In my opinion, one of the great joys of playing sports is that I can let out my inner bitch without apologizing. (and please don’t email me about using the word bitch… it’s the word that resonates with me.)
But it is an interesting thing isn’t it... when you really think about it?
We are allowed to be rough and aggressive and competitive in a way that isn’t necessarily socially acceptable in everyday life (and dare I say for women in particular). Sports is this pure area that allows us to be free from being ‘nice’, even as we teach sportsmanship and leadership and all those other great attributes.
I get that. YOU get that. But do your ATHLETES get that?
Often times women still pay a price for being aggressive on the playing field, or they perceive that there will be a cost.
So many don’t take advantage of this safe space to let it all go. Whether it’s because they are nice ‘Christian girls’ (as one coach told me), shy and more timid than others, or just the type of girls society ENCOURAGES them to be off the playing field. Many of them fail to tap into their inner aggression.
In some ways, I want to shout at them… ‘This is your only chance! Let it all go!’. On the other hand, I get it. There is still a stigma, said or unsaid, often held up by the people around you. Often, it’s because the leaders of the group, their peers, have decided that it’s not okay to be aggressive. As a group, everyone communicates in subtle ways what is and isn’t acceptable. Sometimes, it’s because a particular athlete already sticks out and doesn’t want to stick out more. Sometimes it’s because they are better than everyone else, so they don’t push themselves to get to another level. As a coach, you might not have any idea about the unwritten rules about aggression that are permeating your locker room.
If this is the case on your team, it can be frustrating. As adults, we recognize how important it is for young people to learn to ‘go for it’ and sports is a great training ground for that. And being competitive, learning to not care so much about what others think, and working to win, are all useful skills in life.
But it can be hard to know how to convince your athletes besides just yelling on the sidelines, "Go for it!". You’ve already tried that.
So, after working with hundreds of teams over the years, many of them female teams, here is what I’ve seen that actually works.
So much of this behavior happens at the subconscious level. Athletes don’t even know they are holding themselves back. And they may not realize they are holding others back either. Simply recognizing this can be powerful.
Talk to them about why and how they might be holding themselves back, then work toward a culture shift in your team by having athletes make the decision, individually and as a group, to go for it.
Get everyone on board with whether or not they want to shift their culture.For an individual athlete, you might need to sit them down for a 101 and have them decide. They get to decide between being nice and getting along, or being competitive and (likely) experiencing some conflict.
It sounds extreme but some athletes really need to hear it spelled out.
How will you encourage and reinforce a culture of aggression and competitiveness (if that is what they truly want)? More importantly, talk about what discouraging it looks like (eye rolls, slight comments about someone being too aggressive etc.)
Talk about the Alter Ego Technique™. This is an exercise we teach in our popular course, The Psychology of Competition™ and our free masterclass GameFace: Inside The Minds’ of Great Competitors™. Essentially, it teaches athletes to adopt an alter ego that is more aggressive when they're competing than they are when they're off the playing field.
In this exercise, athletes even name this alter ego and it becomes the person that steps on the field. This is a powerful exercise that teaches them they can use a different side of themselves and then return to the nice, respectful, well-mannered person they are when they aren’t playing their sport.
So there you have it. I hope that if you are struggling with this on your team that you get support in our private facebook group. We have a thriving group of coaches and trained mindset coaches that LOVE to nerd out on this stuff- swap ideas, share success stories, and tweak strategies. We even have a thread right now where coaches are sharing their challenges and strategies for coaching female athletes.
Also, if you missed it, check out part 1 of this 2 part blog series, Why Would I Want to Stick Out More by Being the Best? (Advice for Coaching Women Part 1).