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Ask the Expert: How Coaches Build Cohesive Teams with Sport Psychologist Roberta Kraus

By TrueSport, 01/09/18, 11:15AM CST


One of the confusing and challenging conversations in education and youth sports centers on whether teaching and coaching should be gender-blind, or whether there are scientifically valid reasons girls and boys should be coached differently.

Sports psychologist and TrueSport Expert, Roberta Kraus, Ph.D., says that when it comes to building cohesive youth sports teams, girls and boys take different paths to success.

Differences in Learning

Both girls and boys should be afforded equal opportunities to participate and succeed in sports. That doesn’t mean, however, they should be coached the same way. According to Dr. Kraus, when left to their own devices, boys are more naturally inclined to competition. Competition is the starting point, and to get the upper hand in competition, boys are motivated to improve their skills. As skills are acquired and competition continues, relationships get established and, eventually, these relationships become extremely important and powerful.

Instead of the competition-skills-relationships pathway that predominates with boys, girls more naturally prioritize relationships first. Who is on the team is more important than how competitive the team is. To continue supporting each other, they are then motivated to improve their sport-specific skills. The competitive drive develops last.

What does this mean for parents and coaches? Create opportunities for these predominant pathways to flourish. Successful coaches of male teams incorporate some level of competition into practices to reinforce boys’ tendencies to improve skills based on the desire to gain the upper hand. Successful coaches of female teams incorporate social activities into practices to reinforce girls’ tendencies to improve skills based on the desire to support each other emotionally.

Boys and girls should be provided with equal opportunities and resources, but to create winning teams, coaches and parents need to leverage their different, hardwired tendencies.

What does this look like in practice? Two simple examples would be:

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TrueSport® is a grassroots movement born and powered by the experience and values of USADA–the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. The TrueSport® mission is simple and bold: to change the culture of youth sport by providing powerful educational tools to equip young athletes with the resources to build the life skills and core values for lasting success on and off the field.

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