This is an interesting article from Feb 2017 in the New York Times about Women and Competition. It talks about a research project they did between women and men, and their summary was that women preferred competition against themselves, while men preferred competition with one another. The author doesn’t get into whether they think this is culturally developed or just part of the female DNA, but at the end of the day, athletic competition IS competition against others. If this is true, then it is no wonder women struggle with racing sports where they train and compete against teammates.
I do believe that women need to be taught to be competitive and can be taught that competition against others IS good, but it needs to be done in a very intentional way.
Men seem to be more innately competitive with one another and they often become inspired by other’s successes (it is further evidence that they too will be fast), where women tend to feel more threatened by the successes of others—especially teammates. I think this theme is a throwback to the glass ceiling and the token female in the professional world, but unfortunately this thought process still needs to work its way out of our culture. (Of course there are always outliers and this isn’t true about ALL women, but that is another conversation for another day. For now, I’d like to focus on teaching those who prefer internal competition to be more outwardly competitive).
So, how can we teach a culture of competition in female athletes without damaging their relationships and self-confidence? Here is my list thus far:
1. Teach them how to find self-confidence through valuing their personal gifts (the controllables).
2. Teach them self love and compassion for their flaws.
3. Create a culture of self improvement-- IE sets with specific personal goals.
4. Facilitate more single gendered practices and competitions (and camouflage it as fun, because most women do not want to sacrifice fun for success).
5. Facilitate a sisterhood and a culture of support through competition (you being better makes me better).
It is too easy for female athletes of a coed program to get lost or feel inadequate when all the male athletes are leading the lanes and winning the competitions. If what this article is saying is true (and females do prefer internal competition over external), then it only increases the importance of single gendered practices. Coaches, take the time to develop your women based on their needs and give them an opportunity to create a sisterhood and identify separate from the men’s program.
What are your thoughts? Comment below: