Editor’s note: Nancy Justis is a former competitive swimmer and collegiate sports information director. She is a partner with Justis Creative Communications.
I’m not offended by research that shows the self-esteem of girls wanes appreciatively from grade school to high school at three times the rate of boys.
You shouldn’t be surprised if you have raised daughters or coached girls’ sports. In unscientific terms, I have found girls are more emotional, can wear their emotions on their sleeves, hold grudges longer and can be quite jealous and clique-ish at times.
Not a very flattering description of the female gender, but that’s just the way it is.
However, low self-esteem “puts girls at higher risk for a number of problems, including dropping out of school, substance abuse, eating disorders, and depression,” said Joe Scally, a Positive Coaching Alliance trainer and longtime soccer coach.
He was responding to a question on the “Ask PCA” blog.
“At a recent PCA workshop, I learned that the most important component of development for young girls is self-image,” a father wrote. “As a father of a 10-year-old girl, and second-year coach of a girls’ team (ages 10-12), can you provide additional tips on improving self-image?”
So how can participating in sports help girls improve their self-esteem? Scally said research shows “girls who are athletes are more likely to score well on achievement tests, get involved in other extracurricular activities, feel popular, graduate from high school and college, avoid drug use, avoid unwanted pregnancy and become involved in the community.”
This can be done “through developing physical competence, which relates to self-image ... girls who play sports generally have more positive images of their bodies ... sport helps girls to appreciate their bodies for what they can do. Strength and endurance are seen as assets.
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“Girls can model their self-image after women athletes who are strong, vibrant, healthy and who are of all shapes and sizes ... sports also help girls to learn teamwork, leadership skills, trust in themselves and to make friends.”
How can coaches help?
“By teaching the skills and life lessons that keep girls involved in sports,” Scally notes.
He said there should be five positive recognitions to every correction.
— Use lots of truthful and specific praise. Get to know the girls as people, not just players. Plan practices around fun activities that also teach skills. Girls will be motivated to work harder and learn more.
— Foster chances for the girls to socialize outside of practice or games ... developing a sense of friendship is important to their enjoyment of the sport and to their overall self-esteem.
— Expose your players to accomplished women athletes. Take them to high school, college or professional games. Bring in women athletes to talk with them about sports and life.
Positive Performance Training notes “It’s the functionality of the body that athletes should be concerned with, not the shape, size, build, or weight of it ... If being skinny isn’t functional for you and your sport, that’s not what you should be aiming for.”
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