“Engaging women of all ages in sport is an end in itself. The United Nations has said that, combined with the emotional, psychological and medical benefits that are associated with participation in sport, participation also enables girls and women to increase their self-confidence and self-esteem, enjoy freedom of expression and acquire valuable skills in negotiation, management and decision making” (Broderick, 2010).
Everyone involved in the teaching or coaching of girls at Grammar wants our girls to thrive — to feel competent, confident and connected, and it was with this in mind that late last term, School Psychologist Mrs J Forbes was invited to speak at a coach induction breakfast for a group of new and continuing coaches. Her presentation entitled: Girl World — Understanding and Coaching Adolescent Girls, was very well received and prompted me to further reflect and research on the challenge of teaching and, more specifically, coaching girls.
Using powerful new imaging techniques, scientists today are seeing the human brain in a depth and detail never before possible. These new ‘neuroimaging’ tools allow researchers to see how we think, how we respond and how we process the information our senses take in. The results have confirmed what Dr Joann Deak, psychologist and author of Girls will be Girls – Raising Confident and Courageous Daughters, says: “Girls and boys are as different from the neck up as the neck down” (2002). The successful teaching and, by extension, coaching of girls is a very fine balance between challenge and confidence as “girls are the most emotionally complex and agile species on earth” (Deak, 2002). “Most young girls need some encouragement to take risks, the right kind of risks, and to raise their estimation of their own abilities” (Dweck, 2006). Corroborating these ideas, Barbara Stone, the President of the Alliance of Girls’ Schools in 2004 stated that: “Girls don’t have just thoughts – they have thoughts linked to emotions”.
In sport challenges can be offered in abundance and allowing girls to take risks in a ‘safe’ environment allows for confidence-building to occur. What is probably more important for coaches to be aware of is that girls are designed for communication. Language is the social glue that connects girls to each other and even with their coach. Talking, gossiping, being liked and having friends are fundamental needs for adolescent girls and generally activate the pleasure centres in the brain. For an adolescent girl, talking to her peers is beneficial for her stress levels. (Forbes, 2010) What does this mean for coaches?
Former Australian Cricket coach, John Buchanan said “Athletes are whole people and you should strive to know the whole” (2008). Of course this is not easy especially when you have many different brains in a team and therefore different reactions to any one thing you say. According to social researcher Mark McCrindle, the current generation is more interested in the social aspects of sport. Traditional coaching sometimes stresses controlling and structure and they want relating and style. Coaches may think framework while the Gen Ys think freedom. Taking time to better understand our girls will allow coaches to engage and lead the emerging generation in new and innovative ways. It may be that replacing command with compromise and consensus and embracing flexibility over a structured approach will be conducive to the results for which we aim. In her article Unlearning How to Teach, Professor Erica McWilliam wrote about academic educators of the future needing to “spend less time explaining through instructions and more time in experimental and error–welcoming modes of engagement”. She proposed a pedagogy in which teachers and students work as “co-creators and co-assemblers” (2007). When she met with the sports co-ordinators and staff coaches late last month, she related some of her personal experiences and spoke about the benefits of coaching and being involved in sport. “Sport cuts through self indulgence and allows participants to learn from the instructive complications of losing” (2010). Mr Greg McFadden, coach of the Australian Women’s Water Polo team believes that a team can learn as much from their losses as from their wins (2006). Sport therefore is not just the frill or the fringe dweller; it can be central in providing the higher team activities so necessary in creative learning and can lead to greater employability. According to McWilliam (2007), “If we are to accept ‘meddling in the middle’ as necessary to the sort of learning and capacity building that the next generation of knowledge workers requires, then we need to start to take play seriously as a pedagogical tool”. This opinion was supported by author Fran Metcalf writing in the Career One section of last Saturday’s Courier Mail, “Sportsmen have the edge over office types for teamwork” (June 12, 2010, p3).
Though coaches need not react to every whim of a new generation, they cannot hold fast to old methods and expect an emerging generation to conform. This generation wants character, communication, co-operation and competence (or as Mark McCrindle calls them – the 4C’s). They seek social communication. They enjoy being entertained. They like having fun. Perhaps their ideal coach is someone who values the exchange of ideas, someone who creates an involvement of transparency and respect for the team and is willing to listen to their ideas and opinions and positively reinforces improvement. A friendly experienced coach who takes time to get to know them as a whole person is ideal. According to McCrindle, when it comes to participating in organised sport, Gen Y is clearly expressing their desire to have fun, to build new and lasting friendships, and to be empowered by their coach.
Taking time to reflect on why we coach is beneficial. Research by The University of Queensland (Murray, 2008) suggests that coaching for intrinsic reasons (love, joy and passion) is associated with better outcomes. These outcomes include the health and well being of the coach; improved athlete-coach relationships; and athlete motivation, satisfaction and performance. Therefore, being aware of the reasons for coaching plays a crucial role in the facilitation of a healthy coaching environment. Getting a group of athletes (especially girls) to perform as a team is not always easy and when it comes to building great or extraordinary teams, you must have an environment where the team is paramount. Team cultures are a ‘network of conversations’ (Davis). If a coach is to build a great team, they must be willing to identify conversations that are self centred and detrimental to the possibility of team being realised. Good coaches coach commitment and they empower athletes to greater heights. The heart and soul of every healthy group or team of people is purpose and integrity or principle. Once a coach gets a group of athletes to understand this, the energy, excitement and enthusiasm explode from them. Extraordinary things are then possible — they not only know what to do, they do it and it is hard to stop them. In a recent article from the USA about Excellence in Education Awards, some comments from the recipients rang true about coaches too: “A good ‘teacher/coach’ has an instinctive feel for when a ‘student/player’ is getting it or not. The good ‘teacher/coach’ knows when to switch gears and try another approach”.
The most important qualities that coaches from Brisbane Girls Grammar School have are a sincere concern for their athletes’ welfare and their ability to make sport fun. Just about every sport is in some sense a team sport. No one does it alone. “Coaches are teachers too, but their students’ successes and failures are played out in front of crowds, published in newspapers and written into record books” (Dweck, 2006). This can be quite daunting for a young coach, so parents should keep this in mind before being too quick to criticise. Your daughter may already be a strong sportsperson or an excellent musician; she may be a star debater or a wily entrepreneur. She may be determined to take this particular talent forward whilst you want to ensure balance between the demands of her school work and social life. The staff at Brisbane Girls Grammar School are committed to developing the potential of girls as they become accomplished young women. Be assured that they will use their experience to help your daughter manage her ambitious schedule. Working together and trying hard for the team brings great personal satisfaction, assists in developing life long bonds and friendships and lays down healthy habits for the future. The brain’s superhighways are built from the interactions of both speaking and playing (Burns in Radio National Broadcast, 10 March 2010) and therefore it is important to develop co-curricular programmes to complement the curriculum. “The well being of body and the well being of mind are inseparably linked” (Klein, 2006).
Dedicated to the 20 sport co-ordinators, the 172 coaches, almost half being alumni, involved in the sports programme at Brisbane Girls Grammar School for 2010.
Mrs C Moore