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Amplifying the Voice of Young Women in Sport

By Charissa Barham

Amplifying the Voice of Young Women in Sport

By Charissa Barham

Girls in yellow uniforms celebrating winning a game

“Dear Coach/Parents/Sports Administrators,

I really want you to know that each year as a young women navigating the journey of the teenage years, my motivations change. I want to be healthy, the loud voice in my head tells me I am not good enough, if I do not play competitively Im not valued, I have many pressures that pull me in multiple directions and all I really want is to make good friendships with some fun that works around the time pressures of school.”

Today’s world for young women wanting engage in sport – both social and competitively - reflects a state of constant change. Sport has the opportunity to be agile and adapt to meet the needs of young women, but what does this look like in practice? And if we want to amplify and put the voice of young women at the front and centre of their experience, what does this look like for coaches, parents and sports administrators? How do we amplify their voice and turn their voice into actions?

I want to share some thought-provoking questions that may highlight some blindspots we, as adults, have about the motivations of young women in sport. Both my husband and I have coached not only our own children, but many young people within their chosen sports. We have observed and had the honour of sharing in the lives of young people. If only we knew then some of the insights we have now, and could start our coaching journey’s again, both of our approaches would be very different.  Some of the thoughts below come from our experiences coaching teams within the junior and secondary sports systems, both competitively and socially.

Myth One: Not all Young Women are Leaders

My question is… how do you know that? Have you asked the right questions? Have you created an environment where they feel safe to have their voice and ideas heard? Are your questions and discussions authentic and lead to actions? Do you as a coach have the courage to change the way you navigate the season to meet the needs of your young women? This can play out in many ways across the sport season:

  • Do you have the same captain and vice-captain for the season?
  • What are the key beliefs you have as a coach that contribute to that decision making process? We often re cycle the same leaders in sport and do not create small opportunities for a range of different leaders to have the courage to step forward.
  • Do you adopt a leadership approach in which the key belief/philosophy is – ‘’inside of every young women is a leader”
  • Do you allow your team to come up with leadership systems that will give every young women an opportunity to gain the confidence to regularly lead through-out the season?

Myth Two: Young Women do not know what they want, they change their minds all the time

How do you know? It is a fact that the motivations of young women change from Year 9 to Year 13. But how, as a coach, do you create platforms to understand their motivations, what their aspirations are, what they want to learn, what is important to them, their family background and values? Does your training team environment reflect the unique, diverse individuals you have in your team?

Every young women should have an opportunity to be heard and their identity and culture should not be left at the entry of your training. Many coaches will know that within their teams, there is a range of personalities, some outspoken and confident in who they are, some who it might take a week or two to get more than one word out of them. Finding out what each person wants and integrating that into your coaching season plan is an important element in amplifying the voice of your players and creating an experience that meets their needs. Here are further considerations:

  • Trials and Team Selections – do we run the trials as we have always run them? Have we asked our young women what ideas they have to create teams and consider how they can play with their friends? Trials can be daunting for a young women, considering they have already established a sense of their competency prior to secondary school. How can trials be an environment where the experience has some fun and allows them to connect with their friends? If we want to keep young women in sport, do we need trials for all of our teams? Does each team need to have a coach or can the players lead the team?
  • Team Building/Culture and Relationships – How much time do you dedicate to creating an environment where learning is fun, relationships have an opportunity to grow and the team values reflect what is important to each individual? Could this be led by the young women? Could every training and game have a fun, team building game led by different players throughout the season?
  • Understanding your players – Cater for the diverse values, motivations, learning styles and confidence of all your players by offering a range of ways for their voices to be collected. Most importantly, co-create the actions that will see their voice as a valued contribution to the team. This could be an online survey form with 3 key questions (co-create the questions with your team), a post box at trainings where at the end of each training each player will have an opportunity to share anything they want to – what they felt good about at training, what they learnt, what they got excited about, what they were unsure about, what they needed more help with. With the permission of your team, address and put some plans in place for your next training. Offer the option of putting their name on the note so you can touch base with them individually (you could communicate through a safe online platform ie Slack app) if that allows for some good dialogue.

Over the season, a player’s motivations will change. In embracing that change, a coach can set their team up with an experience that is constantly adapted to meet their needs.

Whether a player is competitive or social – all these systems can apply. At the core of any young women is a want to be heard, valued and have an experience that meets their needs.  The question is, how brave as a coach are you to facilitate an environment to amplify the voice of young women?

Define what success looks like for you as a coach. Is it winning that national/regional title or having players that want to return next year knowing you will listen, take action and grow and learn with them as they navigate the complex teenage years? That alone is gold medal.  

So is it time to shift the decision making power from the adults to a co-approach with our young women? As they say - “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.”


About the author:

Charissa Barham Profile image


Charissa Barham, Regional Sports Consultant at Sport New Zealand, Netball Coach, Mum of a young women.



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