An important part of keeping girls in a programme and making sure the atmosphere is comfortable and open to all is good group cohesion, or positive group dynamics. A group atmosphere in which girls feel comfortable to be themselves, speak what they think and discuss all topics is ideal for any sport programme, however, this is not always as easy as it sounds. Often times, girls bullying other girls and feelings of superiority can be large problems, especially if you have groups that mix social class, nationality, ethnic backgrounds or even just neighbourhoods and schools. If there is no group cohesion, or some girls feel threatened by others in the programme, they will not speak up or fully engage in sessions and could eventually decide not to come back, preferring to avoid the group and forget sport.
Good group cohesion and the absence of bullying are important factors in keeping girls in a programme, and this responsibility usually falls on the coach or facilitator. Being able to identify situations in which bullying is happening or girls are making judgemental comments about others, and stopping those situations, is essential.
- Monitor girls who are more dominant in discussions and during sessions. If you see the dominance being displayed in abusive or negative ways rather than through positive and healthy ways, pull that girl aside and talk to her about her behaviour.
- Break up cliques when you see them forming, so that all girls partner or form groups with girls they do not know or are not necessarily close to during training. Play games in which those girls must rely on each other to win, forming a bond through competition.
- Help girls talk through conflict resolution. If you see conflict forming between two girls, try to approach the girls before the conflict has been blown out of proportion.
- Stop gossip and rumours from circulating. Have a discussion with the girls about the damages that gossip or rumours cause.
- Refrain from playing favourites. It is great to reward girls and encourage girls who are natural leaders and show great behaviour; however, constantly favouring some girls over others can cause jealousy and conflict in the group. Give each girl the opportunity to be rewarded and take on responsibilities.
Informal time before or after a sport training session can often be a critical period of time in which a coach can form strong bonds with his/her players and gain their trust outside of the coach/player relationship on the field. This unstructured time could be valuable for coaches to discuss life issues with players while juggling a ball, shooting hoops or just sitting on the grass and waiting for everyone to come. Interviews with coaches have shown that players feel more free to open up, ask for advice and discuss things bothering them in life the more time they spend with the coach before and after practice, outside of the structured curriculum or training session. This, in turn, gives the coach more opportunities to act as a mentor and give valuable advice and information to that child.
However, unstructured and informal time may not also be a good thing. Male coaches may use this time to flirt with participants similar in age to them. If no one is monitoring them, coaches can also take this time and use it in ways that could harm the girls, either through fostering inappropriate relationships or favouring some girls over others. As an organisation, it is important to think through creating this informal or unstructured time for your coaches and players to interact and ensure that the time is a positive thing for the players.
- Ensure that if there is unstructured time before or after practices, that male coaches are always accompanied by female coaches or some female adult. Do not let male coaches meet with female players before or after practice alone.
- As an organisation, pay coaches a little bit extra to come 30 minutes before practice and stay 30 minutes after, giving them the opportunity to interact with players who come early and those who leave late.