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My first coaching session today is ladies’ morning, a mixture of different characters, abilities and ages. All the ladies are a pleasure to coach, eager to learn but nothing is taken too seriously.
A few weeks ago I had a new lady join our coaching session. She has children, she played squash when she was younger and wanted to start playing our beautiful game again. The first thing I noticed. Self-consciousness followed closely by insecurity and a lack of self-belief. Before we had even started she was apologising to the other players for her lack of ability and the fact she thought she would hold them back. Bare in mind no one has hit a ball yet, how did she know the others would be any better than her?
Throughout the whole session I kept egging her on, giving her constructive criticism, praising, doing the best I could to build her self-esteem. At the end of the lesson she said how much she enjoyed herself but again apologised to the others for ‘being rubbish’. The other ladies told her she did well and not to worry because they felt exactly the same when they first started.
This conversation got me thinking. All of these ladies had felt insecure and lacked confidence when starting squash. My mind flashed to the girls’ squads I coach, the girls I coach in primary schools, the girls I work with individually. The number of times I have told them they CAN do things when they’ve already resigned themselves to failure. During lessons I notice the constant adjustment of their clothing, the embarrassment when a few people sit behind the court to watch. The fact they don’t want to sweat or be aggressive because it’s embarrassing.
Girls, self-esteem, sport, confidence, physical activity; all words that seem to end up in the same sentences. I feel a sense of duty in my vocation (squash coaching is a vocation not a job) to address these issues and help females use squash to give themselves a sense of self-belief and confidence in their body.
Not for one minute am I saying that I haven’t had these feelings. As my family often jokes, my legs are indeed the largest in the family! I won’t reel off the list of things I have been insecure about but the list is long. Much later in my career I felt more comfortable in my own skin and learnt to ignore the opinions of others. Squash is a wonderful sport but with all sport often comes negative feedback and haphazard comments from unknowledgeable strangers. It’s not easy to ignore this side of the game and it does require thick skin at times.
A few weekends ago our academy ran a women only squash session that was funded by Active Essex. The turn-out was impressive, 30 women of different ages and abilities. The vast majority of participants were mums who spend their whole time watching and supporting their children.
They really enjoyed the female only environment and said they would come all the time if they knew no men or children would be watching. They had a good workout; there were plenty of giggles, lots of nattering and some happy women leaving a sporting environment.
We need squash and racketball to appeal to women and girls and I think it’s more than achievable. I’m not saying for one bit that it will be easy but I think the raw components are there. There needs to be a change of approach so that perceptions of squash and racketball change. They need to be seen as fun, a good workout and very sociable.
All these principles can be transferred to girls and sport/physical activity. I think it’s so important that girls feel comfortable with the coach. They have to feel like they are not being judged and they may need slightly more encouragement than the boys. All children need positive reinforcement but the approach between boys and girls might be slightly different.
If you coach or teach females on a regular basis just think about the way you run the session, the language you use, perhaps the area you use and whether people are watching. If you currently run mixed groups then could you consider female only sessions? Can you help squash the insecurities?
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