Are Girls Different?


A silly question in most contexts. In coaching however, not so silly. Should one coach a girl’s eight differently than one would a boys crew?

In order to try and get a useful answer I will first have to define what I mean. Are we talking physiology? Psychology? Learning styles?

To start with physiology; do the differences between men and women require different technique or training methods? I believe not. Rowing technique should be based around levers and firing orders in order to optimise the use of the available strength, and we don’t normally think that smaller men should row differently to larger ones so why should women row differently? The different strength, muscle mass and size will produce a stroke with a slightly different rhythm but the principles of the fastest and most economical way to move a boat stay the same.

Training programmes raise similar issues; should women train differently? Again I would say not. Programmes are, of course, customised to suit the crew or athlete in question and take account of present fitness, training opportunities and goals. Training load is applied to increase capacity and young or old, male or female the principals remain the same: If more aerobic endurance is wanted do lots of steady state, if more strength is required do resistance work of some kind. Differences between beginner and expert, young and old are far greater than those between men and women. I use comparable programmes for men and women of comparable level.

With very young athletes there will be differing levels of physical maturity so programme will have to be adjusted to suit biological age as well as chronological age. Girls tend to mature earlier than boys so groups of girls will tend to be ready for heavy training loads earlier than boys but this varies much between individuals.

It is when we come to questions of psychology, particularly crew psychology that it gets more interesting. My experience has suggested to me that a coach should treat men’s and women’s crews the same. The same principals should guide your behaviour; tell the truth, be positive, try to treat all the athletes fairly and openly. I feel that any attempt to treat a female crew differently from a male one suggests a degree of manipulation.

It is not always easy however!



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This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Matthew Stallard

    Penny Chuter once told me she much preferred coaching men. After outlining the outing programme the men would say ‘yes Penny’
    and go out and do it. The women would say ”what is the physiological benefit of today’s outing?’ But after discussion would do it just as well.

    1. Duncan Holland

      Thanks for the comment Matt. I admire Penny’s command of men! I personally find women more amenable to being told what to do than men. maybe there is a thought worth exploring here about same gender – different gender coach and crew?


  2. Duncan Holland

    Hi Ryan, thanks for the contribution. I certainly agree about the tendency to teat girls a bit more gently. Raf Wyatt, who has had huge success in NZL with Rangi Ruru Girls school, has often said men treat girl rowers too softly. I try to be eqaully firm and fair to both. Your point about early maturing is well made. Biological age rather than calendar age is a good concept I think.

  3. Barrie Robinson

    I read with great interest the latest Newsletter as two items leapt out at me. First, the mention of Fairbairn, and the second was Duncan’s article on coaching girls. With reference to Fairbairn my coaches when at university in England were Cambridge Blues and by applying a little maths I determined that they must have been coached by Fairbairn. So my coaching technique is very much affected by good old Steve. When I coached in the later years as a crew member of the 1st VIII, I developed a style related to seasoned rowers and thus I found coaching novices was a bit trying. So, many years later, I was bamboozled when given two very new VIIIs to coach – and ALL girls. I was completely at a loss and my mind rotated like a gyrocopter. Coping with “newbies” was by then not a problem – but girls? After only a few minutes on the water I found girls were definitely different. While physics and major body appendages apply equally to girls as to boys (men?) there is no way they should be coached the same. And by this I mean one has to shape the outing differently, coax differently, lambast differently, challenge differently, as well as expecting different vibes and communication utterances. But despite Duncan’s words to the contrary he admits that girls are different – he pens “Programmes are, of course, customised to suit the crew or athlete”.

    1. Duncan Holland

      Morning Barrie,

      thanks for the reply, and what a great link up. I love the way ideas percolate down through rowing over time. I wonder how Faibairn would have dealt with women? My approach is based on the idea that there are more differences between individuals and between crews than between the genders and that generalisations can often be misleading. I try to match my coaching to the recipient while being true to myself.


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