I swore I would never coach a middle-school-aged girls team. I’m still not sure I have it in me, but I have committed to this parenting thing, and, in our house, that seems to include coaching soccer where I’m needed. This spring I will be firmly positioned on the coach’s bench for our daughter’s U12 girls team. (a slight deviation from the high school boys varsity sideline I occupied last fall)
For different reasons, both coaching gigs present challenges and an opportunity for intense personal transformation. Because I’ve adopted the Choosing to Grow mentality, I’m going to seek out ways to grow as well as I can in these roles.
Step One: Accept Tween Girls for Who They Are
I can’t say I ever really understood the stereotypical middle-school-girl mentality…even when I was one. I was the aloof tomboy who preferred the predictability of my sporting guy friends and was found more often shooting baskets at lunchtime than gossiping at a table. I wasn’t really all that great of a teammate on the girls’ teams for which I competed, either, because I didn’t understand anything other than intense, claw-your-way-to-the-top competition. (certainly behaviors I have spent years unpacking)
Aside from needing to send my high school and college teammates a series of apology letters, I like to think I have arrived at a vastly different place in my mindset as a competitor and, ultimately, as a coach. At least I thought I had arrived at an enlightened place…and then our practices started.
The first few practices were fine and I was bringing my challenging conditioning games and an energy of intensity that seemed to be well-received. What I began to notice, however, was that some of the girls are wired for the competition part of being on a team while others are more interested in the cooperation part.
That’s part of the complexity of girls’ teams. Very often girls join a team because they want to be part of a positive group and they enjoy the friendships they find there. Other girls are drawn more to the fire of competition.
Tweens are at the cusp of discovering which approach matters most to them. They want to align with a group and as they sort out the nature of competition, they often align with a group and they find themselves pitted against another group. This can prove VERY problematic for girls’ teams. Hence the dreaded issues that come with “cliques”!
Not to mention the fact that hormones are beginning to rear their ugly heads. The pre-pubescent tween body has yet to experience the influx of hormones and is understandably overwhelmed by their arrival. Hormones flood their brains and make the world look incredibly different than they have ever imagined it could look. It makes them moody.
Concrete thinking is still a habit of the younger tween mind, and as they progress (of course at unpredictable and varying rates) they are becoming more capable of abstract and complex thinking. This development is not a small one and if embraced by encouraging a growth mindset, can be incredibly fertile ground.
The tween transition means that every one of the fourteen girls on my team are at vastly different places in brain development, hormonal infusion and self-awareness of her place in the world. UGH! No wonder I feel like a crazy person.
TASK ONE: Creative Team-Building
So, here is what I tried yesterday at practice: Team-Building-Conditioning-Clue-Hunt
I asked the girls at the start of practice why they like being a part of a team. Their answers varied slightly, but the overwhelming response was because they like being part of a group and they like being with their friends. The most interesting thing about their responses, however, was when they expanded to why they enjoy their friends on a team. The more obvious competitors saw their friends as necessary to the team doing well and others saw their friends as necessary to helping them feel better about themselves. This insight will help me to frame how they each approach the team dynamic.
Then we went for a 2-mile run. I had hidden 10 clues along the route that included instructions for tasks to complete and directions about where to go to find the next clue. At the halfway-point, which happened to be our detached garage, they did the Flip the Tarp game.
Built into this activity were strategies to allow each of the girls to have roles as leaders and to practice roles as followers. I mixed up the pairings and encouraged a variety of partnering along the way. The leader for each station had to initiate and facilitate the tasks assigned.
Here are some of the tasks they had to perform:
- Take turns dancing in the middle of the team circle.
- Do the team cheer.
- High-five every player on the team.
- Count together for 15 jumping jacks.
- Link arms and run together the length of a cul-de-sac.
- Shuffle, back-pedal, etc. on the leader’s call.
- Weave lines on the command of the leaders.
- Chant while jogging: Leaders: We are the Mustangs…Followers: We are the Mustangs…Leaders: The mighty, mighty Mustangs etc.
- Lead the team in a celebration routine.
There is no telling exactly how effective this approach will be. I may never know whether they’ll fully achieve the goal of team cohesiveness, or whether they’ll be any better at playing soccer together, but there were plenty of smiles, invested and continual effort from all of the girls, and I venture to guess at least a small shift in their perspectives of one another.
Meagan Frank has survived tweenhood for her two oldest children (boy and girl) who are now developmentally appropriate teenagers and she is in the throes of walking through the tweenhood fire again with her youngest daughter.
Copyright Choosing to Grow 2017 www.meaganfrank.com @choosingtogrow