It is a common misnomer that we need to treat athletes different based on their gender. Emma Randall, the first female in the U.S. to earn her gold-level coaching certification through USA Wrestling, has some insight and advice for those new to coaching females. Along with her M.S. in Sports Psychology, Emma is able to give perspective on a mindset that has been all too common in the wrestling and female sport world.
How are male and female athletes different?
"If we place our athletes into a one size fits all coaching model, we do them a disservice."
Coaching is coaching. Instead of coaching the gender, coach the person in front of you in your sport. Each individual is so different in their level of talent, skills, effort, and resiliency. They are all motivated by different things, prefer different styles of communication, and learn through different processes. If we place our athletes into a one size fits all coaching model, we do them a disservice.You will always have complete outliers and even subtle differences regardless of age, gender, experience, sport, and so forth.
Why do coaches feel like they need to coach girls and women differently?
Anything outside of our daily routine feels uncomfortable. When we feel discomfort, we naturally pull back and think twice. “Is this right?” “Why does this feel unnatural?” When you talk to coaches after their first couple seasons coaching women, they don’t mention it being unnatural anymore. It’s the same as teaching a new move to your athletes. Can you work with them to get through the awkward transition of first learning a new technique, to smoothly executing in a match? Even with repetition, there will be days where it feels unnatural again or doesn’t flow well. That is how we learn and how we grow. Are we making coaching women a hard job by trying to assign meaning to our growing pains? If coaching women is such a specialty, why are over 50% of women’s NCAA teams coached by men?
Advice for coaches new to coaching girls
I can’t say this enough: focus on the person in front of you. Take time getting to know the athlete and the human being.
Why do they participate in sport? Is it for fun, to meet friends, or because of their drive to be the best? Is it a combination of the two? What do they enjoy doing with their free time? What do they expect from you as their coach? What are their goals? What would they like to learn? How do they learn best? How do they communicate best? Maybe the athlete doesn’t have all the answers yet, and that’s okay. Over time help the athlete understand themselves and you as a coach, and use that information to help them achieve their goals. Coaching is so much more than explaining a single leg. It’s about giving a person tools to be successful. As a coach, losing your ego and being selfless is the way to uncover how you can best serve your athletes. Maybe you discover the singular way you typically teach isn’t effective for an athlete. Male or female, as a coach it's your duty to learn how to be flexible and try a different tactic. It is certainly not the athletes fault, nor is gender the issue for not understanding an athlete's motives for competing in sport. Look for moments where you have to flex and think outside of your normal coaching toolbox. Those are valuable lessons that only strengthen your skills and abilities. Be excited for those tough or frustrating moments! Those are the moments you grow!
Emma Randall is a member of Team USA’s coaching staff, and was a coach for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. Emma earned her B.A. and M.S. in Sports Psychology from Lock Haven University. She is the Developmental National Team coach for USA Wrestling in the Cadet and Junior age divisions and in 2016 earned her USA Wrestling Gold level coaching certification. She is one of 68 coaches to hold that certification and the only woman. She is an avid advocate and is dedicated to the growth and development of females in sports.