Can girls handle tough coaching? Yes, says a book that follows an u14 US team

The Beautiful Game: 16 Girls and the Soccer Season that Changed Everything by Jonathan Littman“Confrontation? The modern coaching handbooks confirmed that it didn’t work. Girls just closed down and tuned out, their self-esteem too brittle to handle the challenge. . . . And sure enough the first practices after the confrontation seemed to prove that Emiria had indeed miscalculated. The tough woman coach had crossed the line that men believed couldn’t be broken. Catherine continued to emotionally withdraw from the team.” (The Beautiful Game, p 173)

Is coaching girls different? Are they less competitive and more emotional? Is their draw to the game more for social reasons than the individual achievement boys are after?

Jonathan Littman’s book The Beautiful Game: Sixteen Girls and the Soccer Season that Changed Everything (1999, Avon Books) examines what happened to one American U14 girl’s team after it made the shift from recreational to competitive, from the committed, well-meaning dads to a focused professional female coach, Emiria Salzmann. The book follows the Santa Rosa Thunder team from try-outs and appointing the new coach through to the Northern California State Championship game.

Salzmann, a record-breaking All-American player in college, had a clear vision about what was needed to win and it wasn’t hand-holding. At first the girls and the parents hated the rigorous drills and increased commitment demanded by the young coach. Many of the girls thought about quitting and some parents tried to have Salzmann replaced. However, when the results started coming and the girls started to see what they might achieve both as a team and individually they were willing to overcome personal challenges on and off the pitch to be part of the new team.

This book provides an interesting case study into how girls respond to high levels of discipline and competition. I know as a young player I longed for a coach that took the game as seriously as I did and would have loved to play for a coach like Salzmann. However thinking about my former team mates I was reminded that not all players would have responded well to this style as some in the book did not.  As I read, it was clear to me based on my experience of younger girls that this approach was not appropriate for them.

I’d like to know what you think. 

Have you read the book?  If so, what were your thoughts?

Is this rigorous, disciplined style of coaching appropriate for girls? Yes or no, please send your experiences.

Is the question about coaching girls more about delivery than about discipline and rigour?

If so, is there a best age for starting to ask for more commitment from girls?

How do we make sure that while we accommodate the girls who want to play competitively that we also take care of the girls who want a recreational approach?

I look forward to hearing your views.

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About Jennifer Flueckiger

writer/blogger, accidental parisienne, girl's football/soccer coach, lover of travel and good food
This entry was posted in Reviews and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Can girls handle tough coaching? Yes, says a book that follows an u14 US team

  1. momofali says:

    I haven’t read the book, but my daughter had a coach like that and she ended up quitting soccer when she was 11. However, almost every other girl hung in there and now that they are 13, they are extremely competitive. If you are in it to win it, I think you need a tough coach.

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