Wednesday, March 21, 2018

How to Coach Girls (Review by Christy Mihaly)

Heads up! 
Many parents and educators struggle with helping our girls maintain a healthy self-esteem through the difficult adolescent years. Studies find that participation in organized sports is one way to encourage girls to find their own strength. But many girls quit sports.

If you've parented, coached, or watched female athletes, you may have noticed that males and females approach athletics differently. But coaches don't always know how to adjust their approaches to account for these differences.

Mia Wenjen

Now, Mia Wenjen (who blogs about education and multicultural books at "") and Alison Foley (Boston College Women's Soccer Head Coach) have co-written a book, How to Coach Girls. Published this month by Audrey Press, it's a much-needed practical manual for coaches and parents. 
Alison Foley

What inspired the authors to write this book? A statistic: Girls quit organized sports at six times the rate of boys. Given the well-established benefits of participating in organized athletics (such as improved health, social skills, motor coordination, and strong friendships), Wenjen and Foley wanted to educate coaches about how to retain girls on their teams. 

How to Coach Girls is informed by the personal experiences of both authors as well as Foley's coaching background. The two women are friends, brought together by their own soccer-playing daughters. Their book is based on research including interviews with coaches. My own informal survey of coaching parents confirmed -- coaches need this book. According to Vermont author and girls' coach Mark Freeman, many girls have limited options when seeking to play on athletic teams. If they end up on boys' teams, they--and their parents--are often unhappy with the lack of coaching attention the girls receive.

Marekpramuka [CC BY-SA 4.0 (]Wikimedia Commons

What's the best way to keep girls on teams? Mia Wenjen says, "What we learned is that research shows the number one reason why kids play sports is to have fun. But for girls, 'fun' means being valued and respected." Winning, she explains, is less important than just having fun as part of the team.

The book starts by identifying differences in the ways girls and boys approach sports. For example, the authors report that girls are more likely than boys to doubt their abilities and to seek approval, and that girls have a greater need to know where they stand with the coach. Boys tend to be more confident, and more willing to perform for a coach they don't feel connected to, and they are more likely to inflate their own abilities. Coach Mark Freeman observes that when a coach criticizes the team as a whole, "boys externalize criticism and feedback while girls internalize it." By this he means "if you tell the boys that we as a team are getting beat on defense, the boys take the criticism as other players not doing their job or as a failure as a team, whereas many girls take that criticism on themselves." Based on such insights, How to Coach Girls gives readers a series of practical pointers for working effectively with girls.
Jarek Tuszyński[CC BY 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Part One of the book, "The Big Picture," explains background concepts such as promoting a growth mindset in players, and developing players who are also good people. The second part offers approaches to specific issues such as building players' self-confidence, handling losing streaks, and avoiding cliques among teammates. The final section gives coaches concrete tools including model codes of conduct for players and parents, checklists for pre-season preparation, and constructive forms for player evaluations.
Brisbane City Council [CC BY 2.0(]Wikimedia Commons
How to Coach Girls focuses on fostering a love of sport. If girls have fun and make friends on the team, they're more likely to stay. This doesn't mean girls can't be competitive. But the key is making the competition fun. 
Here are some of the book's practical examples: 
  • Make it clear that the main goal is fun.
  • Recognize girls for their improvement (not only talent) and praise those who show the courage to try and fail.
  • Rotate team captain duties to give all team members a chance.
  • Be clear about expectations so girls aren't in the dark.
  • Avoid letting teams break into cliques by forming new groups at each practice.
  • Keep practice drills engaging by creating lively variations, such as those that mix sports: Soccer Baseball!
  • Avoid exacerbating girls' body image issues -- don't refer to players by their physical size.
  • Develop a good understanding of each player as an individual, and know what level of feedback and encouragement she needs.
  • Participate in team projects that involve service to the community.
  • Set clear expectations for positive parent participation -- no Crazy Sports Parents screaming at refs and players -- and enforce that parent code of conduct.
  • Let them eat cake!
Erica's Edibles,
Eat cake? The authors emphasize that it's not healthy to focus excessively on "healthy eating." When a girl celebrates her birthday, let the team eat cake! As Alison Foley says, it's not so much about the cake, as about "the fuel of happiness." Being celebrated with sweet treats tells team members that they're appreciated. "Celebrating individual milestones (a great test grade, first communion, bat mitzvahs, first goal) are all great reasons to bring in a little sugar. It does volumes for your team spirit!" Foley explains.

How to Coach Girls is a welcome practical guide for adults who wish to help girls succeed in sports -- and in their lives. Some of the recommendations would no doubt go a long way to improving the experiences of many boys in athletics, as well. Thanks go to Wenjen and Foley, two moms who saw the need and wrote the book!

More resources and book information are available at this website.

This review is based on an advance reader copy which I received in exchange for an honest review.  ~CM


  1. Great review and list of tips. I loved coaching the recreational soccer teams (co-ed) and rather than drills, I invented "games" that helped develop skills. And, as I recall, we all (coach included) dyed our hair blue on game days.

    1. I bet you were a big hit with the wild blue hair, Coach Sue.

  2. What an inspiring book. TY, Christy for putting this on my radar!

  3. I'm sure this book will find it's way into many hands! Thanks for an interesting post, Christy, and calling attention to something that an aspect of sports that is often overlooked.

  4. The door is wide open for girls today. Such interesting information about how boys and girls react differently to the words of coaches. Should be an informative read.

  5. Thank you, Christy for sharing this review. Outstanding coaches use good coaching principles and strive to meet the individual needs of a mixed gender team. Thank you for introducing me to HOW TO COACH GIRLS by Mia and Alison.


  6. A book that needed to be written! Thank you for featuring. My nieces have all benefited from coaching that was more in line with feeling valued as part of a team. Me? I never tried out for any team because I didn't have the self confidence to do so. So glad my nieces were willing to take risks and that their parents encouraged them as well.

    1. Exactly, Jilanne! I'm also pleased to see people talking and thinking about how to help girls feel welcomed and empowered in athletics.