Updated: Mar 8
Helping your athletes build lives of integrity, confidence, and self-compassion
Rachel Simmons’ 20+ years of research and work with adolescent girls and young women has shown that competence does not equal confidence in young women–nor does it equal happiness, resilience, or self-worth. It is with this premise that the U.S. Women’s Rugby Foundation invited Simmons to give the keynote address at the 2021 WRCRA Conference. Her session, Courage. Connection. Resilience. Helping your athletes build lives of integrity, confidence, and self-compassion will provide insights into the inner lives of our athletes and equip us with tools to better serve them.
Simmons, a noted researcher on female aggression, is the author of The New York Times bestsellers Odd Girl Out, The Curse of the Good Girl, and Enough As She Is: How to Help Girls Move Beyond Impossible Standards of Success to Live Healthy, Happy and Fulfilling Lives. She serves on the faculty of the Google School for Leaders and was the Director of the Phoebe Lewis Leadership Program at Smith College. She is co-founder of the national nonprofit Girls Leadership, and her writing has appeared in the Washington Post, Atlantic, Slate, and The New York Times.
Simmons, who has experience coaching young women, was intrigued by the offer to speak at the 2021 WRCRA Conference. Our initial contact included the question, “how will this unprecedented year of isolation and loss reshape players, teams, and ultimately our coaching practices?” Her research suggests that the current generation of young women is so focused on achieving that they avoid healthy risks, overthink setbacks, and suffer from imposter syndrome, believing they are frauds. As they spend more time projecting an image of effortless perfection on social media, many girls are prone to withdraw from the essential relationships that offer support, bolster self-esteem and empower young women.
Photo Credit: Britney Biedenbender, Meredith Nelson/Mean Photography, and Max Haynes
Many of us firmly believe that rugby is a great sport for young women because it empowers them. But as we move forward, the question really is playing rugby empowers them to do what and protects them from what? We know that many of our players project an air of confidence and self-assurance on the surface but that many of these confident young women are prone to anxiety, to feeling overwhelmed, distracted and fragile. When not on the field, our players spend hours with a smart phone in hand browsing the perfectly curated lives of others on social media, and feeling bad about themselves in comparison. As Simmons notes, many young women come to believe that, no matter how hard they try, it will never be enough - they will never be smart enough, successful enough, pretty enough, thin enough, or popular enough. This can manifest in an acute fear of failure, and the sense “why really try?”
And this isn’t an issue that only concerns school-age women. Whether a middle school or premier level player, girls and women inhabit similar cultural spaces; we are all warned about the ramifications for failure–we won’t get into a good school, we won’t get a good job, we won’t make the team, no one will love us. At the same time, many of the schools and programs we represent have focused on student support to such an extent that students rarely fail and, as such, they have limited experience with failure. So many players come to rely on coaches to do the problem-solving for them and to keep failure at bay.
The past year has been one of isolation and uncertainty for all of us but particularly for our players – opportunities to gain confidence, explore identities, wrestle with who they are and who they want to be have been lost. Yet, our athletes get up every day with the intention of being good people; of being resilient, compassionate and strong. We need some new tools in our coaching bag to help our teams win but also to help our players combat the social forces that undermine them. Tools to encourage our players and each other to learn from failure, take risks, and lead by example, moving forward with the courage and the knowledge that you can rely upon others for support. This is going to be one hell of a keynote that you won’t want to miss.