When Girls Get Mean on the Court: How to Get Control

It happens to everyone. Sports can always be fun, but often times they can become intense in competitive settings. Emotions fly at record highs as short bursts of adrenaline flow through the players, so it’s understandable when occasionally emotions fly out of bounds. There are different levels of intensity these outbursts can take on, from an energetic edge in game to things that disrupt the flow of the rest of the team. It’s important to understand what roles these emotions can play in a developing athlete and how to approach them to encourage that growth. Ultimately, athletes come into themselves once they understand how to hone those emotions into positive impacts on their performance. As coaches, it’s your responsibility to help guide your players along their own path to figuring it out.

Setting Boundaries

Before anything else, it’s crucial to establish limits with your athletes on what should be deemed acceptable behavior. From there, outlining the difference between proper expression of emotions and disruptive outbursts is key. To do this, you have to navigate a lot of sensitive ground, as developing young women can be impressionable and need to be taught with compassion and understanding. Penalizing young athletes for their outbursts will only lead them to become more upset when those outbursts occur. Knowing that their coach will come down on them for not being able to control what seems to them to be uncontrollable at the moment will make for some bad patterns. These patterns can grow into cycles of negativity where the inability to control emotions causes the emotions to become more confusing.

Stop to ask your player why they’re feeling the way they do. What was the trigger? Actively seeking a rational cause for the emotional response of a player will show them that you care, that what they’re feeling is normal and, more importantly, can be used for good. Likewise, it’s an opportunity to explain to them why what they’re doing may not be acceptable for the level of play they’re capable of. This back and forth will set a precedent on the team and within the players to hold themselves accountable for their behavior and to try their best to understand and work through it, too.

Controlling the Outbursts

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From time to time, your players’ emotions can rise to a fever pitch that can’t really be rationalized. That’s okay! While it’s important to try and work with your players through their emotions, it’s equally important to be able to show them that there will always be consequences for acting badly due to strong emotions. Sometimes, these consequences show themselves on their own -- an outburst can prevent a play from taking a positive turn, or cause a player to be ejected. Use your judgment to develop where the line between positive and negative reinforcement should be placed, but remember that there is a limit to what a growing athlete should believe is acceptable. That line can be placed for both you and the player, so young athletes who throw tantrums or have similar outbursts should be quick to understand how little that will benefit them in the long run.

Remember, you are the coach. You’re the authority figure on and off the court when the game is involved. Ultimately, your lines will be the ones that are drawn, at least for a season. If a player’s emotions are getting in the way of their own performance or the team’s positive experience, it’s something worth addressing with that athlete as you see fit.

Maintaining Sportsmanship

It’s never acceptable for a player’s emotions to adversely affect their sportsmanship in-game. When your girls get heated with one another or other teams, it can’t be allowed to go much further than that. You as the coach have to establish that disrespectful behavior will not be tolerated, and that includes any trash talk, foul play, or other aggressive outbursts that can impact or even harm other players. Some players will have to release their anger some way. For others, it’ll be rather intuitive for them to translate that anger into their playing energy. Regardless, reinforcing that disrespectful or harmful thoughts need to be kept to oneself is imperative. Failure to do so will convince some athletes that this kind of poor behavior is just a part of the game, and that others should be able to take it or even expect it.

Good sportsmanship may not always be rewarded, but bad sportsmanship is almost always penalized. Teaching your girls proper court etiquette and sportsmanship is a big step toward their development into mature athletes. Self-control manifests itself throughout the rest of their playing and, thus, their experience, and begins to shape who they are. Someone who is a good sport will appreciate the value in a personal victory.

It may not always be easy, but controlling your players on and off the court is one of the biggest steps you can take toward proper development and an overall positive experience for the whole team.

Felipe Leon