Monday, February 05, 2007

How to Coach Teenage Girls - your thoughts?

I get those "Rugby Coach" emails, probably like a lot of you, from Dan Cotrell. A while ago he'd told me to feel free and post anything, so here you go. Any thoughts?

How To Coach Teenage Girls

A revolution is coming. The number of teenage girls playing rugby has exploded – around 200 clubs in the UK alone now having active sections. John Birch explains what to expect.

Some girls’ rugby teams survive and thrive, but many do not. Sections that fail rarely do so due to a lack of interest and ability but normally due to problems with coaching. And yet girls’ rugby can be hugely rewarding to coach if taken seriously and organised appropriately.


What you say matters. Remember your girls have already made a huge step by seeking to play a “boys” sport. The foundations on which they stand will be shaky. Boys have innumerable male rugby role models – but most girls will never have seen women playing rugby. Avoid saying anything that reinforces the image of rugby being a “male” game – “pass to the man on your left” or “eight-man scrum” (“pass to your left”? “eight in the scrum”?).

Group dynamics and sporting background

Girls are natural team players – far more so than boys of the same age. Selfish “star” players who never pass, always expect to be picked, and demand to be the centre of everything may exist in female sport, but if they do then they are exceedingly rare. In practice girls are remarkably unselfish. On the field they will pass readily – to the point where initially you have to stop them passing so much and get them to run with the ball first.

This is partly a function of previous sporting experience – especially netball. Passing and catching come far more naturally – although beware that the reflex reaction among new girls when they catch the ball will be to stop dead!

Boys tend to…

  • Have positive male rugby role models.
  • Have seen many hours of men’s rugby.
  • Kick a ball.
  • Have to be encouraged to work as a team.
  • Require a new skill to be reintroduced in several ways.
  • Be mature enough to take on a significant leadership rolefrom 15/16.
  • Grow significantly until 18/19.
  • Be suited to a tactics based on strength and aggression.

Girls tend to...

  • Not know any women rugby players.
  • Have never seen any women’s rugby.
  • Throw and catch a ball.
  • Naturally work as a team.
  • Learn new skills very quickly.
  • Be mature enough to take on a significant leadership role from 13/14.
  • Grow significantly until 14/15.
  • Prefer tactics based on skill and speed.

Communication and learning

The standard “I speak/you listen” rarely works for long. Girls will want to discuss things, discussions which often fly off at tangents. Try to keep control, but allow some free flow because you will find that despite (or because of?) this when you start the drill they will understand it much better.

Girls learn FAR more quickly than boys and one consequence of this is that you should be prepared to cover more in a session than you might for boys’ of the same age!
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Strength and aggression

Girls are not as naturally aggressive – “Don’t be so NICE!” was often repeated in our first season. Cheating and general gamesmanship is also quite rare and cause remarkable (even disproportionate) outrage.

Perhaps the most obvious difference is the physical strength. Up to 13/14 there’s little real difference, but after that age girls virtually stop growing. Work with 15 or 16 year old girls and then return to boys and it’s a shock. A wider age range can play and train together, but that tactics and drills that rely on a bit of muscle can be inappropriate.


* Girls are natural team players.
* Prepare to cover more in a session than you might normally.
* Use appropriate language – and be prepared to adopt a more
discursive style.
* Previous sporting experience is likely to be netball, not soccer.
* Playing styles based on strength and aggression will be less

For more , see Dan Cotrell's site, Better Rugby Coaching ...


Anonymous said...

A good skill to reinforce with girls is seeing the simple objective and going for it…

Unfortunately many girl's recreational activities overly emphasis form(ie dance, gymnastics) verses something focusing on a simple end result(ie scoring a try). They may overly socially/emotionally process a situation and thereby de-emphasize the actual goal. Of course skills, teamwork, and integrated play are vitally important but many girls may seek to please coaches/teammates by staying with perfect form while not being opportunistic enough. Sometimes it’s better to not be the perfect girl yet score the points. It’s a good skill for later in life too. For example, a live/work balance in a benevolent career is important but knowing how to go-for-the-money, especially if you have a partner/kids to support, is a handy skill too.

rachel said...

something I feel is missing here that every coach of teenage girls should recognize is the importance of feedback and communication of selections.

This is an area that often gets overlooked and is very important for teens (probably for all women).

Girls will often take selections much more personally than boys. They also will want to know the ways they need to improve.

Meredith said...

I'm afraid I can't remember who, but someone once said that the key difference between coaching boys/men and coaching girls/women is that it is more effective with males to start with negative comments and then move to positives, but that it is more effective with females to do the reverse. The idea was that women tend to take negative criticism much more to heart, and will shut down after too many negative comments. Men, however, tend to brush off negative criticism more easily, and may ignore it if it is not emphasized.

I've never had the chance to test this theory, but I admit it makes sense to me. You can take it too far and claim that this is in line with the idea that women are "too sensitive" but I think it's more accurate to say that women are often more reflective.

Of course, it may be that it is more effective with both sexes to start with positive comments, but that there is something of a tradition in male-dominated sports that you have to beat a team down in order to make them better.

Anonymous said...

The guys actually seem to like the foul mouthed, angry coaches at some level. It almost seems to relax them. It’s as if they can see all the negative emotions upfront so they feel they can trust the coach. They don’t seem to like the socially cunning, wussy coach who’d likely backstab them.

With female coaches we have a different situation. First, it’s often the most psychotically ill alpha females that are loud and abusive in practice – no good for anyone. Second, some of us like the cunning, quieter coach more since we can trust she’ll deal with any unconstructive drama and the corrosively sly. Part of being cunning is starting off positive. There’s a lot going on socially with a competitive women’s rugby club and many problems cannot be dealt with head-on(as the boys prefer). I feel very reassured knowing my coach has a handle on all the drama that could affect our play…

Ok, I’m going to stop there before this comment morphs into a dating discussion;)

K-Train said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
K-Train said...

I think we need to be very careful about generalizing about young female rugby players vs young male rugby players. This is even more important when you are making a cross cultural analogy.

Women in English teams sports is a very different beast compared to in the United State. Soccer/Football is one the grandmas of American, female team sports, in contrast the English FA banned women playing on their pitches well into the 1970s.

The typical setting for high school girl's rugby in the US, for now, seems to be middle class suburbia. There is no shortage of team sporting oppertunities for girls, with many of these sports encouraging field vision, decision making and communication.

In the US both genders are more likely to come into Rugby after playing other sports. With this in mind, i doubt that the average high school girl's player comes in to rugby with a lack of athletic agressiveness.

Agressiveness in contact and comfortability in contact are learned aspects, as is learning how to practice contact against ones friends, otherwise known as teammates.

Still, I don't know that is a gender difference, so much as an experience difference. Boys have a much higher chance of coming into rugby with contact sports experience, where as for girls the chance is much smaller.