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Season one of AFLW was outstanding. To be honest it achieved far more than the head honchos at AFL House ever anticipated.
The road ahead is looking rosy. However, there is one thing that will derail the momentum faster than a Bree Davey shirtfront.
And if the AFL and the local leagues don’t get it right, it will put a speed bump in the game that will slow it down for years
The issue I am talking about is coaching, specifically coaching girls.
Basically, if we coach young female footballers the same way we coach boys then we will lose them to the game.
The flood of new teams will diminish as fast as they have risen and we will have a bunch of girls who “tried it, but didn’t like it”.
The growth in the game over the past two years has been unprecedented. In 2016, in the lead-up to the first AFLW season, the number of female teams across the country increased by 56 per cent.
Amazingly in 2017 that number leapt another 76 per cent to the point where just under a third of all registered football players across the country are female.
How long before it is 50/50?
The issue is that with a 76 per cent increase in teams we need to find 76 per cent more qualified coaches.
This is no easy feat and anecdotally what we are left with is reluctant fathers or mothers putting their hands up, or the guy who has coached boys for 10 years magnanimously stepping forward. The way he has coached the boys has been successful so why should these girls be any different?
Girls are different. Not better or worse, just different.
The following is a list of generalisations gained from having three daughters, three sisters and years of coaching girls in a variety of sports.
Of course there are exceptions to every rule, but I suggest you start here and adjust your approach as you get to know your players.
Are more likely to insist on fairness.
Girls don’t easily reconcile with injustice and notice favouritism readily. Boys will say it is OK to favour the good players, but girls won’t tolerate it. An even playing ground is vital. Information must be shared with all players, training be available to all players and importantly time spent with all players.
Hate to be played off against their peers.
I don’t know any females young or old who enjoy being compared to others. Challenging them with comments like “Kate has your position now” or “Kate would’ve kicked that goal” serve only to demoralise, not inspire.
Are sensitive to changes in your body language and changes in your relationship with them.
This includes grumpy looks, throwing your arms in the air after a mistake or simply going several sessions without talking to them. Girls are often more concerned with how you say things rather than what you say. Body language and the tone of your voice are important as a girl will not have fun with a coach they think doesn’t like them. Girls notice the small stuff and it can drastically affect their confidence. The saying “they don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care” is spot on.
Need to hear the whole story.
If you demote a player, bench them, train them with a different group, or change their position without telling them why, they will assume the worst. They will make up their own story and it will rarely be accurate. When the parents add in their version of the story the situation becomes increasingly confusing.
Younger ones especially don’t have the wisdom to understand coaching motives or tactics and are therefore likely to think negatively. “Over-communication” must be your mantra.
Are more likely to internalise criticism.
Boys may deflect criticism onto the team, but girls will stew on it for days or weeks. Expecting them to just get over it won’t happen. Never single out girls for criticism in front of their peers because you will turn that girl off and most likely others who hear it. Asking them to leave their problems at the door won’t work. A good coach will notice changes in demeanor and if the player is strong enough to bring the matter to you, then you have to applaud their courage and treat what they say and feel seriously. To dismiss their feelings, even if they are not based on fact, is to dismiss the person.
Need to learn that mistakes are OK.
Girls are more likely to avoid embarrassing situations than boys. They are less likely to take risks and potentially look silly, especially if you are a coach who publicly yells or constantly points out mistakes. Mistakes are learning opportunities and you must coach in a way that encourages risks and applauds the effort not the outcome.
Are more likely to form cliques and ostracise outsiders.
You must keep a vigilant eye on the demeanor of your players and notice subtle changes. Do they seem less happy than previously? Are they coming to training less often? If you notice something you have to act before it spirals out of control. Many coaches choose the easy option, which is to pretend not to notice.
Are more sensitive to body image.
Off-the-cuff comments about size or athletic ability can cut deep. You need to understand that there will be tears as girls are more likely to cry and express their emotions. It isn’t a sign of weakness, it just shows they care.
A coach who handles the above issues might well find that coaching females is the most rewarding experience of their coaching careers.
Many who have changed from coaching boys to girls say they will never go back.
The key to maintaining this amazing level of growth is great coaching. While focusing on creating AFLW-level talent is important, it is equally important to ensure the ones who aren’t good enough are still loving and playing the game in 10 years time.
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