What Girls Basketball Coaches Need to Thrive

Basketball coaches tell us one of their biggest challenges of coaching is off the court. They dread dealing with conflict between players and are burdened by the impact that “team drama” has on recruiting and retaining players. We want them to know they’re not alone in the challenges they face, and we’re here to help. Given the findings in the recent CDC report calling for school connection to address the mental health crisis for girls, team relationships and dynamics couldn’t be more important to the health and wellbeing of players. 


Here are coaches’ top conflicts between players:

  • Jealousy about playing time
  • Insecurity about another player performing better
  • Friendship and relationship misunderstandings and conflict 


Any of these conflicts can splinter the team, and once cliques form it feels almost impossible to bring the group back together into a thriving team. Coaches tell us that they usually try to:

  • Call in a school counselor to mediate
  • Put the players to the side/ in a room with orders to work it out
  • Ignore it and hope it resolves itself (coaches and girls alike say this is the most popular response)


It’s not surprising then that players choose to quit, and quitting can be contagious. The skills to address conflict feel elusive or intimidating because most coaches aren’t trained in proactively creating belonging and community. By age 14, many girls are dropping out of sports at two times the rate of boys, according to the Women’s Sports Foundation. This is why Girls Leadership launched a Girls Basketball Sport Lab in partnership with the Jr. NBA’s Her Time to Play, to learn from players how teams can become stronger through conflict, not splinter apart. 


Coach girls and gender-expansive youth in sports? Join Belonging in Sports: Co-Creating Wellness, Belonging, and Leadership. This free, interactive, online workshop is ideal for coaches, athletic directors, PE teachers, recreation center staff, and team parents. 

If you coach basketball (or anything really), here’s three things that are working for coaches in our Girls Basketball Sport Lab. 


3 moves coaches can make right away:

Co-create a team contract.

  • Early (within the first three times of getting together) in the sports season, give your players the opportunity to share what they need, expect and can offer to the team. Getting specific is key. When players say that they want respect, ask them what this looks like for them. The answer might be different for each player, especially if you have a diverse team.
  • The other essential is conflict. Get clear on how you will handle it when the agreement is broken. This provides a foundation for players to show up authentically, as their full selves. When you co-create team contracts, you center the voices and needs of all your players; the culture of the team comes from them.

Model checking in honestly about how you’re feeling.

  • At the beginning of practice, you can offer a check-in question or prompt to gauge how each player is feeling. Questions like, If you were to describe your mood using a weather pattern, what would it be? or What are two emotions you felt today? Check-ins are quick activities to build the social and emotional muscles of self-awareness, empathy, and compassion for others. By returning to these activities in every practice, coaches let players know that wellness and connection comes before winning. From this foundation, the skills of sportsmanship, basketball, and leadership can follow.
  • Remember that what we model is more impactful than what we say. This means that the most powerful thing you can do for the health of the team is model not being that perfect and confident coach. We encourage you to be vulnerable, share the embarrassing stuff, or the somewhat hard stuff, because that shows the players that it’s okay to struggle. Do this regularly, and the team will learn that on this team they can be authentic.

Normalize conflict.

  • This is the most important one. Conflicts will arise, feelings are big in adolescence (or always), but the good news is, self-awareness and emotional intelligence are muscles that get stronger with repetition.
  • Many girls are raised to believe that conflict is the end of the relationship, so if we want them to learn that conflict is how relationships get stronger, they will need to learn a healthy approach to conflict. We recommend expressing feelings and owning our part in what happened as two essential ingredients to healthy conflict.
  • Use the team contract together to let them resolve the conflict.
  • Girls tell us that learning how to work better together is one of their biggest needs as basketball players, so we know they’re already on board.

Establish a routine with these moves so that they become part of your team culture. Players will get to know themselves and each other better after co-creating the team contract. From check ins, they’ll gain empathy from listening to teammates. Most importantly, they’ll identify their own feelings and regulate their own actions. Just like warming up before a game, and stretching to protect their muscles, managing conflicts is a practice that supports the development of true, lasting teamwork.

Do you coach girls and gender-expansive youth in sports? Join Belonging in Sports: Co-Creating Wellness, Belonging, and Leadership. This free, interactive, online workshop is ideal for coaches, athletic directors, PE teachers, recreation center staff, and team parents. 

  1. lynn wright

    As a parent, athlete in my years on school, it’s really hard to see my daughter and her team struggle. A few athletes in the pass were outstanding in abilities but my daughter and others were their punchiing bags. They went from 8 girls to now 2 in my daughers Junior year. 5 freshman are playing up and are so uncomfortable. One senior. Coaches keep quitting because of our Athletic director. One got fired. It’s overwhelming where to even start.

    • Dorothy Ponton, Director of Marketing and Engagement

      Thanks so much for sharing what your daughter is going through with athletics. That sounds like a really challenging environment. Hopefully there are athletic opportunities outside the school system for your daughter and her friends. If there are any team parents in your community, or coaches from sports leagues outside of school, they’re welcome to join our free workshop Belonging in Basketball: Creating the Foundation for Girls to Thrive as a Team. This free, interactive, online workshop is for basketball coaches, athletic directors, recreation center staff, CBO youth managers and team parents. There’s one this afternoon and again February 27, 2024.

      There’s also an online course and lots of resources that we co-created together with the WNBA through the Her Time To Play initiative. Click here for those.

  2. Bree

    Interested in learning more about how we as coaches can break thru the issues our athletes or children face so we can help them to continue to thrive

    • Dorothy Ponton, Director of Marketing and Engagement

      Thanks so much for reaching out. On May 9th we have a free workshop for coaches, and even if you aren’t able to attend, we’ll let you know about future resources and workshops for coaches.


Leave a Reply