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home | Sample Articles | SPECIAL REPORT: Discover the 8 Diffe . . .

SPECIAL REPORT: Discover the 8 Differences Between Coaching Men and Women - Part 1
Jeff Janssen, Janssen Sports Leadership Center
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Are there differences when it comes to coaching men and women?

Yes, this is a potentially controversial topic but one that merits reflection, dialogue, and constructive disagreement if a coach ultimately wants to be able to comprehend, coach, communicate, and connect with his/her athletes.

My purpose with this Special Report is to explore the potential differences between coaching men and women. Let me get the disclaimers out of the way first of all to establish my motives and rationale - and to do my best not to offend either gender.

Let me state clearly up front that I think there are MANY more similarities in how men and women approach sport and competition than there are differences. The Psychology of Coaching applies equally to both genders. Coaches of male teams and female teams can learn much from each other. Thus, my intent is not to be divisive or derogatory in any way. It is merely to better understand and coach the athletes we are trying to develop.

Let me also state that one gender's approach is not better than the other. Both approaches are highly valid and respect the general differences, psychology, and values of each gender. Thus, there are differences, not advantages.

Finally, let me state that these highlighted differences are gross generalizations designed to categorize tendencies that each gender seems to have. Certainly each individual is different and needs to be respected and coached as such. Thus, you will be able to find many exceptions to the rules for both males and females. The intent is to examine the potential tendencies overall to inform and sensitize your coaching.

With all this being said, there seem to be some subtle yet significant differences in how men and women approach and interpret the sporting experience overall. This Special Report is designed to explore those differences and reflect on how you might better adapt and adjust your coaching accordingly.

I hope this exploration is fruitful for all coaches - but especially for male coaches who are coaching female athletes. Some males, who only knew a male-dominated approach to sports growing up, may have to re-examine some of their coaching tactics that might not connect as well with women.

In preparation for this Special Report, I have talked with several coaches and read many male and female authors' ideas on the differences between men and women. I tapped into the insights of our Championship Coaches Network members to get their take on the topic as well. I have included some of their insights and comments along the way.

In my research, I have discovered eight differences when it comes to coaching men and women. Part 1 of this Special Report will outline the first four differences and Part 2 will focus on the second four.


Females: On the whole, females tend to be more coachable then males. Compared to male athletes, females tend to be more open to coaching and new ways of doing things. They are willing to try new techniques, especially if it will help them perform better.

Females tend to give their coaches much more initial respect, rather than reserving judgment or making their coaches prove they are credible. They also are much more appreciative of good coaching and willing express their gratitude in large and small ways.

Women on the whole, seem to want to please their coaches more so than men do. USA Olympic Softball coach Mike Candrea says that women are much more willing to give you their hearts and best effort.

Males: Male athletes tend to be more convinced (and sometimes deluded) of their own prowess, and are therefore often less coachable. They may feel like they know everything there is to know about the sport and will dismiss the coach if they do not think he/she is credible. They force coaches to prove that they know more than them.

Males sometimes brace against coaching, especially if it is the in-your-face, coercive approach. When the coercive style is used, many males seek to prove the coach wrong, whereas women might have a tendency to shut down when this approach is used. Ironically, the coercive approach can yield the desired result in the short-term with some males - better performance - although the athlete often ends up despising the coach for it.

Putting this Principle into Practice: When coaching a team of males, understand on the front end that you are not immediately going to have their full trust and respect - especially if you don't have a proven coaching record. Invest the time to earn it by explaining your philosophy and telling them the "why" behind your methods. Be prepared for those who will not embrace your way right away and decide whether you want to coax them along or draw a strict line in the sand.


Females: Confidence is one of those factors that is obviously critical for every athlete. All athletes struggle with their confidence, however, a good number of females I have worked with, even at the elite levels, have found maintaining consistent confidence their toughest struggle. While confidence seems to ooze from the pores of the most successful male athletes, there are many world-class female athletes who struggle with their confidence.

Soccer superstar Mia Hamm is the perfect example. Considered the best athlete in her sport, Mia constantly struggled with her confidence throughout her career. Said former national team coach Tony DiCicco, "A lot of players have trouble with confidence. It's not just Mia. But it surprises people when a great player struggles with confidence. That's been her life work to deal with her own lack of self-confidence on the soccer field."

Like Mia, some women tend to not give themselves enough credit for the things they are good at. They attribute their skills and successes to luck rather than to their talent and hard work. They also tend to base their confidence more on what they think others (coaches, teammates, fans) think of them -- rather than relying on their internal sources of confidence. Because of this, their confidence becomes very fragile and fleeting.

Females also tend to be more open and forthcoming when they are not feeling confident. They are less inhibited to show a lack of confidence in their body language and words. As some coaches have succinctly paraphrased, many women need to feel good to play good. Or as Anson Dorrance says, "In coaching women, there is more of a need for 'ego-boosting.' With men, it is more 'ego-busting.'"

Males: Male athletes are taught from an early age to project confidence and toughness. Why? Similar to the animal kingdom, the Alpha Male tends to get all the attention, accolades, and awards. The top males exude a sense of confidence. Sometimes the confidence is classy and contained by humility. However, more and more, the confidence has become cockiness and bravado that gets reinforced on SportsCenter.

This is what Dorrance means when he says coaching males is more ego-busting. Some men's overconfidence contributes to poor preparation, selfish attitudes, poor social behavior - and motivates opponents to put him in his place. Cocky male athletes often need coaches who are willing stand up to them and cut them down to size so they don't get too full of themselves.

Of course, like females, all males struggle with the confidence from time to time. The difference is that most males will go to great lengths not to show that they are struggling. They will often shut down and not seek the help they need to get back on track. They would much rather try to do it all on their own. In my sport psych consulting at Arizona years ago, the females were much more likely to take advantage of the services than were the males.

It seems that most males base their confidence more on internal factors such as their strengths and past successes. In this way their confidence tends to be a little more stable and durable. Whereas females have a tendency to rely more on external factors for their confidence - namely, other's opinions of them.

Putting this Principle into Practice: Coaches of female teams need to especially monitor their athletes' confidence. Use a positive approach to build confidence when they succeed. When they fail and make mistakes, remember that many of your athletes are probably tougher on themselves than they need to be. So help them learn from the failure and refocus.

Coaches of male teams need to keep their athletes' egos in check. As good as some of your male athletes think they are, help them see that there are areas for improvement and that they can't take things for granted. Remember, too, that many of your male athletes will struggle with their confidence, even though they will try to hide it. Talk with them individually to build their confidence.

Several confidence-building strategies are available for our Championship Coaches Network members at:


Picture this scenario: A frustrated coach comes into the locker room and starts chastising the team because of poor play. "We aren't working hard enough, our teamwork is horrible, and this is unacceptable!"

Many females in the room think, "Coach is talking to me. He thinks I'm not working hard enough. I'm letting him and the rest of the team down."

The males on the other hand are thinking, "You're right coach. John and Jim really are sucking it up tonight. They better pick it up or we all are going to lose this game."

Females: In the example above, many females take the coach's criticism personally. They believe a general statement made to the team is something that was meant for them individually. Females tend to be more sensitive to comments that are made; often because they are internalized and scrutinized for an underlying message or meaning.

Similarly, I often talk with females who are offended by teammates who use loud and blunt language during competition. They sometimes interpret the harsh tone as a personal attack, rather than critical information that needs to be conveyed in a high-stress and time-bound setting.

Males: Males on the other hand often depersonalize general criticism and think it is not meant for them. Thus, coaches need to be more specific when addressing males who need to improve.

Once males do somehow understand the criticism is directed at them, they will often fight against it. For many males, their approach is to prove the coach wrong and make him eat his own words.

Thus, criticizing men and telling them they are not good enough or that no one respects them, while often confidence-crushing for women, is often viewed as a primordial challenge by men. Their manhood is at stake and they react like an animal that is backed into a corner.

As Anson Dorrance says in the book The Man Watching reflecting on his time as Carolina's men's soccer coach, "I kept challenging their manhood, which is a great way to get them to do something they don't like. 'What? You don't think I'm man enough to drive a car off this cliff? Stand back!' Motivating men is such a simple process."

Putting this Principle into Practice: Make sure you use constructive criticism rather than derogatory criticism, especially coaching females. Also, discuss the differences between what I call performance communication (loud, short, quick communication in the heat of battle) and personal communication (caring, sensitive, detailed communication away from the field). Help your players learn that performance communication during a competition should not be taken personally.

For the males, you can from time to time take advantage of their "simple" motivation and dare and challenge them to accomplish things by "doubting" them. Many will rise to the occasion to prove themselves - and try to prove you wrong.


Females: Chemistry is important for both genders, but seems especially critical for females. Sally Helgesen has written an excellent book called The Female Advantage. In it she talks about women's relationships with each other much like a web-like structure. Each woman wants to feel connected to the other in some way. The web also symbolizes that all women are on the same plane and that one is not necessarily better than the other. This is in contrast to the typical male hierarchical structure of relationships, where there is a distinct pecking order, much like a totem pole.

Former coach Kathy DeBoer expands on the web analogy in her great book Gender and Competition. She says, "The males achieved their sense of self from their position in the hierarchy, the females from their position in the web. For males, standing was determined by what they did and how well they did it - performance. It was only peripherally associated with their ability to connect and maintain relationships. For females, standing was determined by their ability to connect and maintain relationships - acceptance. It was only peripherally associated with their ability to what they did and how well they did it - performance."

Thus, good team chemistry is highly valued by many female athletes. At some levels and on some teams, the importance of team chemistry is at least on par with and sometimes trumps winning. It is a critical criterion for many females when they judge the quality of their sporting experience.

Thus, many females are continuously on the look out for ways to enhance team bonding. They will often plan team dinners, arrange movie nights, create elaborate pre-game rituals, organize secret psych pals, etc. all in an effort to enhance team chemistry. When things are going well, the team provides a great source of unity and nurturing social community.

However, when it goes bad, chaos, drama, and resentments are sure to follow. Disagreements, slights, and problems between teammates can be very disruptive to the web. Much like a spider web, when you cut a key strand, the rest of the web has a hard time not getting all bent out of shape.

Thus, team issues do have a greater tendency to distract, disrupt, and sometimes destroy a female team. The off field issues can easily find themselves on the field when teammates refuse to warm up with each other. And the issue becomes a major distraction that takes the focus and energy away from competition.

Males: Chemistry is important for men and should also be developed, monitored, and maintained. However, men seem to believe that chemistry is not as important to winning and having a successful sport experience as it is for the females. The males would like to get along with their teammates, but it isn't absolutely necessary for their team to be successful.

The differences between men and women when it comes to chemistry can be best categorized using what researchers call task cohesion and social cohesion. Task cohesion means that the team is all focused on the same common goal - usually winning a conference, state and/or national championship. Social cohesion refers to how well the teammates get along with each other.

The Chicago Bulls dynasty of the '90's was a great example of a male team that had high task cohesion but low social cohesion. Meaning when they were on the court together, Jordan, Pippen, Rodman, Paxson, Grant, and Cartwright were willing to work together to win 6 NBA Championships. Off the court, the group had many jealousies and resentments and rarely hung out together.

When it comes to team building for males, it seems that task cohesion is the most important and that social cohesion is a nice plus and desirable - but not a necessary component.

Females on the other hand highly value social cohesion. Further, it seems that a female team's level of social cohesion plays a big role in determining the team's task cohesion. Translation: Good team chemistry is a highly significant factor in how well a female team performs.

Putting this Principle into Practice: Coaches of female teams need to be extra sensitive to their team's chemistry, especially social cohesion. They should do things to promote it on the front end, monitor it regularly, and quickly repair it when it is seeming to unravel.

Male coaches should focus on building team chemistry that focuses more on task cohesion. Make sure that everyone is on the same page, committed to a common goal, and understands, accepts, and embraces his role.

Part 2 of this Special Report reveals four more differences between coaching males and females and is available to our Championship Coaches Network subscribers by clicking on the link below.

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·  SPECIAL REPORT: Discover the 8 Differences Between Coaching Men and Women - Part 2