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Keeping Score in Gender Game : Coaches Employ Dual Personalities When They Work With the Sexes

November 22, 1990|BETSY BURBRIDGE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Betsy Burbridge is a senior at Orange High School, where she is co-sports editor of the Reflector, the student newspaper, and runs cross-country and track and plays basketball. She serves on ASB Cabinet as commissioner of community services and clubs

ORANGE — Since people have long thought of sports as being male-dominated, it comes as no surprise that girls and boys are coached differently on both an individual and a team level.

On the surface, the differences appear obvious, but the reasoning behind coaching the sexes differently centers on society and upbringing.

Society often sets the standards for girls to be more demure and feminine and for boys to be more aggressive and masculine. And boys often feel more pressure to be competitive and to succeed in sports.

"Boys see sports as a do-or-die situation, where girls, to their advantage, don't see sports as everything because society has basically said to the girls that it's OK if they don't succeed (in sports)," said Edward Cantu, cross-country coach at Orange High School.

An example of how sports have become a social part of boys' upbringing is that boys will often get together after school or on the weekend for a game of basketball, football or soccer.

Though girls may practice shooting or ball handling on their own, it's unlikely six girls will congregate and a game of three-on-three will ensue.

Foothill High's Jerry Whitaker, who just finished his 26th year of coaching cross-country, said boys tend to emphasize winning more than girls do.

"Boys want to be on a program that's winning, but I think girls would be more content to be with a neat group of people," Whitaker said.

Comparisons are often made between the sexes in terms of competitiveness, knowledge of the game and basic athletic skills.

"We always compare girls to guys in sports. Our society looks to males as being more competitive," said Charles Fisher, swimming coach at Orange. "I don't think girls have been raised with the same competitive background most boys have."

But that often depends upon the sport . . . and the coach.

"Girls' basketball is just as competitive as boys,' " said Ed Prange, boys' basketball coach at Loara High in Anaheim. "People are wrong when they say girls can't play as hard as boys--they can."

Prange has coached both boys' and girls' varsity basketball teams for a couple of years. The biggest difference between the two, he said, is that "girls' basketball is a lot simpler than boys.' "

"I run three defenses coaching girls, and with boys, I would run six. This is simply because you (the girls) don't need as many strategies to get by," he said. "Since girls are not socialized in to the game as boys are, they have a harder time picking up (the nuances)."

As far as workouts and practices are concerned, both sexes are expected to do whatever is necessary, but the way they train is often different.

"I have the boys on an extensive weightlifting program," Prange said, "whereas the girls don't lift weights because their game isn't as physical."

Said Whitaker: "The two (cross-country) teams do the same as far as the workload itself, but I have to deal with them differently. I think girls respond to different types of motivation.

"You have to handle boys aggressively and girls tactfully."

Whitaker said he has coached boys who, in the past, wouldn't pay attention to him unless he was harsh. "I think guys expect it," he said.

Said Fisher: "I feel girls look to a coach more as a friend, whereas boys look to a coach more as a teacher. In swimming I have to have a dual personality, one for boys and one for girls."

Cantu said arguments with boyfriends and the like can more easily distract his girl runners from their goals.

"Cross-country is very much a team sport, and it is important to have cohesiveness," he said. "With boys, it is easy to establish because they don't seem to allow outside influences to affect their performance--girls do.

"I expend much more emotional energy on the girls' team because it's harder to keep them focused as a unit."

In the past, Cantu found that when he had a disagreement with one runner on his girls' team, it became a disagreement with the entire team.

"I feel I can approach guys individually, but I have to nurture girls all of the way," he said. "My approach is reactionary. I react to what I feel the team wants and needs."

Said senior Cory Lohman, a four-year cross-country and track runner at Orange: "I think a coach and an athlete should have respect for each other. You should be able to interact on a one-to-one basis."

Lohman said Cantu almost always approached his runners individually. "Only when it's really important, like at league finals last year, did he bring us together (as a team)."

Prange said that his girl basketball players last year at Orange were more emotional but that they "seem more appreciative of the things you do."

His coaching experiences have allowed Prange to develop a philosophy: "I think it's all expectations. . . . It's what they (the athletes) are expected to do. If girls are expected to play hard, they will because it's a priority."

Prange said he has never knocked on a boys' locker room door before entering, but he does with his girls.

"I've told girls to be feminine off the court and to be tough and aggressive on the court. I would never tell a guy to be masculine," he said.

"Girls need to keep in mind that they can play hard and aggressive and still keep their femininity."

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