This one is about a trend I’ve been noticing as I coach different organizations and across ages that other coaches need to be aware of. I continue to notice the trend that girls are so insanely hard on themselves. I’m not sure if it’s increased self-doubt or decreased self-confidence or something else. Maybe it comes down to the learned trait that girls and women are looked down upon or at least not well liked for being too confident, or maybe I’m reading into it and it’s not as much a gender issue, and more of a generation issue. However, I don’t believe it’s the latter because this was me and many of my teammates. Not to mention I saw it with my 5th-grade team in Maryland. I do wonder what this looks like on the boy's side, is it an issue at all?
Back to my point, I noticed the skills are there, and yet in some games and practices they thrive and others just seem to go downhill quickly. I even had some of my 5th graders come off the field in tears because they didn’t think they played as well as they should’ve. I don’t think it’s mental weakness, but rather a desire to always be better, and expecting their best always. Maybe it’s that they don’t have the skills to yet cope when things don’t go their way, they want to pretend they’re okay because we don’t want to seem like we aren’t. These thoughts are just my streams of consciousness, and I’m still thinking and processing.
Last week my team played in a tournament and it was raining and they just couldn’t throw passes on target or catch the ones that were. Despite us practicing before, and me seeing them perform this skill a million times, they just couldn’t do it. Then fast forward to a game we had 4 days later where they threw great passes and made some great catches as well. It’s not as if they magically learned how to pass and catch in that time period, but I believe they shook the events of the tournament, performed the skills and BELIEVED they could.
After seeing this, I wanted my players to learn how to recover faster when things aren’t going well so I sat my team down and I simply asked them to answer the question, “when you’re feeling down, or upset at the way your playing, or feel like things aren’t going your way, how can your teammates best support you?”. As I expected, many of the responses differed, but many of them were similar in how they started, “Well, I’m really hard on myself….”. Again, I’m not sure about the why, but the important take away here is what can we do as coaches to get the most from our players and make them believe they can come back from mistakes?
Exercises like this can help, but more than anything, I think the girls need to constantly receive positive feedback from coaches. I’m not talking about making up positive qualities, I find all the positive comments I can and verbalize them. There is critique too, of course, but done in a way that still encourages the girls. This is at the heart at what I do with the team. I am constantly telling them that I don’t care about mistakes, I care about how they respond. I always tell them how much I’ve seen momentums change in games and the team that can ride it out always does it together. In these moments, the losing teams tend to turn on each other, their language changes, their beliefs in their abilities tend to decrease and pressure increased which causes them to continue to play poorly.
I’m no psychologist, but this all seems to be helping. During moments that haven’t been going our way, I’ll call timeouts and we do a team breath, eyes closed. It’s a simple skill I learned when I got into meditation and mindfulness. It’s funny the whole time I was thinking the girls thought I was crazy by making them do this, and then during our team talk a player said it helped, that she was comforted when things weren’t going well I still smiled during those moments. I didn’t realize I even did this, but it just shows even more what positivity can do for your players.
If I really analyze my actions, the tournament day that didn’t go our way, I definitely wasn’t as positive and energetic as normal, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence in how the team played. I’m telling you this because I want you to know I don’t think this is easy, even for someone like me. I know as a coach how frustrating it can be when you know the level your players are capable of and it’s just not happening. I also know every coaching style is different and some things work for some players better than others. But what I’m trying to convey is that if you keep trying, it will pay off. If your players know you believe in them, however you can show that, I know they will believe in themselves, and each other. My thoughts on this have clearly been swirling, would love to hear some other thoughts and feedback in the comments below!