaches who over emphasize winning. It is not that female athletes want to win any less, but may approach competition differently than male athletes. In some competitive circumstances, female athletes place more emphasis on sportspersonship and 'playing fair', than males. When their team loses, females have a tendency to blame themselves first for the poor performance. Under similar circumstances, males appear to be more 'self' or 'ego' oriented and tend to be more 'win at any cost' in their approach to sport. Males are more apt to break rules to achieve their goals and blame others (the referee, the weather, the coach) when they fail. The causes for the psychologically differences are unknown. They could be gender related, but could also be highly influenced by social or cultural expectations (Gill, 1994).
 
If differences exist, coaches need to be aware of them. That awareness could assist coaches in varying coaching styles to meet the individual needs of the gender being coached. If individualization is achieved, coaches would be assisting both the team, and the individual player, in achieving the highest performance possible. It could also reduce the frustration experienced by coaches who switch between teams of different genders.

Methodology

Students in two, college, coaching classes were asked to complete an in-class assignment. In the assignment, they stated their gender, total number of years they had played organized sport, their main sports, and the highest level they had played. They were then asked to list both the positive qualities of their favourite coach and the negative qualities of their least favourite coach (Stewart, 1993).
 
The descriptive statistics are presented in Tables 1 & 2. The coaching qualities were recorded and categorized following the guidelines of Neuman (1997). The categorization process allowed the author to quantify the final results as the percent of total responses, by gender, in each area.

Table 1: Athletic Experience of Subjects

       

HIGHEST LEVEL OF PLAY

 

N

Athletes

Years Played
(avg)

College
Varsity

College
(other)

High School
Varsity

Other

Females

47

45

10.4

4

2

38

1

Males

84

72

12.1

23

5

40

4

 

Table 2: Sports Played by Subjects

Sport

Females

Males

Basketball

23

10

Football

0

27

Soccer

1

5

Softball/baseball

3

13

Track/cross country

5

7

Volleyball

11

0

Wrestling

0

5

Other

2

5

Total

45

72

 

 

Discussion

The positive category, PERSONALITY, received the most references by both genders (males = 27.8% & females = 19.6%). Within this category were specific behaviours interpreted as being related to a coach's personality (or that which made that coach a unique person)- assertive, cooperative, determined, respected (& respectable), willing to help, dedicated, a quality person, great personality, 'cool' under pressure, responsible, liked coaching, a role model, energetic, and wanted to be there. Likewise, PERSONALITY also was the most frequent reference in the negative responses (males = 32.1% & females = 24.5%). In addition to being the opposite of the positive personality characteristics previously mentioned (unwilling to help, not a role model, not a nice person, not focused, not personable, and a 'jerk' ) other negative behaviours which represented personality were arrogant, disrespectful, indecisive, lazy, too much ego, too relaxed, rude, thought he was God, unreliable, weak willed and irritating.
 
Other positive categories for females which appeared most frequently were COMMUNICATION, POSITIVE and CARED. For males, the next most frequent were CARED, MOTIVATION and KNOWLEDGE. For males, COMMUNICATION (problems), TEACHING SKILLS (lack of), and (playing) FAVORITES were the next most frequent responses in the negative category. For females, NEGATIVE, TEACHING SKILLS, and COMMUNICATION were negative categories mentioned most.
 
Though impossible to verify statistically, perhaps the best representations of similarities and differences between the genders are presented in Tables 3a-4b. Tables 3a and 3b present the frequency of positive responses in percentages of both female and male athletes. In Tables 4a and 4b, the negative responses of the genders are presented.
 
In the positive responses, the greatest numerical differences between the genders occurred on COMMUNICATION, EMOTION, and POSITIVE characteristics of coaches. The females recorded those characteristics more than males. On the other hand, males recorded more responses in positive coaching characteristics in WINNING.
 
The frequency of NEGATIVE coaching characteristics can be found in Tables 4a and 4b with an apparent difference between genders in one area. Only in the category, NEGATIVE, does there appear to be a visible difference between genders with females recording more responses than males.

Conclusions

In the examination of gender differences in sport behaviour, Gill (1994) stated that investigation of these factors is more related to social and psychological characteristics than behaviours directly associated with a specific gender. In addition, she wrote that behaviours and characteristics are neither dichotomous nor biologically based, and the attempt to investigate them is elusive at best. As the society changes in which athletes exist, so do the gender roles of the athletes.
 
The results of this study appear to support that belief. There were more similarities in how males and females remembered and characterized their favourite and least favourite coaches than differences. Both genders valued 'personality' above any characteristic as a positive attribute. While personality is a broad, general descriptor, it certainly provides future coaches with specific behaviours that players remember. Athletes of both genders characterized their favourite coaches as those who were assertive, cooperative, determined, respected (& respectable), willing to help, dedicated, a quality person, great personality, 'cool' under pressure, responsible, liked coaching, a role model, energetic, and wanted to be there. The memories of those athletes can provide future coaches with behavioural guidelines by which to develop their coaching styles.
 
Other positive characteristics which were similar between genders were CARED AND COMMUNICATION. With both genders, these characteristics were remembered by coaching behaviours such as cared for me as a person, cared away from the game, talked to me about school, and asked me about things away from my sport.
 
In contrast, males valued KNOWLEDGE (of the sport) and TEACHING SKILLS more than females. Females appeared to value EMOTION and POSITIVE characteristics of coaches more than males. These findings appear to support the thesis that females tend to be more internalized than males in some motivational aspects of sport. Females are apt to valued performance improvements based upon positive interactions and self-comparisons, while males base some motivational factors on externalized factors which would be impacted by a coach's KNOWLEDGE of the sport and the ability to TEACH. However, females remembered the lack of TEACHING SKILLS as a frequent negative characteristic just as male athletes had.
 
In the comparison of negative memories, the genders were even more similar than with positive attributes of their former coaches. The only obvious differences were in NEGATIVE (more frequently noted by females) and WINNING (more with males). However, those differences were very small. These results seem to accentuate the similarities between the genders.
 
Certainly being remembered as 'favourite' or 'least favourite' coach is not, in itself, an absolute measure of coaching effectiveness. However, since the subjects in this study were experienced athletes with extensive backgrounds in traditional sports, their input should be valued in the determination this area.
 
It has been stated that, in general, most coaches do not understand female athletes as well as they should. That very likely remains true today. Sport clinicians and coach educators should spend more time exploring gender differences among athletes and emphasizing working with young female athletes more. Continued examination will assist coaches, and those who train them, in working with all athletes effectively.
 
Finally, although qualitative data is difficult to analyze statistically, it does provide information that is valuable to provide coaches with knowledge on how players perceived and remembered their behaviours. This study represents but a small contribution to the determination of how best to coach athletes of either gender. Additional work like this is needed to establish other areas of similarities and differences. 

References

Anshel, M. (1990). Sport psychology; From theory to practice. Scottsdale, Az.; Holcomb Hathaway Publishing.
 
Center for Mental Health Services/Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (1997). The President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports Report on Physical Activity & Sport in the Lives of Girls.
 
Garcia, C. (1994). Gender differences in young children's interactions when learning fundamental motor skills. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 66 (3), 247-255.
 
Gill, D.L. (1992). Gender and sport behavior. In T.S. Horn (Ed.), Advances in sport psychology (pp. 143-160). Champaign, IL; Human Kinetics Publishers.
 
Gill, D.L. (1994). Psychological perspectives on women in sport and exercise. In D.M Costa and S.R. Guthrie (Ed.) Women and sport: Interdisciplinary perpective (pp. 253-284).
 
Holbrook, J. E. & Barr, J. K. (1997). Contemporary coaching: Trends and issues.
 
Carmel, In.; Cooper Publishing Company
 
Kenow, Laura. (1999). Coach-athlete compatibility and athlete's perception of coaching behaviors. Journal of Sport Behavior, 22, (2), 251-259.
 
Neuman, W.L (1997). Social research methods: Qualitative and quantitative approaches. Boston, Ma.; Allyn & Bacon.
 
Smoll, F.L. & Smith, .E. (1996). Children and Youth in Sport: A Biopsychosocial Perspective. Madison, Wi.; Brown & Benchmark Publishing.
 
Stewart, C. (1993). Coaching behaviors: "The way you were, or the way you wished you were". Physical Educator, 50 , 23-30.


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