Want to help your female athletes think and play with confidence? Write it down

girl-thinkingHave you ever noticed that girls like to ponder things? Me too.
Have you ever wondered what they’re thinking about? Me too.
Do you know the best way to find out? Ask them.
But don’t expect it to be that easy. You have to read between the lines.
Which means…get it in writing. 

I’ve had some great coaching and teaching success with teams of girls by using small notebooks that act as athlete-coach journals of a sort. It provides a place for goal-setting, feedback, evaluation, positive charting, inspirational quotes, secret messages. All sorts of stuff that gets lost in the shuffle.

And then schedule one on one meetings with a couple girls each practice to “go over” their journals. Have them pull them out of their bag and so you can talk about how things are going – with the team, the sport, their teammates. Often this will lead to deeper conversation about long term plans, hopes, dreams, school, sometimes even friends and family. The journal gives us a place to start the conversation and a concrete expression of what they are thinking and feeling.

My approach is to offer a prompt each week like:

  • record your favorite soccer quote or
  • list 3 things you really do well or
  • what position do you like to play and why? or
  • who’s your favorite professional player? or
  • list 3 goals and one step you can take toward each

I have had some of my most fun and most rewarding coaching moments in these discussions. They became teachable moments for them and for me. One thing I found consistently about all my girls was this: they couldn’t come up with what they really do well. Honestly, even the very skilled ones. I have even observed this in collegiate players. Somehow we manage to train this out of our girls. Even when you point out what they do well, they’re not sure whether to believe you. Because they’ve been told it’s not good form to brag.

Boys do not seem to have this issue. They’ll say, “Ya, I’m good. Let me tell you how good.” And then they’ll say, “Don’t believe me? I’ll show you.” Once, just once, I wish I had a girl who had this much gumption. But even if she did, I think she’d wear it differently. She’d say it was a team effort. Point out there’s no “I” in team. And then take the field and make you a believer. And that’s the point – not whether or not they’ll tell you, but whether they believe it themselves and then, whether they’ll let it show and make it count.

For most girls to believe it, you have to point it out to them. And then you have to show them that’s exactly what the team needs. Once you’ve got them convinced, they’ll show you. Make sure you notice. And comment. And have them record it in their notebook.

The other thing journals can bring to light is what a player doesn’t do well. Ah, that constructive criticism is always a tricky path for coaches to tread, especially with girls although it can be an equal opportunity mine field. Perhaps because a girl has had a rough time of it, or if they’ve been put down by another coach or other adults,or have been made to feel poorly about their game by teammates, they may be particularly sensitive to criticism.

A key thing about girls, especially the most capable and responsible is, they take criticism personally.

Boys brush it off. Make it an external. Ah, the sun was in my eyes. The ball moved. The guy kicked me. The earth shook. Whatever. Once the external is removed, that is, as soon as next time rolls around and the circumstances are different, boys get new life. They start fresh. No baggage.

Not true with the girls. They remember. They remember how they failed, lost, missed, whatever. And then they transfer their misfortune to themselves, personally. It is their fault, and because the effort failed, they are a failure. And then they pile it on from there. If the game was lost, it is their fault. If the team didn’t make it to the finals of the tournament it was their fault. And because of this, the team will blame them. Teammates will, therefore, hate them. And “the team would be much better off if they just quit playing soccer altogether.”

Am I kidding? No! Girls are great at awfullizing. (I borrow this word from a counselor I know but it totally captures it.) Girls internalize an error or a shortcoming and they are like a deck of cards.

Don’t let this happen. Start with a journal. Get the info and the words and the conversation started, private words shared in confidence, that can be honest. You’ll be doing a great service to your female athletes.

Best way to do this…start them young. I suggest starting at 9 or 10. I found a sample journal at the Sports Girls Play website. Here’s a look at one a Fit2Finish player turned into me as part of training.  athlete journal sheets mid ES_0003

It’s a whole sheet of colorful pastel clouds to fill in. They’ll love it, even if you call it homework. Trust me. Mine did. One even sent her dad back to the car to get “her homework.”

When they get older, a flip notebook will do. Check it regularly, though. Schedule those meetings. Even if there’s not a lot written, it will open the door to a lot to say. Feel free to start with some of my prompts above.

Try it out tell me how it goes. I love to hear your comments. What did you ask your players? What discoveries did you make? Let’s make a community journal. Our girls will thank us. And they’ll play better, too.

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