Coaching Girls: Do We Need Training?

By Aby Ryan, Athena Camps Founder

I was honored to be asked by Alliance for Girls, the largest regional alliance of girls serving organizations in the nation, to present a workshop on Strategies for Coaching Girls  yesterday.   Twenty-two incredible people attended, representing fifteen amazing girl-serving organizations from all over California. For at least two weeks, I fretted and stressed over this honor, prepared…meditated…analyzed…meditated…over prepared….and finally, rested in what was to be.  Being asked to teach my peers about girls was both daunting and exciting. Daunting –  because, well, who am I to teach anyone anything about girls – what a broad and loaded topic! Exciting because, well, I was a girl athlete who grew up with both good and bad coaching.  I was a high school and D1 collegiate player and coach of female athletes.  I did start a company with a vision to empower girls through sports, creativity and mentorship and I have spent the past seven years working to continuously improve Athena Camps; I have written curriculum, expanded age groups, written more curriculum, added sports, trained young women, and directed many camps; and last but certainly not least, I am a parent of a 13 year-old girl trying to find her athlete-identity and stick with sports when the majority of girls are dropping out.  Turns out I have a lot to say! How It All Started When I was senior in college, playing number one singles and doubles for a top 20 nationally ranked program, I was happy doing my own thing until the day my coach told me I needed to step up as a leader.  “No thanks,” I said. “Too bad,” she said, “You are already a role model, whether you want to be or not.  You can be a positive example or a negative one. It’s up to you.”  At that moment, I realized the privilege of responsibility I had earned.  After years of hard work and dedication to my sport, I looked up and around me and saw young women watching me.  I realized that my bad behavior was just as influential as my good.  Emotional outbursts were no longer an option.  My success had earned me a responsibility to others.  I have carried that responsibility into everything I have done since. Over the last few years, watching my daughter play school sports, witnessing the coaches do their best to lead girls, I am struck by how many opportunities are missed to teach important life skills such as teamwork, sports”woman”ship, positive attitude, work ethic, persistence, empathy, active listening, inclusion, respect, resilience and community.  Girls need role modeling and direction to learn these skills, which naturally build confidence.  In my opinion, when girls join teams, teaching these life skills is as important as teaching offense and defense. Why We Need Coaching In our Strategies for Coaching Girls, we considered the questions, “Why do girls join?” and “What makes them stay?” Many reasons were tossed out, but the most compelling and important one being CONNECTION.  Connection to what, you ask?  To her peers, her coaches, to her emerging sense of confidence, agency and resilience…her connection to her inner self, as more than an object to be admired by society. Unfortunately, 40% of teen girls drop out of sports (Women’s Sports Foundation) and girls who describe themselves as “confident” declines more than 25% in middle school and bottoms out at ninth grade (Girls Index, 2017). Why is this?  Could coaching be partially to blame?  Let’s assume it is.  How many of us consider ourselves a good coach?  How do you define a “good” coach?  Often a good coach is a good athlete who knows the game and comes with some skills and strategy. When considering someone to coach girls, is the ability to connect with girls the first skill set we think of?  Probably not.   Maybe it’s time to make it a priority.  Coaches should not be a deterrent to keeping girls in sports.  I know no one wants to be.  When we know better, we do better. When we interview potential coaches for hire at Athena Camps, our top priority is finding out the candidates ability to be authentic and connect with us and our mission to inspire and uplift girls. As the leader of Athena Camps, I have worked hard to continuously improve the way we lead so that girls are encouraged, connected and uplifted.    The above statistics and my experience over the past seven years fuels my passion to share this work with the broader community so that all girls are encouraged to continue to play and connect with each other, whatever it is they enjoy. Therefore, as a leader in this area, “Wisdom Coaching”, a series of coaching workshops is being birthed.  “Strategies for Coaching Girls” was my first workshop and yesterday was amazing because of the people that showed up, participated, interacted and connected. I want to give an affirmation to all of you who are serving girls as teachers, mentors, and coaches… YOU are beautiful, YOU are strong, and YOU Rock!