Recent news includes headlines about basketball co-ed issues that range from professional leagues going co-ed and NBA coaches inviting women to try out. (Source) and a small town in Texas that saved their basketball program by combining the girls’ and boys’ high school teams. (Source). Another story tells the opposite, of a parochial school that was running a co-ed team and then found out that the rules didn’t allow it - in that case the team voted to keep the girls on the team even though it meant sitting out the final game of the season. (Source). Those kids are hailed by UpWorthy as an inspiration to children everywhere. These are three very different stories, but they all share one common thread. When girls and boys, men and women, play together in basketball the teams can function and do well.
The Pros and Cons of Co-Ed Basketball Play
In fact, there is an entire piece that dissects the pros and the cons of co-ed mixed sports teams and games published by a promoter of amateur team sports. (Source).
In situations where there is a mandatory mix of genders with a specific number of players expected, there is not always surplus (or bench depth), leaving the players that are there playing longer and being more prone to exhaustion.
Since most boys are taller and stronger than most girls, the uneven sizes of players can cause frustration among team-mates.
In children old enough to have intimate feelings, drama and conflict and jealousy can arise more frequently than on single-gender teams.
Studies indicate that players behave better toward their teammates and more sportsmanlike when they play on co-ed teams.
Co-ed teams encourage boys to learn more patience and girls to keep up with the boys and can help shy girls become more confident.
There tend to be fewer injuries on co-ed teams.
Coaching a Co-Ed Team
These indicators point to the fact that co-ed teams have great benefit, but do not come without frustration. So whether your team is co-ed from choice, finances, or mandate, there are 7 things that you can do to help everyone have more fun and become better players.
Teach all of the players to respect the diversity that is the team. This means that each player has something that makes them unique and special and different (they are not clones of each other). With these differences come strengths and weaknesses. Each player has them. Accepting and respecting them will build the whole team up.
Find the strengths that each player has and play to those strengths. This will help to make each of the kids on your team feel good about themselves and will help them recognize the strengths in others.
Help the players all recognize their weaknesses and find ways that will help them build strength from those vulnerabilities. Be honest with the kids that everyone has weaknesses and that is ok, normal, and human. This basketball team is an opportunity for them to work on some of those. Encourage the players to focus on everyone rising up.
Show through your leadership that you do not see gender on the court. Rather, you see youth athletes, a whole team of youth athletes. Make it clear to each of them that as long as they are dedicated to the team and their game, you are dedicated equally to each of them.
Focus on fun practice sessions with drills that all the players will be able to do, varied enough that each player can master some if they put the time in. You can find lots of drills for practice and tips for coaching at Hustle Fitness, which is the best resource available for youth basketball coaches.
Make sure that you give positive reinforcement and bring a sense of humor to the court. Sincere shared laughter is fun and refreshing. People respond well to positive reinforcement. These are qualities that when brought to youth basketball make for a good team culture that encourages everyone to enjoy their time.
Reward teamwork and good sportsmanship. These aspects will help the team members be focused on what is good about basketball, even when they are working hard or have frustrating days.