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Category Archives: Female athletes

A Coach’s Guide To Creating Harmony On A Female Team

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Mean girls.  We’ve all heard that phrase and I worry that we all believe it on some levels.  I’ve heard coaches, mothers, and female athletes themselves talking about how girls and women can’t get along and that their team’s had “girl issues.”  I don’t believe that issues or conflicts have a gender attached to them.  What I do believe is that women can, in fact, get along and they can compete (together!) at amazingly high levels.  So now, let’s look at the…

2 prevailing myths that too many people believe about female athletes

  • Myth #1:  Women aren’t competitive.
    This is usually uttered by the exasperated male coach of a female team.  Check out this scenario:  it’s game point in a close volleyball match.  The two teams are pretty evenly matched…they’ve been trading points the whole game.  Your team is about to serve for the game and the opposing coach calls a time out.  You huddle your team close around you and you look your server in the eye very intensely and tell her, “it all comes down to you Susie…we won’t win without you!”  You think you’re firing her up and showing her that you believe in her.  She hears: “Don’t screw up!  If you miss this serve, your team will hate you!”

    Women are very competitive and will rise to any occasion…together.  Studies show that women get onto teams to be a part of something and to socialize, then once they realize that they’re good, they’ll keep playing.  That’s exactly the opposite of guys who join teams because they’re good and happen to make friends along the way.  So, the moral of the story is, if you want to motivate your female athletes to greatness, remind them of their teaminess.  At that same time out, bring your team in, huddle them up close and (while making eye contact with all of them) say: “ladies, you all have worked your tails off to get to this point.  You’ve hit, you’ve passed, you’ve set, you’ve played amazing defense.  Now, Susie is going to crush this serve and we’re going to win this game.”  You’ve said the same thing as the first example, but now you’ve included her in a group effort.


  • Myth #2:  Girls can’t get along.
    If I could have a cause as a coach, it would be to eliminate the world of this perception that female athletes can’t get along.  You’re probably thinking…well Dawn, you coach collegiate athletes, but my middle school girls are ripping each other apart!  I’ve coached middle and high school as well as at the Division I and III collegiate levels and I’ve learned one major lesson:  the coach sets the tone.  It’s our job as the coach to understand what makes female teams tick and what motivates each athlete.  As Kathy DeBoer says in her book, Gender and Competition: How Men and Women Approach Work and Play Differently, “until recently, it was not politically correct to think of women as different.  If you said women were equal, then they couldn’t be different.  The wonderful news is we can now say women are equal and different.  And that’s a huge and dramatic breakthrough.”  So now that we know it’s kosher to say that female athletes are different than male athletes, let’s cut to the crux of the issue.

    The coach runs the show.  Do you secretly believe that females are “catty” or can’t get along?  Then that’ll come across to your team.  How?  You’ll let bad behavior slide because you think that it’s somehow a female trait.  If two people have a conflict and they’re men, it’s no big deal…if they’re women?  They’re catty.  So the first thing is to evaluate your belief system and make sure that your team understands what you will and will not accept.  I’m pretty explicit with my team about this whole “girls can’t get along” thing and how I think it’s a crock.  The next step is to empower them with conflict resolution skills and also to help them understand the different personality types and how they interact with each other.  I certainly don’t expect my team to make it through an entire season and not have issues that need to be addressed, but I haven’t given them license to brush it under the rug as “girl problems”.  Conflict doesn’t have gender and we, as coaches, can’t give our teams excuses to not learn how to effectively deal with those conflicts.

So I’m hoping that this has confirmed what you already knew about your female athletes: they’re strong, confident, competitive, and resilient problem solvers who will run through walls for their teammates and their coaches.

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Posted by on November 12, 2014 in Captains, Female athletes

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3 Ways Women Can Be Effective Leaders

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In my post, 3 Ways To Keep Females In Coaching And Athletics Administration, I talk about the lack of ladies in athletics…and the numbers were pretty dramatic.  If you’re interested in seeing all of the numbers and a link to the study, just click on the article and it’s all there.  Here are a few: 43% of female teams have female coaches, 19% of athletics directors are female, and only 12% of SID’s are women.

Those numbers make me tilt my head to the side, Scooby Doo-style, and say “ruh roh”.  Apparently this isn’t just an athletics problem, because there is a great video over on ted.com by Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook.  It’s called Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders and it’s fabulous!  She talks about how two-thirds of married men who are executives have kids…while only one-third of their female cohort can say the same (more on that later).  She also gives her disclaimer that there’s nothing wrong with staying home with your kids, but if you want to stay in the game…

Here are the 3 things that females need to be successful executives/leaders/coaches/administrators

Sit at the table. She says one of the more powerful statements that I’ve heard in a while about us ladies, “women systematically underestimate their own abilities.”  What she means by sitting at the table is for ladies to see themselves as more.  She means that when there’s a meeting and all of the bigwigs are sitting at the conference table…women should too.  Don’t sit off to the side because you don’t think you belong with the big dogs.  Too often, we ladies attribute our success to others rather than owning it…so we not only see ourselves as less than, we put ourselves in a position to be seen as less than.

Make your partner a real partner. How about this?  When both spouses work full time, the woman does two times (!!) as much housework and three times as much childcare as the husband.  But her point isn’t the stereotypical finger wagging at men to do more (though that would help!), it’s more of a cultural slant.  She says that we put so much more pressure on boys to succeed that their self-worth is tied in to doing well at work.  She wonders aloud if men earned the same amount of respect for deciding to stay at home with their kids as they got from going to work every day, if there wouldn’t be more dads who’d stay home.  Which of course would let the mom be able to go out and be the wage earner.

Don’t leave before you leave. She means that women will sometimes stop looking for advancement opportunities way too early.  For example, a woman will get engaged and decide that she shouldn’t apply for a job because of her future husband.  Or because they’re trying to get pregnant.  Sandberg calls it “quietly leaning back”.  The women in these examples aren’t at the decision point (not yet married and not yet pregnant), but they’re already starting to shut down promotion options by not even trying for them.  They’re still going to work, they’re still (seemingly) doing everything the same way…they’re just not trying to make that next move.

Women, we may decide that staying the workforce isn’t for us…that we’d rather stay at home.  But we shouldn’t assume that we’ve got to give up our aspirations of greatness.  Let’s make sure that we’ve really thought it through, that we’ve talked to our partner (maybe he’s willing to do more), and that we’re going hard until we just can’t anymore.

 

Posted by on November 5, 2014 in Female athletes, TEDtalk

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Play Like A Girl

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I don’t know if you’ve seen this #LikeAGirl youtube video, but you should check it out.  The throw/run/play/etc. “like a girl” phrase is still a thing on athletic fields and PE classes all over the country.  Watch this video, share it, and show it to the young people you coach

Like A Girl

 

Posted by on July 4, 2014 in Female athletes

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Coaches Corner: Women Coaching Women

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I enjoy coaching women. Not because they’re dramatically different than coaching men, but because I never had a female head coach as an athlete and I think that’s too bad. Think about the ruckus it causes when a woman coaches men in anything. Then think about the complete lack of commotion it causes when men coach women. Men expect to be coached by men…and women kinda do, too.

That’s starting to change, though. Nowadays, women and girls can realistically have a different expectation of leadership and they can rightfully assume that it will look like them. Women coaching women isn’t necessarily an easier or tougher path than some other combination of genders, but the higher up in sport you get, the harder it is to find women coaching women or girls. I don’t really want to get too in-depth with that (you can do an internet search for “Acosta Carpenter report” for hard numbers), but suffice it to say the women’s coaching profession is like a pyramid, with the majority of females in high school and Division three…and the numbers get progressively smaller as you go up levels.

So what do you do if you find yourself leading an amazing group of women? Coach ‘em up! When I spoke to Melissa Wolter, head volleyball coach at the University of West Florida, she gave me a list of things she is sure to do that have helped her successfully lead women over the years.

3 advantages of women coaching women

  1. Identify with them. Wolter says she doesn’t play this card too often, but that it sometimes comes into play. You may decide, as a coach, that there are no excuses on your team (Got big boobs? Double up on sports bras! Having your period? Better have what you need!), but your athletes will never be able to pull the “coach just doesn’t understand” card with you.
  2. Connect on a woman-to-woman level. As a female, you’ve been where they are and understand the quirks unique to being a woman in athletics…and how your athletes can parlay that experience into a phenomenal future. This is bigger than point number one, this is guiding them from one place to another…from girl to woman, from student to professional.
  3. Show and gain trust. Wolter says that once you gain your player’s trust, they’ll run through walls for you. I’ve sat in front of many an athlete who complains about not liking her teammates, her coach, or the drama that her team is having. All of that goes back to trust and the lack of it she’s experienced in her young life collaborating with other females. A coach would do well to put the time in to show her players the benefits of trusting her teammates.



I hope more and more women get into coaching. It’s a great profession and your ability to change and influence lives is what gets us all up in the morning.

More about coaching female athletes
The Joys Of Coaching Female Athletes
3 Ways Women Can Be Effective Leaders
The 3 R’s Of Coaching Female Athletes
Wanna buy my book?

Join me in a series of interviews with successful coaches.  I believe what we learn from our coaching peers can be applied to our teams, our recruiting efforts, and how we behave as professionals. These interviews will be less Q & A and much more philosophical in nature, keep coming back to see who I’m talking to and what they’ve got to say!

 

Posted by on June 9, 2014 in Coaches Corner, Female athletes

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Coaches Corner: Coaching Female Athletes

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Working with female athletes is a joy. Not because it’s always easy. Not because it’s always fun. But because it is always valuable and rewarding. I’ve written lots about it, you should check it out!

It could be watching a shy freshman transform herself into a confident senior. Or it could be challenging an athlete to believe in her inner strength…my fancy way of saying that she can accomplish an overwhelming goal without tears or some other outward display that is distracting to the team. Or it could be showing love to a player who is not quite receptive.

Coaching is sometimes about doing the hard thing. Like parents, we coaches have the long view in mind and sometimes we have to push our athletes in a way they don’t understand in order to get a result they could never have imagined.

Ron Sweet, head volleyball coach at Wofford University, is a male coach of female athletes and he’s been successful with all age groups. This leads to the obvious question: How has he done it?

3 keys to successfully coaching female athletes

  1. Build them up. In his years of coaching, Sweet has learned that women tend to undervalue themselves, while men tend to overvalue themselves…and scholars back up his theory. You can read article after article where folks in the business world lament that women won’t negotiate salary or even apply for certain jobs, because they don’t feel worthy. We have a chance, as coaches, to show our players their worth.
  2. Instill confidence. Lest you think this is a kumbaya article about dealing with your female athletes, don’t worry, it’s not. Sometimes instilling confidence in your players involves setting them up to and letting them fail. The old adage that says nothing is certain but death and taxes doesn’t have it quite right. Failure is certain at some point and we’ve got to help our players face it, accept it, and even welcome it so that they can become their best athletic selves.
  3. Motivate them. To know Ron Sweet is to love Ron Sweet. I’ve never coached with him or been coached by him, but I know he’s a pretty engaging guy. And he’s a pretty perceptive guy (I’ve not met many male coaches who can articulate what his female athletes need in the way that Sweet did here), so I’m sure he’s able to deliver the figurative kick in the butt when it’s needed as well as the literal arm around the shoulder. We can’t have just one trick in our motivation bag.



In coaching female athletes, we have an amazing opportunity to challenge them to be tougher than they think they are and to shape their view of themselves and how they can impact the world. Let’s do it!

Join me in a series of interviews with successful coaches.  I believe what we learn from our coaching peers can be applied to our teams, our recruiting efforts, and how we behave as professionals. These interviews will be less Q & A and much more philosophical in nature, keep coming back to see who I’m talking to and what they’ve got to say!

 

Posted by on May 14, 2014 in Coaches Corner, Female athletes

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Teams Need Conflict To Function Effectively

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It’s no secret that I don’t believe in “girl drama”.  I always put that phrase in quotations because I know that folks understand what I mean when I say it, but I still want them to know I think it’s a myth.  In my opinion, “girl drama” happens when conflict management goes awry.

This Harvard Business Review article, Conflict Strategies for Nice People, talks about why conflict has a place on teams.  I’d go a step further and say it’s imperative for women’s teams to understand and embrace conflict.  “Girl drama” isn’t the absence of conflict, but rather the absence of communication about the conflict.

The cost of avoiding conflict

  1. You don’t get your alternative perspective on the table.
  2. You can’t challenge faulty assumptions.
  3. You don’t have the chance to highlight hidden risks.



Why conflict is good

  1. It allows the team to address difficult situations.  Teams are wrought with difficult situations.  A teammate could be slacking off in the weight room.  Texting through a video session.  Or just not working hard in practice.  While I would certainly intervene, I’d hope my team leaders would feel comfortable interjecting themselves into the narrative.
  2. It creates a space to synthesize diverse perspectives.  Years ago, I had a team with very different ideas about the way the team should conduct themselves after games, especially after losses.  One camp was the “hush your mouth and don’t say anything to me” group, while the other was the “that game is over so no need to be down-faced about it”.  They were able to come together and find a happy medium that worked for everyone.
  3. It pushes the team to make sure solutions are well thought out.  Not communicating is easy, because it doesn’t involve compromise.  Once we start talking and hearing diverse opinions, coming to a thoughtful resolution is harder, but will have more buy-in since there was compromise and communication.
  4. It is the source of true innovation.  Sometimes the way we’ve always done things needs to change.  Just because we’ve always done it doesn’t mean it’s best, right, or effective.
  5. It is a critical process in identifying and alleviating risks.  Conflict puts us into a space where we’re hearing differing opinions.  Those different opinions give us, as coaches, a more nuanced view of our team. We should embrace a little conflict among our staff to make sure we’re making the best choices for the benefit of our teams.  Our coaches have to feel free to challenge us on our decisions or what’s the point of having them there?



Commit to conflict

So we all agree that conflict is good, right?  Don’t go away just yet!  Now you’ve got to teach your players effective conflict resolution strategies or you’ll have a bunch of feuding cliques on your team.  Check out this post, Feeling Comfortable With Conflict, for some ideas.

 

Posted by on January 22, 2014 in Female athletes

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Feeling Comfortable With Conflict

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If I wrote a post called, Conflict Keeps Teams at the Top Of Their Game, what would you think?  Many of you probably wouldn’t believe me, but when I read that headline on the Harvard Business Review’s website, I thought it was great.

When I speak to various groups about their female athletes and how to beat the cursed “girl drama”, I explain that in my opinion it all comes down to how their team handles conflict.  If their players view conflict as inherently negative, then when it ultimately arises (it always does) they don’t know how to handle the situation.

Why teams experience conflict

At the beginning of our season, I explain to my team that it won’t always be this way.  Day 1, everyone sees themselves as a starter.  Day 1, people haven’t started to get on each other’s nerves yet.  Day 1, the players aren’t trying to balance practice and relationships and school work.  So it’s all great.

Eventually starters are named.  Personality conflicts may arise.  By midseason, players are frazzled with the grind of the season and trying to balance it all with their school work and having a social life.  If we don’t warn them this will happen, they’re going to be blindsided and think something is wrong, when it’s actually perfectly normal.

The contradiction of teams

Before I really sat down and thought about it, I didn’t realize how odd the idea of “team” can be.  Think about it: We’ve got a group of athletes who are committed to a common goal (because they can’t accomplish it by themselves), but there are subsets of folks within the group who are in direct competition with one another.  If we don’t think conflict will happen in that environment, we’re crazy.

Preparing your athletes for conflict

  1. Take feelings out of it.  When conflict first rears its head, it feels very uncomfortable.  That feeling sometimes makes our athletes feel as if the team is experiencing problems, when it’s actually going through a very normal part of the team building process.
  2. Creatively solve problems.  I’m sure coaches out there have all sorts of solutions to guide their teams through conflict resolution, but my favorite is to have them take personality tests.  In my experience, we’re all (players and coaches alike) drawn to complementary personality types and generally have conflict with those folks who aren’t like us.  For example, the super quiet player might think the very outgoing player is really annoying.  Showing our players how much of their conflict could arise from something as simple as an opposing personality type keeps the conflict from feeling personal.
  3. It’s bound to happen…and that’s good!  If you’re scanning this post and not really reading the whole thing, I hope this one thing sticks out to you.  We’ve got to tell our teams that conflict will happen and that it’s okay.  Make sure you equip them with some great conflict resolution skills (Don’t know any?  Check out the posts below.) and watch them flourish.  Conflict isn’t bad…not dealing with conflict is bad.


Collaboration and success won’t happen when conflict is seen as negative.  Let’s all agree to educate our teams on healthy conflict resolution tactics.

If you enjoyed this post, check out 5 Ways To Make Conflict Work For You And Your Team, A Step By Step Guide To Handling Conflict On Teams, 3 Keys To Building Collaboration Within A Competitive Culture, and Teaching Our Players How To Handle Conflict.

 

Posted by on September 10, 2012 in Female athletes, Team chemistry

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3 Lessons Our Female Athletes Should Learn

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While I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a feminist, I do think there are certain things that coaches of female-athletes must talk to their athletes about.  I don’t mean sit them down at a team meeting and talk, but it can be an in the bus talk or a between tournament games talk…you know, casual.

What are those things?  Title IX for one. This is a great time to do it because it’s the fortieth anniversary of the amendment this year.  I’ve found that women don’t understand that we didn’t always have fancy pants uniforms and stay at nice hotels like the guys.   We didn’t always even have the same access to athletic facilities…our women need to know and appreciate these things.

As coaches, we’re trying to prepare our athletes for the next stage…of athletics and of life, so that’s where these other three things come in.  With the goal always being creating a group of young women who are so informed and confident that they’re ready to take over the world (seriously!), here are three areas where we can affect their growth.

3 things we should try to teach our female-athletes

  1. It’s okay to talk about being a woman.  Sheryl Sandberg is the COO of Facebook and was recently named the first woman to its board.  Beyond all of her amazing accomplishments, she’s been quite vocal about being a business woman.  You can click here to hear her great TEDtalk.  She says that early on she felt that she shouldn’t focus on the differences and that she was actually counseled to not talk about it.  In the past, I had similar reservations about talking to my team about female specific issues.  Now, I feel that I’m doing them a disservice if I don’t talk to them about it.
  2. There can be work/life balance.  Life is all about choices.  I give private lessons to a Division One athlete who says that I should move up to that level.  I’ve gotten numerous calls from folks at bigger and higher level institutions than mine and my answer is always the same: I’m happy here.  I’m not saying all of this to toot my own horn, but to show our players that they have a choice.  Luckily I’ve got plenty of people to use as examples for my team: myself…I’ve chosen to stay at a manageable level for myself.  But I’ve also got friends who are higher up corporate big-wigs who have families (and probably a lot more money than me!) and love their life.  We’ve also got to let our players know that not wanting it all is okay too.  But they should be warned, there’s no work/life balance for a stay-at-home mom…it’s work/work balance!
  3. Women are good enough.  My sister-in-law is a big shot with a major corporation and is in charge of leading hundreds, if not thousands, of people.  One of the things she’s talked to me about since I was in college is that women don’t advocate for themselves.  She would tell me about entering the negotiation process with women and not having to do much, even though she had additional thousands available to offer, because women just take what is offered.  Whereas men would negotiate for salary, stock options, and vacation time.  She’s not alone, check out this post about negotiating salary.  I tell my players this story because I want them to understand that they’re not being rude by negotiating…it’s expected!


This post was inspired by this great article about Sheryl Sandberg, Sheryl Sandberg’s lessons on women and success, check it out!

 

Posted by on September 5, 2012 in Female athletes

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Why Women’s Athletics? Selling Its Benefits In Tough Economic Times

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I wrote this article for the Fall 2010 NCAA Champion magazine.  I found that the more I talked to female athletes at all levels, many of them really didn’t understand Title IX or the value of women’s athletics.  My goal in this article wasn’t to prove that the volleyball team brings in as much money as the men’s ice hockey team, but that the benefit of sport (and women’s sports in particular) is more than the bottom line of a budget sheet.

Do you know what your team’s view of Title IX is?  More than likely, they view their athletic selves as the balance for men’s athletics…and I’d say that that should not be the case.  Women’s athletics stands alone as important and beneficial without the need to “balance out” athletic departments.  Viewing volleyball and softball and field hockey as existing solely to enable men to play their sports and be in compliance with the law is a pretty powerless and pathetic existence.

I read a great article on the Financial Times website titled, “A Good Economist Knows the True Value of the Arts”, which talked about how the arts, hospitals, and sports try to demonstrate their relevance by selling their economic value.  I’m sure you’ve heard the schpiel:  women’s volleyball is helping the university by bringing families onto campus and they’re buying concessions, the concessions stand is employing workers, and the facility is able to employ more folks for maintenance and crowd control.  But the author asserts that those are costs, not benefits, and that the savvy athletic director should (if it all comes down to finances) cut volleyball because the financial benefit does not come close to the financial cost taken on by the college.  Here’s a great quotation from that article:

The value of an activity is not what it costs, but the amount by which its benefit exceeds its costs. The economic contribution of sport is in the pleasure participants and spectators derive, and the resulting gains in health and longevity. That value is diminished, not increased, by the resources that need to be diverted from other purposes.

So if finances aren’t the way to sell women’s athletics to our colleagues (who may silently believe that we are there for balance only) or the higher ups who are taking hard looks at the budget…what are our selling points?  Where are the places that, like the quotation above says, the benefits of women’s athletics exceed its costs?  There are many advantages to sports participation that will stay with its participants for life, here are a few.

Health Young ladies who participate in sports reduce their chance of getting breast cancer by 60% according to Journal of the National Cancer Institute (1994)…at a time where one in eight women have gotten or will be diagnosed with breast cancer, that’s huge!  On top of that, it’s been proven that performing weight bearing exercises while young will help fight off osteoporosis later in life.

Mentors Little girls need to see that sports are for them too.  They need to see that women can be aggressive and competitive and achievers…that’s where our teams come in!  I don’t know about you, but I was never the stereotypical “girly girl”, wearing pink and playing with dolls, so sports participation was always a part of my life.  But what if, through watching our athletes play, that stereotype shifted to include having a lacrosse stick or golf club in her hand?

Learning to excel in a team environment Go to any business magazine or read any book designed for managers and you’ll see the word “team” over and over again.  The ability to strive within a team construct should be the hallmark of women’s athletics.  Our athletes learn leadership, how to win and lose with grace, how to recognize strengths and weakness in themselves and others…and use those to their advantage, and how to perform under pressure.  All characteristics that will serve them well after their time on our fields and courts is over.

Let’s all agree to talk to our teams about what they do and why it’s important.  To explain that both men’s and women’s athletics can stand on their own respective two feet…both strong and autonomous.  By doing this, we will equip them to answer the question: why women’s athletics?

What has your department done in terms of educating your student athlete population?  How about education for the coaching staff?  Any other ideas?

 

Posted by on August 31, 2012 in Female athletes

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Female Leaders: How To Get Ahead And Not Alienate People

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Hey ladies…it’s true!  We always thought that it was, now there’s proof.  A study by the Harvard business school shows that when women asked for raises, not only were their bosses less inclined to give them the raise, “but they also didn’t like the women very much” for asking!  Why?  According to this article, we (you, me, everyone) are culturally wired to see women as advocates for others…not themselves.  So much so, that even when women assert themselves and become their own advocates, everyone is uncomfortable with the perceived selfishness.

Since folks see women as being more emotional and relationship-oriented, turn those perceptions on their heads and make them work for you!  When talking to your boss, make it all about the group as a whole (I’ve written before about women being all about the relationships) and how the pay raise, or additional assistant coach, or more expensive equipment will benefit your team and the department…not just you specifically.

3 targeted techniques women can use to get ahead in the business world

1.       Talk about how much you care about the team.  Women are seen as caring and nurturing, so use that to your advantage in negotiations.  Explain how this upgrade in pay or staffing or equipment benefits your team and will make their experience on your team better.  It’s not about you…it’s about the team.

2.       Explain how important your relationships are to you.  Talk about how you benefit the office and what you bring to the table.  If you’re a female coaching females, you can talk about how important it is to you that your athletes learn to get along and work together under a female leader.  You can explain how preparing your athletes for the “real world” is your highest aim.  Again, you’re not asking for the upgrade just for yourself, but so that you can better serve your team.

3.       Articulate how much you love your job and would hate to perform it at any level other than excellent. This may be the time to mention that you’re the lowest paid (but most successful) coach in your conference, or how your facilities are the oldest of all “like” schools…whatever it is that you’re asking for.  Again, you’re explaining how much you love your job, your school, and your team…and how it pains you not to do everything at a top-notch level.

There you go coach!  The next time you feel like you’re up for a little bump in pay or your program has needs, use these techniques and success is sure to follow.  It’s also a great tool to teach our female athletes for when their playing careers are over and it’s time to (literally) get down to business.

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Posted by on August 29, 2012 in Coaching career, Female athletes

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