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On Changing Brand Narratives & A Coach's Lessons from the Ground...

Updated: Feb 22, 2021

For today, we will dive deep into the crusade to keep girls in sports, and a few things I've learned along the way coaching and building grassroots sports programs.

So many research reports have made a compelling case for the health, business, economic benefits of of investing in women and girls in sports.

On one hand is the altruistic case -- invest in sports because girls gain interpersonal skills such as confidence, leadership, collaboration that could maximize their life outcomes and contribution to society. On the other hand is the business case -- to better understand women sports fan base in historically male-dominated spaces that sports most times is.

I am not complaining at all. My generation grew up having to overcome the anxiety of going to the park to hoop with the boys or purchasing sports gear that are designed for a male build. Getting the world to pay attention to diverse female sports consumer base is dope, I also understand that increasing access for girls is so much more complex than offering free girls only sports programming and cute marketing campaigns. After nearly a decade coaching and building girls hoops programs at the grassroots level, both here in NYC and internationally, here are my lessons from the ground:

Snap from our Brooklyn Bike Ride

Create an experience - Fun, friendships, accountability has to be woven into the program experience. You must make peace with the terms that there are competing interests and your program is one of many. Everything from Netflix binge to loving the game one day and hating it the next to heading to the nail salon to get a filling -- these are activities your program is competing against. And so depending on the age group and focus of your grassroots program, think of creative ways to add other activities into the sports experience. This could be in the form of a team bike ride (like our team did few weeks ago) to a hair styling/nail design workshop. Weaving those competing interests into programming experience keeps sports fresh and engaging.

Community over Cliques - Feeling of belonging is absolutely important to build a successful girls sports program. Our roles as coaches is to build a culture so inclusive that cliques cannot exist within it. Reality is that most girls are initially drawn to sports for different reasons but it is the sense of belonging that will keep them coming back.

Understand Why Each Girl Shows Up - Every girl in your sports program has her reason(s) for being there and this varies from person to person. As a coach / community builder, you have to be intentional about understanding those needs and aligning the program experience to meet the need of every single girl in your team/program. Some coaches, especially at the grassroots level make the mistake of assuming that every girl that walks into their gym have aspirations to play at the highest level. This is almost not always the case. Some girls join sports programs out of curiosity, or because their friends are involved or because they like the coach. You learn each person's desires and goals on the team by... you guessed it, investing in relationships. Create spaces for "girl talk" this could be informal time (rides to practice, shoot around before programming start) or as part of programming. Meeting each girl where she's at will allow you to coach her in a way that aligns with her needs.

The Williams Sisters were my sports heroes growing up!

Sports heroes - Kids are normally drawn to sports from watching their sports heroes. Outside of the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team, mainstream media has fallen short in telling the unique female athlete's stories and amplifying it in a way that it reaches more girls. This is where brands come in. We NEED storytelling that elevates female sports heroes to real super star status. Almost every young person who grew up watching Kobe Bryant still yells Kobe! when we shoot our fadeaway crumpled paper in the garbage bin. This is not random. This is because we witnessed ALL of Kobe Bryant's clutch moments on primetime TV. The Black Mamba brand was built out of these clutch moments. Unfortunately, we cannot say the same for Diana Taurasi or Tina Thompson who are/were arguably Kobe's counterparts in the WNBA. My hope is that boys and girls can have female sports heroes that they feel they can channel in their little heroic moments when no one is watching.

Safety: This includes physical and psychological safety. Girls are preconditioned by society to be perfect and graceful. Learning or playing a new sport requires messing up, and messing up in front of others which can be embarrassing for some girls. Make sure that girls feel safe to fail and to look silly. You create this safety by continuously reinforcing that they are here to learn and not to be perfect.

Coach with purpose - Leverage the experience to set girls up to win both on and off the court. Part of how you measure the quality of your program should include alumni participation - how many young people return to give back or are engaged well after they've graduated.

Do not confuse maturity with ability - Tall girls are not wasted talent if they choose not to play sports. Just because a girl is tall or has the physical attributes to play a certain sport does not make her your self-proclaimed protege. Instead, find ways to grow her love for the game and if she comes around, great and if she doesn't, that's OK too!

Toxic coaches - How to Avoid Being One - This one is huge. Do not overpromise girls future prospects of glory and scholarships. Do not fall into the vindictive coach trap, punishing kids for respectfully speaking their mind and challenging your opinion. Your sports team/program has a problem if your players cannot ask questions. Do not break kids down, embarrass them, or scream at them. You are only blowing out that fire of love for the game and once that's gone, the fun goes too and the kid will quit. Do not be the coach that is the reason why a girl quit sports. Instead invest in relationships and find ways to nurture their love for the game.

These are my lessons from close to ten years coaching. Some of these lessons came from making some of these mistakes or watching other coaches make these mistakes. I hope that it helps someone else who is new in their coaching journey or have been coaching for years or brands who aspire to engage a female sports audience. With a third of the world's wealth under women's control, smart brands are paying attention and identifying compelling ways to tell their story to a very complex and diverse women sports audience. How are you aligning your brand story with elevating every day women sports heroes?

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