Sunday, March 17, 2019

Coaching Women

I was wrong.  I have changed my mind.

I read about a college-championship women's soccer coach about two decades ago. University of North Carolina, maybe.  Sports Illustrated article.  He spoke about how it was different coaching women than men, at least at the college level.  With women, he said, it was important to sit and talk with them - on the sidelines, during stretching exercises, in his office - because they would be very concerned about team relationships, and would stop passing the ball to another young woman they were angry at or would stop saying encouraging things to them. He stated it was subtle at first, rather than dramatically angry, but could quickly deteriorate and make the team unable to function at a high level.  He noted that women were expert at reducing their amount of cooperation while remaining above the level at which they could be called out and criticised for it. His secret was managing all that from minute one during tryouts and training.

I recall inwardly rolling my eyes at the unreasonableness of that in sports, and thinking that while he had framed it as a mere difference, and not a bad one (he said it better than I just did in the above paragraph), it was actually a terrible indictment of women in sports. Women just need to get over it.  Stop that.  The point is to win, and men get beyond this easily. 

Nope. This also true of men, though it is expressed differently.  At least, it's true of NBA players in 2019, and I think will be increasingly true going forward. It has always been true that different skills are required of different coaches depending on where the team is in its development.  Some coaches can determine who can play and who can't; some coaches can teach or inspire the improvement of skills; some coaches can manage the personalities so that good players do not screw each other up, which is the final necessary step toward winning championships.  I think this is true for both sexes, though not always at the same rate or at the same time.


Jonathan said...

All good points. I would add a corollary, that a coach or manager who insists on one-size-fits-all methods should be treated warily, as insufficiently skilled to help some individuals who would thrive under a better leader, or as someone who prioritizes institutional outcomes over the welfare of the individuals in his charge.

Texan99 said...

"some coaches can manage the personalities so that good players do not screw each other up"--and different people have different strategies for screwing each other up. They also have different levels of awareness of whether they're doing it, and different levels of willingness to talk about it. It's good to be able to play in different keys.

As a very broad overgeneralization, it's fair to say most women aren't as inclined as men to react viscerally to hierarchical challenges, but they do react strongly to threats of ostracism and threats to cohesion. (This may be a little less true of highly competitive women such as sports stars, but it's still valid.) It would be a really good thing if both men and women got better at detecting the hot buttons that afflict each other, instead of arguing over which hot buttons are inherently superior. Women who can't understand the importance of hierarchical forces exasperate me, but so do men who are blind to the benefits of low-stress cooperation. We need the clarity, obedience, and rapid predictability that come from hard-fought hierarchies. We also need the ability to set aside personal pre-eminence and focus on the group's success at appropriate times. Whichever side we're best at gives us a clue which side we might want to strengthen a bit, or at least whom we might want to team up with to balance the skill set out.