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How much is too much when it comes to youth sport?

How much is too much when it comes to youth sport?

How to coach with a Balance is Better philosophy

How to coach with a Balance is Better philosophy

Balance is Better Principles Poster

Balance is Better Principles Poster

Creating a positive parent culture

Creating a positive parent culture

Unpacking the Balance is Better principles

Unpacking the Balance is Better principles

Running good trials and selections

Running good trials and selections

Amplifying the Voice of Young Women in Sport

Dear Coach,

I really want you to know that each year as a young woman navigating the journey of the teenage years, my motivations change. I want to be healthy, but the loud voice in my head tells me I am not good enough, if I do not play competitively I don’t feel valued… I have many pressures that pull me in multiple directions and all I really want is to make good friendships with some fun that works around the time pressures of school.”

Today, young women’s worlds are ever-changing. For young women wanting to engage in sport, this means their ‘why’ can sometimes be in flux. Their motivations shift and morph as they navigate adolescence and young adulthood.

This can make the role of a parent, coach or sports administrator who supports young women through sport challenging. BUT not impossible.

Sport should aspire to be agile enough to support and meet the needs of all young women.

I believe this starts with amplifying young women’s voices. Why?

If you’re designing, delivering or supporting sport for young women, it would be fair to assume at some stage there’s a feedback loop around whether you’re doing a good job. In this feedback loop, think of young women’s voices as a signal – where you can get nuanced feedback on the following broad brush categories: good, bad, more, less, change, stay the same.

What happens if you can’t see or hear young women’s voice? Well, there are other signals, (such as young women voting with their feet) but they often don’t provide the nuanced information we need as coaches, parents and sports administrators to be able course-correct in an agile manner (i.e. before it’s too late).

To circle off my signal metaphor, sometimes, even when we are trying to listen to young women’s voices, it’s hard to hear any noise. Or their voice doesn’t create enough signal to outweigh, out-priotise, or overcome other competing signals. And this is why amplifying is so important!

So if we want to amplify the voice of young women at the front and centre of their experience, what does this look like for coaches, parents and sports administrators? How do we amplify their voice and turn their voice into actions?

The following thoughts are directed at coaches, and based on my experiences as a coach.

Checking our blindspots

I want to share some thought-provoking questions that may highlight some blindspots we, as adults, have about the motivations of young women in sport. Both my husband and I have coached. Not only our own children but many young people across a variety of sports. We have observed and had the honour of sharing in the lives of young people. On reflection, wouldn’t it have been great if we had the insights we have now at the start of our respective coaching journies?

Some of the thoughts below come from our experiences coaching teams within the junior and secondary sports systems, both competitively and socially. Ultimately, checking these blindspots will help young women’s voices to be amplified.

Myth One: Not all Young Women are Leaders

My question is… how do you know that? Have you asked the right questions? Have you created an environment where they feel safe to have their voice and ideas heard? Are your questions and discussions authentic and lead to actions? Do you as a coach have the courage to change the way you navigate the season to meet the needs of your young women? This can play out in many ways across the sport season:

  • Do you have the same captain and vice-captain for the season?
  • What are the key beliefs you have as a coach that contribute to that decision-making process? We often recycle the same leaders in sport and do not create small opportunities for a range of different leaders to have the courage to step forward.
  • Do you adopt a leadership approach in which the key belief/philosophy is – ‘’inside of every young woman is a leader”
  • Do you allow your team to come up with leadership systems that will give every young woman an opportunity to gain the confidence to regularly lead throughout the season?

Myth Two: Young Women do not know what they want, they change their minds all the time

How do you know? It is a fact that the motivations of young women change from Year 9 to Year 13. But how, as a coach, do you create platforms to understand their motivations and aspirations, what they want to learn, what is important to them, and their family background and values? Does your training team environment reflect the unique, diverse individuals you have in your team? An indivdiua’s identity and culture should not be left at the door upon entering training.

Lastly, every young woman should have an opportunity to be heard.

Pause – reflect – what does this look like in your sport environment? How do you know, every young woman has been heard?

Many coaches will know that within their teams, there is a range of personalities, some outspoken and confident in who they are, some of who it might take a week or two to get more than one word out of them. Finding out what each person wants and integrating that into your coaching season plan is an important element in amplifying the voice of your players and creating an experience that meets their needs. Here are further considerations:

  • Trials and Team Selections – Do you run the trials as you have always run them? Have you asked young women what ideas they have to create teams and consider how they can play with their friends? Trials can be daunting for young women, considering they have already established a sense of their competency prior to secondary school. How can trials be an environment where the experience has some fun and allows them to connect with their friends? If we want to keep young women in sports, do we need trials for all of our teams? Does each team need to have a coach or can the players lead the team?
  • Team Building/Culture and Relationships – How much time do you dedicate to creating an environment where learning is fun, relationships have an opportunity to grow and the team values reflect what is important to each individual? Could this be led by young women? Could every training and game have a fun, team-building game led by different players throughout the season?
  • Understanding your players – Cater for the diverse values, motivations, learning styles and confidence of all your players by offering a range of ways for their voices to be collected. Most importantly, co-create the actions that will see their voice as a valued contribution to the team. This could be
    • an online survey form with 3 key questions (co-create the questions with your team)
    • a postbox at training where at the end of each training each player will have an opportunity to share anything they want to – what they felt good about at training, what they learnt, what they got excited about, what they were unsure about, what they needed more help with.
  • With the permission of your team, address and put some plans in place for your next training. Offer the option of putting their name on the note so you can touch base with them individually (you could communicate through a safe online platform ie Slack app) if that allows for some good dialogue.

To conclude

Over the season, a young women’s motivations will change. In embracing that change, a coach can set their team up with an experience that is constantly adapted to meet their needs.

Whether a player is competitive or social – all these systems can apply. At the core of any young woman is a want to be heard, valued and have an experience that meets their needs.  The question is, how brave as a coach are you to facilitate an environment to amplify the voice of young women?

Define what success looks like for you as a coach. Is it winning that national/regional title or having players that want to return next year knowing you will listen, take action and grow and learn with them as they navigate the complex teenage years? That alone is a gold medal.  

So is it time to shift the decision-making power from the adults to a co-approach with our young women? As they say – “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.”


This article was originally published on sportnz.org.nz for the #itsmymove campaign.

#itsmymove explores factors like judgement, lack of confidence and fear of failure that are barriers to increasing participation by young women. Become part of the #itsmymove movement and help young women to be active and healthy their way.

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