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The Helen Nkwocha column: Working out the differences

As a player, it can be difficult to see the differences between men’s football and women’s football.

By watching games we can gain a better understanding of the differences and reach our own conclusions about what they are.

The general assumption is that the women's game has greater emphasis on technique whereas the men's game is faster.

Recently, a male coach suggested to me that he had been wrong to approach his female players 'just as footballers'.

This implied that coaching women was an entirely different discipline to coaching men, requiring an extra element of care. He added: “I have never coached girls, I have learnt a lot".

This angered me, and I suggested that perhaps the difficulties were his own: "Maybe the difference isn't that you're working with girls as opposed to boys, maybe it’s your attitude that has been different."

I think he sensed my annoyance but I believe that for a coach to hold such a generalised opinion is unhealthy.

They will have to work pretty hard to stop this attitude creeping through into their treatment of the players.

Not every female player is the same as the next, the same for male players.

However, the coach can foster a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is the coach who sets the tone for what the player experiences.

The power of the individual

An open mind and a flexible attitude could be the difference between a player realising their own potential or finding it restricted by their coach.

The real differences are much subtler than a player’s sex, they are found in player’s mentalities.

As I mature, I am learning more effective ways to manage my anger.

I learnt a lot about restraint when I was a player, I became more careful of what I said to officials and mindful of my own physicality.

Once I had learnt to appreciate the art of 'barging' and the professional foul. I played for 20 years and was cautioned 3 times.

The game taught me how to manage my reactions, and how my management could have a positive or negative affect on my performance.

I learnt that I could still be a strong player and strong personality without reacting in a negative way.

The FA have introduced some fantastic courses and published guidelines for coaches.

The emphasis on an Age Appropriate approach to coaching is vital to our development in the game.

However I do not think that it is a coincidence that there are no courses or guidelines on coaching male or female players.

They must not be treated differently. It is my role as coach to treat each player as an individual. I must be the difference.

By Helen Lorraine Nkwocha

Helen is Chief Executive for the Women Players Football Association, a coach with Millwall Lionesses, a qualified lifestyle consultant for footballers and owns DigSoccer, a company that makes personalised t-shirts for footballers -

Helen played football from the age of 13 in a women’s team before the ascension of girls football. She retired through injury at the age of 32 and founded DigSoccer. She has coached in the USA and now coaches in London working with senior players and under 17 academy players. Helen is also the head coach for independent schools, working with under 18 players from each independent school in England. Helen lives in Kent with her partner and together they are foster parents for young people aged under the age of 18.

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