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!