How male coaches can foster body positivity with their female athletes.... and yes it matters
I was recently skimming a facebook group on coaching and training women when I came across a post by a male, collegiate strength and conditioning coach. He was asking for advice and language on how to talk to his female athletes in a more body positive way, specifically around body fat testing since they often came to him for that and how to improve it.
The fact he'd ask is super cool in itself and here's why. It's more common for women coaches to talk with other women and young girls about body size, body positivity and what healthy really looks and feels like than it is for male coaches.
Not all male coaches are comfortable or knowledgeable in the areas of what contributes to female weight, size, and performance ( like menstrual cycles, hormones, nutrition habits, rest/recovery, training schedule, stress.) but they should be because they are complex, they matter and can absolutely contribute in a powerful and positive way to what they think and do.
Here's some things to start with if you are a male coach working with female athletes of any kind.
1. On weight loss and body fat convos or questions, ASK WHY? Why is body fat testing important/ necessary or relevant and how will the information be used to improve performance? If they ask about weight loss, ask why. What benefits are they correlating with weight loss or fat loss and are they accurate? Many times you find they heard " healthy" and associated that with smaller, skinnier, thinner, less fat and that's not always an accurate correlation. In other words, dig deeper, into what they’ve heard, are curious about, believe and think they should do in this area.
Coaches have the power to CLARIFY and GUIDE and teach kids to QUESTION and FILTER the accurate from the harmful in this area. Sometimes old habits die hard but they don't have to. If it's not a practice that is relevant, useful and enhancing the physical and mental performance of the athletes, get rid of it. As a coach, periodically assessing why you're doing something or pushing something, ( like fat loss, weight loss, or body fat testing as examples) is in my opinion just good coaching. We have to evolve in our education and practices also to best support the needs of our athletes.
2. Help them understand and implement the actions/ habits in the areas that DO actually affect their performance consistently and with confidence. If you don't know what they are, or the tools and strategies for doing so, REACH OUT FOR HELP or GUIDANCE.
For female athletes these are things like rest/recovery, ability to deal with stress, a resilient mindset, eating habits, hormones/menstrual cycle, and their physical training schedule. For each of the athletes or teams I work with I share a heirarchy of skills in each of the areas I mentioned above, and then strategies and tools for practicing them that they can customize.
For most of them, it's about knowing and doing the basics first, learning how to make decisions in a variety of situations and navigating challenges, and most haven't been taught these things! Even just sharing that each of these areas make a difference can be a light bulb for a kid.
3. Use language that is nuetral, body positive and in line with the values of the program you are trying to instill. Things you can say as a COACH : " I know it can be tempting to associate looks with health/performance and value and worth as an athlete and a female and that's not something we or ( I ) as a coaching staff want to emphasize or send mixed messages about by focusing too much on body fat testing or appearance in general. " Instead we are going to ..... ( add in a performance or behavior based measurement or option, incorporate weekly sessions to provide info, tools and strategies in the areas above, share articles from trusted body positive resources like Girls Gone Strong or Beauty Redefined, or share images of women in all shapes and sizes that are successful high level athletes to reinforce there isn't just one size body or one way to be a female athlete.)
Say “ I’m glad you brought this up because I think it’s something we as a team and coaching staff need to be clear on and talk about openly. Here’s our philosophy and thoughts on it. “
It is helpful if the coaching staff is on board with this as well and able to use similar body positive messaging when they talk about " health" , eating habits and their expectations for the team. When they say the want healthy athletes, or strong athletes, what exactly does that mean? What does it look and feel like? My point being the culture, conversation, language and clarity of the message the coaches are sending around this absolutely matters.
Successful athletes and people come in lots of different shapes and sizes and coaches that create a culture of body positivity and empowerment with their athletes are giving them the springboard to unimaginable success , confidence and happiness.
You have the opportunity to do this starting today! Will you take it?
If you have questions or need more information on how to create and cultivate FIERCE FEMALE ATHLETES send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and let's talk.
I guarantee I can help your female athlete or athletes learn what matters most, focus on it consistently and improve their happiness and performance as a result.