skip navigation

Coaching strategies for communicating and motivating female athletes

By Michele Amidon - ADM Regional Manager, 04/28/16, 2:15PM MDT


Olympian Karen Thatcher Sits Down for a Q&A

The female athlete perspective on coaching focuses on the physical, cognitive, mental and emotional development of our female players. Women are not men and children are not small adults. One size does not fit all. When coaching females, a coach may need a slightly different approach compared to the male athlete. All coaches should consider the psychological and sensitive needs of their players.

“With women, your effectiveness is through your ability to relate.  They have to feel that you care about them personally or have some kind of connection with them beyond the game…to be an effective leader of a men’s team, you don’t need personal rapport as long as there is respect.  That’s the extent of the relationship.  That’s all that’s really required.  But in a women’s team, respect is only part of it, and it is derived from a relationship.  Women have to have a sense that you care for them above and beyond their (athletic) abilities.” -- Anson Dorrance on motivating females


In the following Q-and-A, Michele Amidon, USA Hockey ADM manager, speaks to 2010 U.S. Olympian Karen Thatcher regarding some of the best coaching strategies for communicating and motivating female athletes.    

Q: What are some effective coaching strategies used when working with female athletes?

Thatcher: From personal experience as a coach and a player, I would say the number one most important strategy when working with female athletes is COMMUNICATION! Girls are notorious for wanting to know “why?” This extends to the sports realm as well. I believe Nietsche, in all his brilliance, had a very good point when he stated: “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” (Although, I do believe it should read “she who has a why...”) If you give female athletes a WHY, that is, a defined purpose and direction for what they are doing, the results are staggering. Communicate to female players what their role is, why we are doing this, what is the purpose of this team system, etc. They may not always agree with you, but if they understand that you do have logic and a purpose behind whatever is happening, they will respect it and be more effective in whatever task you are asking of them.  

Furthermore, it is important to respect female athletes as people and athletes separately, and coach in this manner as well. Females respond a lot better when you treat them fairly and with respect as people first and foremost.  

Q: What are some of the least effective coaching strategies used when working with female athletes?

Thatcher: Embarrassing or degrading her in front of her teammates is the worst strategy with a female athlete. It does not motivate the athlete to improve; instead, it encourages her to feel poorly about herself and may cause her to be fearful to even attempt to improve. Female athletes also tend to emotionally carry this type of experience along with them, leading to perhaps inhibiting her develop in the future as well. This strategy often causes more harm than good.  

Q: How do you, as a female athlete like to get feedback from a coach?

Thatcher: I like when a coach talks to me. I usually know when I do something wrong (don’t we all?) as it did not “work.” So, I enjoy when coaches do not simply tell me what I did wrong (I already knew that!), but give examples of how to do it next time. Yelling about the mistake does not seem productive to me, and I don’t consider that constructive feedback.

Q: What are some of the assumptions male coaches have made about you (or your teammates) as a female athlete?

Thatcher: I have been fortunate that my male coaches have not been ones to make negative assumptions about myself or my female teammates. Usually, male coaches who are involved in women’s hockey are involved because they are impressed with the athletes and love the sport. I experienced more assumptions from players and parents of players on boys’ teams that I played on or against, but not usually from the coaches. These assumptions included that I wasn’t tough enough or good enough, or that I must be older than the boys (when in fact I was younger). Or, worst of all that I was taking the place of a boy in a male world.... the assumption that I just did not belong. I, however, always had the support of my coaches and this helped me persevere. I realize in talking to others in the sport that I was extremely fortunate in this regard.  

Q: Sometimes I think female coaches are harder on the female players and that female players are harder on female coaches. Do you agree with this statement?

Thatcher: Yes. Absolutely. Female players tend to accept male coaches and male players automatically as being “legitimate.” Conversely, female players have to “prove themselves” to each other. And female players expect their female coaches to “prove themselves” as well. I do not know to what to attribute this, but I have observed it mostly at the highest level in the sport. Perhaps it is due to the sport not being as widespread or as strong at the grassroots level, and so high‐level girl hockey players are used to other girls “not being good enough” to challenge them, and boys being where they found challenge. Thus, this typecast stuck with them, leading to female coaches and other female players having to prove themselves before they are accepted as legitimate sources.  

Q: Do females hold their own gender more accountable or are they just willing to approach certain topics that make male coaches uncomfortable?

Thatcher: I believe females hold other females accountable in different ways than they would males or that males do with other males. I believe this has a lot to do with the way that females process information and experiences and the way that we attach emotion to our world. Females have a need to be “seen, met, and heard” as a person; that is, they want to understand their own emotions and feel that you have an understanding of where they are coming from as well. This is “respect” to a female: to acknowledge their emotional standpoint, explain your own, and help them understand the situation as a whole. I have found that men have trouble and are uncomfortable attaching emotion to experience within a professional setting, such as coaching. Females, conversely, view emotion as a natural and necessary component of any situation. Thus, I think the way that females approach situations and their view of emotions differ vastly from that of males, and this leads to notion of varying accountability and male discomfort.


Karen Thatcher graduated Summa Cum Laude from Providence College in 2006, was a member of the 2010 U.S. Women's Olympic Team and served as an assistant coach of the women’s hockey team at Providence College.

Recent News

Most Popular Articles

COVID-19 and the 2020-21 Season

By Matt Leaf 04/02/2020, 11:30am MDT

Even with almost 50 years of involvement in hockey, you can’t plan for the current state of the world and the impact coronavirus has had on our game. I think it is safe to say that nothing prepares you for the changes that have taken place in our daily lives and the uncertainty of when things might return to normal. Or in this case, what will become the new “normal.”

Our expertise is hockey, so what we’ll address in this piece: the impact of the global pandemic on our game and how likely it will affect our game in the immediate future. 

USA Hockey continues to post information on COVID-19 on the main website. These updates keep our membership informed of specific programs and the changing safety recommendations that will be in place when hockey returns. Be sure to check back regularly for updates and other hockey information.

On the officiating front, much of what we are able to do from a program standpoint is connected to player events like national tournaments and player development camps. As you know, the national tournaments (along with the March, April and May IIHF World Championship events) were cancelled. The Officiating Program then canceled our two instructor training programs that were planned for late April and early May in Lake Placid, N.Y., and Colorado Springs, Colo. 

At this time, details for any potential summer development camps are still being determined. On the player side, several camps we are connected to were cancelled, and the few camps that are still in planning have been dramatically downsized. The Officiating Program continues to monitor the decisions made for players and will take advantage of any opportunity we have to salvage our summer camp program and maximize participation.

The good news is, we are confident we will have a 2020-21 season. All indications show no reason to delay registration. It will open as scheduled on or around May 26, followed by the open book exams and online seminar curriculum on June 1. 

SafeSport Training (required for anyone born in the year 2003 or earlier) and background screening (learn about the new national level screening program in the Q & A section) will also be available to complete at that time. If COVID-19 still has things slowed down in early June, it would be an ideal time to get these requirements completed.

The biggest unknown will be the timing in which we will be able to conduct seminars. The vast majority of rinks are currently closed, and many of them took this opportunity to remove ice to save operating costs and do maintenance. There is now doubt they will be prepared to quickly ramp up once they are allowed to do so, but as with most everything right now, the timing is uncertain. As a result, some of the earlier seminars may be pushed back a few weeks. The District Referees-in-Chief will secure ice times and facilities so we can provide seminar dates and locations as quickly as possible. We are also encouraging our instructors to think outside the box by providing some weeknight seminar options, and to look at other ways to best meet the needs of our members.

The Advanced Officiating Symposium, scheduled for Providence, R.I. in late July, is still going to plan. We will continue to monitor the situation, including local restrictions and travel advisories in the coming weeks, and we will announce any changes in advance to allow for alterations to travel arrangements. Click here for up-to-date information or to reserve your seat at the 2020 Advanced Officiating Symposium.

These are difficult times for everyone, and although our hockey family is important to us, it is a small fraction of the big picture that is impacting our daily lives. To quote Andy Dufresne in his letter for Red that he left under the big oak tree in The Shawshank Redemption: “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”

We hope you and your loved ones are safe and healthy. We hope the coronavirus is conquered with minimal loss of lives and a return to a prosperous normal as soon as possible. We hope your passion for the game of hockey will only grow as a result of its absence. We hope we are back on the ice in the coming months and that the 2020-21 season will be our best yet.

Thank you for your continued support of USA Hockey and don’t hesitate to contact us if there is anything we can do to make your hockey experience a better one. In the meantime, stay safe, stay healthy and be prepared to be back on the ice soon.

USA Hockey Announces National Background Screening Program

By USA Hockey 04/02/2020, 12:00pm MDT

In order to comply with new requirements from the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC), USA Hockey will be implementing a national level background screening program. This program will replace all USAH Affiliate coordinated background screen programs.

Why must officials be screened?
Per USA Hockey and USOPC policy, all coaches, officials, board members, employees, volunteers, billets and anyone else who will have regular contact with, or authority over, minor athletes are required to submit a background screen before any contact with minor athletes.

Who is required to be screened?
Officials who are 18 years-old (or older) prior to June 1 of the current year.

Any official, 18 years-old (or older) without a completed valid background screen (national or USAH Affiliate coordinated) after April 1, 2019.

All national background screens are valid for two seasons, and starting on June 1, 2020 a national background screen must be completed and in good standing before receiving an officiating card and crest.

What are the timelines for launching the national background screen program?
Beginning on April 1, 2020, background screening will be conducted by our national background screen vendor, National Center for Safety Initiatives (NCSI), and information on background screening will be included following your registration.

As of March 22, 2020, applicants will no longer be able to submit new USA Hockey background screens through USAH Affiliate vendors, and will not be able to submit new screens through NCSI until April 1, 2020.

If you were screened after April 1, 2019 for the 2019-20 season, your screen is valid for the 2020-21 season, and you will not need to be screened under the new system until prior to the 2021-22 season. If your most recent screen is from prior to April 1, 2019, you will need to be screened under the new system, after April 1, 2020, in order to participate in the upcoming season.

All new screens submitted through the new NCSI national screening program after April 1, 2020 will be valid for two seasons.  For example, a screen submitted and approved on April 15, 2020 will be valid through the end of the 2021-22 season, which is August 31, 2022.

How can members complete their required background screen?
A link to submit for screening will be included in your membership registration confirmation email and posted in the drop-down menu under the OFFICIALS tab at

Background screens through NCSI under the national program will cost $30 for all domestic screens. For international screens (members who have lived outside of the U.S. for six consecutive months in any one county during the past 7 years) the flat rate fee is $150. If that country is solely Canada, the flat rate fee is $75.

Where can members go with questions about the national background screen program?
Please refer to the USA Hockey Background Screen webpage at

Q&A: What Young Players Can Learn From Watching Games

By Tom Robinson 04/08/2020, 8:45am MDT

Director of youth hockey Kenny Rausch on what can be learned while watching