Old Soccer Guy has all sorts of posts up that I want to comment/expand on so bear with me if my linkage seems a bit one directional the next few days – definitely pay his pad a visit for some excellent reading. A while back he wrote about developing leaders on a team and how best to go about it. He links to a few posts at the coaching forum And Again (what a great name) including one coach’s angle when working with girls:

For girls, I’m looking first and foremost for the dominant personality. Girls have a pecking order, although it’s a little different than how guys do it. Then I start having conversations with her about what it means to lead. Probably the biggest thing with girls is that they’re constantly picking on the negative and never reinforcing the positive. If you can convince this individual (sometimes there are more than one) to be more positive than negative, the girls will begin to respond to her. Then you have to make sure she’s on your side about things like paying attention in practice and working hard on drills and doing your homework, etc, but that usually follows with this particular kind of personality. Then, when you have a good example, when someone else asks to be captain, you ask them whether they’re willing to do what it takes to be captain: Work the hardest, pay attention, keep others in line, take responsibility, encourage others, etc.

So OSG asks:

What are your thoughts on leadership? Do you need captains? What authority do you give them? Are they effective?

I think a lot of it depends on the age of the players.

I can see what the coach above is talking about when I watch older girls play in terms of a pecking order. Yet with our U11s, being a new team, one hasn’t emerged yet. Oh we have quite the diverse group – we have our intense players, our clowns, drama queens, silent types, etc. And you’d be wrong thinking that some were better players than the others based on the personality type. It varies widely. Yet everyone is still getting comfortable with each other. The problem is they lack focus and a peer encouraging them to buckle down will probably go further than the coaches constantly telling them to. So we’re working to identify the girls that will be willing to step up and take control, similar to what was described above.

The good news is that we’ve yet to see too much of the negativity, but it’s definitely there just below the surface. So we’re working to address that straight away – making it clear that everyone is on the same team and needs to encourage each other. That said, the negativity is more subtle, like when you pair off the players for a drill and player A doesn’t want to be paired with player B. Things like that.

So for us at this age, it’s definitely a learning experience. Lack of focus is the major problem right now. They all want to play and are excited to be on the team, but they’re still treating practices as some sort of social outlet. How do you grab their attention? A common mantra from girls coaches is not to yell – girls react badly to it. So we’ve been fairly low key – but last night I finally had to point out the U12 Challenge Boys team that was sitting in a quiet circle listening to their coach while our girls were milling about while I tried to talk with them. One of the players pipes up ‘Well he yells at them a lot’. I laughed and said ‘So I just need to yell more’ and she nodded. Then I said ‘Wait – you told me last year I yelled too much’ (she was on my Rec team), and she replies ‘Well yeah but just during games’. BUSTED! But I did find it funny that she would point out the yelling. My assistant and I are still trying to figure out the right balance for sure. Probably the best practice we had was a passing drill where there were boundaries and every time ball control was lost and the ball went out, EVERYone had to do five pushups. They hated it, but they sure did focus on the ball more. Clearly there needs to be some kind of negative reinforcement (no NOT laps) – we just haven’t figured it out yet. I’m trying to figure out an exercise they can do on command that will a) require significant exertion, b) can be done quickly, c) will help them with a skill (ball control, dribbling, whatever), and d) they don’t like :). The closest I’ve come to is repeated short sprints or pushups. But we’re convinced that the girls will react more to their peers in terms of buckling down – so we clearly need to develop some leaders in short order to take the reins.

But I digress. OSG was wondering about captains…

Based on the advice of a fellow U11 girls challenge coach, we rotate the captain band every week. Two girls are selected to run warm-ups before practice/matches, do the usual captains stuff at matches, and generally lead the team. Obviously some are closer to knowing how to do this than others, but we want them all to have the chance. It’s been working OK, but it quickly became ‘Oh oh oh I want captain next!’. Then we played our first match and got hammered. But two girls played their hearts out and didn’t give up all the way through the last whistle. So we decided to make them the captains for the next week and so on. I’m still not sure if awarding the captains band based on the previous weekend of matches is the right thing to do, but it’s an incentive. I can’t say we’ll stick with this, but for now, that’s the deal. And yes we have the actual armbands – they love that. I just need to find some that won’t fall apart the first time they’re put on.

The trick is, just giving them the arm band won’t accomplish anything. I agree with the coach quoted above on how to try and get players to recognize their leadership potential. That’s an important part and our selected captains get regular chats with us about how to really BE a captain. Hopefully over time it will pay off. Beyond that, we’re also quietly working on the stronger personalities to try and get them to step up, even when they aren’t wearing the captains band. The idea being that we’ll have the captains bands to help ALL the girsl develop, while we quietly work to get the stronger personalities to step up and keep the team in line, helping the official captains if needed. Delicate balance for sure and it could crash and burn. Only time will tell.

So there you have it. OSG may have a slightly different situation with 12-13 year olds (and 18 year olds – he coaches two teams). I know with my 10-11 year old girls it’s been quite a learning adventure for all so far and before you all ask, yes – I have a daughter and NOTHING could have prepared me for this. I mean that in a good way – I’m having a blast coaching them – but it’s definitely a challenge.