Coaches as “friends”: Females vs. Males – Knowing the Boundaries.

By: Sarah H.

In our youth development class, we have discussed the topic of the relationships between coaches and players from both the female and male sports teams. Another blogger discussed parent-coach/child-athlete relationship. My post is solely related to what I have been involved in/witnessed at either the high school level or below, and is mostly focused on the female athlete teams.

I know most people say that girls want to sometimes label their coaches as “friends”, so compared to males, we seem to look for a stronger connection to our coaches. In my opinion I agree with this completely. Being on 3 sports teams throughout high school, I can honestly say that all of my coaches were my friends and that we looked for that connection. That being said, the coaches were also teachers and males, which put a target on their back and it made it so they had to be extra careful of how they treated us.

Along that topic, if the coaches are going to be friends with their players, they have to know where to draw the line before it leads to something more. There was a study done to focus on the interpersonal relations between coaches and athletes and if and where boundaries between acceptable and unacceptable coach behavior could be drawn (Toftegaard, 2001). I know I may be writing as though nothing has gone wrong in coach-athlete relationships or as though athletes have not been put in uncomfortable situations, but like Toftegaard (2001) stated, hands-on instruction or touching the athlete’s body in general may be inappropriate if the athlete feels uneasy about the coach or other reasons. I have witnessed situations where one of my coaches doing hands-on examples, and the player wasn’t comfortable with the way he was touching her, so it created a very negative relationship between them and set off a negative vibe towards the team itself. I completely believe that if the coach is going to be using hands-on examples, he/she should have knowledge about what is right or wrong. This could also be the case with a male sports team with a female coach.

I can’t fully say that guys do not want a good relationship with their coaches because there are surely some who have that connection. In my experience though, male athletes are more focused solely on the competition and are not looking for friends until after the sport is over. But, a lot of the guys in my school disliked a certain teacher/coach because he got along great with all the females and we all “loved” him as a teacher and coach. Its almost like they were jealous of the relationships that were being built. I guess some guys just didn’t understand why anyone would want a teacher/coach to be labeled as a “friend”, which I can understand!

I have also witnessed that male coaches also connect better with their female athletes rather then guys. One of my coaches was also a men’s hockey team coach. At the end of our season, as everyone came to tears, our coach did as well. He had a strong connection with all of us. When his hockey season came to an end, it was just like it was another day; no sadness was involved. I know most people might just say that its because guys aren’t as emotional, but he even told us himself that he just didn’t have the same connection with the guys as he did with us. The female team was like a family.

I think that when kids are younger, no matter what gender, that they should be able to have a good relationship with their coaches. I think it should stay away from the more “personal” relationship like we discussed in class; staying away from being friends on social media, etc. But the kids should also be able to talk to their coaches and know that there is someone other than their parents who they can open up to; a positive role model.

I know there are many ways to look at this topic. Whether coaches should have a relationship with their players as “friends”, or just to stay the coach. I am also sure this would be different from a guy’s point of view!


Toftegaard, N. J. (January 01, 2001). The Forbidden Zone: Intimacy, Sexual Relations and Misconduct in the Relationship between Coaches and Athletes. International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 36, 2, 165-182.

Other readings:

Choi, H., Huh, J., & Cho, S. (October 25, 2013). The association between the perceived coach-athlete relationship and athletes’ basic psychological needs. Social Behavior and Personality, 41, 9, 1547-1556.

Lorimer, R., & Jowett, S. (May 01, 2010). The influence of role and gender in the empathic accuracy of coaches and athletes. Psychology of Sport & Exercise, 11, 3, 206-211.

Olympiou, A., Jowett, S., & Duda, J. L. (December 01, 2008). The Psychological Interface Between the Coach-Created Motivational Climate and the Coach-Athlete Relationship in Team Sports. Sport Psychologist, 22, 4.)

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8 Responses to Coaches as “friends”: Females vs. Males – Knowing the Boundaries.

  1. arie1976 says:

    This is quite an interesting article about a topic on which I actually haven`t spent many thoughts so far. On all levels of sport – professional sport, school sport or organized sport in a club – there is a code of ethics coaches have to respect, as Sarah shows with her descriptions of the hands-on instructions and when it comes to touching athletes` bodies. Even if touching one`s body might happen out of pure pragmatism, with no objectionable purposes behind it, it could do harm. I therefore agree with Sarah when she writes that a coach should have knowledge about what is right or wrong. When in doubt, coaches could ask the athlete “Is it ok when I touch you?” – a simple question which I have heard some instructors ask in group fitness lessons, and which I find an adept way to avoid awkward reactions from any side. Situations like this can be handled, but it is vital for coaches to be aware of the problems that can result from them, and it is also important to be prepared and trained for them.

    Certainly there should be set boundaries in the relationship between coaches and athletes that are clear for both parties. Given that, I feel that there`s nothing wrong with a friendship between coaches and athletes. Friendship creates a positive atmosphere; this is not only true for private life, but also for school, professional, and sport contexts.

    Andrea R.

  2. daleymatt says:

    By Matt Daley
    Coaches and players relationships are very different comparing females and males. I completely agree that females are better known for creating more friendly relationships with coaches. Guys are more interested in just playing the game and having a pure coach athlete relationship. One problem in my opinion is that females are more likely to get intimately involved with a coach. There are many cases where male coaches become almost too friendly with his female players and become sexually involved. This may be because female athletes spend a lot more personal time with their coaches and get to know them on a personal level. This is not always a good thing because feelings may get involved. With men they try to keep it more of a professional relationship and not become friends with the coach.
    I know that in my past I did not become very good friends with any of my coaches. It was always about winning in the sport sand not about having a personal relationship with the coach. That was until I was in grade 9 and I developed a strong relationship with my coach. Our team went through a lot of adversity and a lot of external problems and it brought us all to a different level of friendship. This is the only coach who I still to this day talk to on a daily basis and look to for advice. He still helps me both with basketball and on a personal level. I think that almost every female player creates this type of relationship with their coaches. My dad has coached high school girls his entire career and he develops relationships with this players that are strong as rock. When his past players come home for holidays he always receives a call and they come see him. The bond that he developed with every single one of his players is stronger than any coach athlete relationship I have ever seen. Many of my friends played for my dad and they still talk about stories they went through with him and how much they love him as a coach. I think that coaches and athletes need to have to this type of relationship in order to develop a strong bond and be successful. I think females are lucky that they develop this type of relationship more than males.

  3. t510z says:

    This is a very interesting topic and though the majority of research seems to say that female athletes have better social relationships with there coaches, from my personal experience I do not think better is the correct word. Relationships between males in sports are very respect driven. From my experience on the field coaches demand respect and full attention, but off the field these coaches have been major role models and friends in my life. I have two coaches that I still stay in touch with through email. They have both helped me make major life decisions such as schools, and work. I would like to say that some of the biggest influences and best relationships I have ever had are some of my coaches.

    I have never had a coach tear up or become overly emotional but I also have only had male coaches. I am not saying that all women are emotional but men are not often going to show emotions with other men. Even so, some coaches have sent letters to the teams thanking them for a good year with individual messages to the players that have made the strongest relationships.

    I believe that both men and women can have equally strong relationships between players and coaches

    Brandon Z

  4. b3emf says:

    I do agree that relationships between male and female athletes differ with their coaches generally, however I believe if you are in a competitive sport your coach shouldn’t be one of your friends , they should be a role model someone you look up to and respect their authority. This is not to say that you can’t respect coaches who you consider a friend, but in my experience I have been more successful and take the situation more seriously when my coach places boundaries so that they are just my coach and mentor. It is still possible to create a strong connection with coaches without being “friends” with them and then later once you are older and they aren’t you coach anymore you can have whatever kind of relationship you want with them. With males coaching female athletes there is sometimes a concern for a intimate relationship to evolve. In my high school in order to avoid this we had to have a female school representative who had to be with the male coaches whenever they were in contact with us. This made us females as athletes uncomfortable because we felt as though if we wanted to go talk to our coach privately we were doing something wrong or if we seen our coach outside of sport it would be awkward because we didn’t have a normal coach -athlete relationship because it was regulated and monitored as though we weren’t trusted.

  5. philippejpd says:

    This is a great post by Sarah, and I really enjoyed reading how you felt connected with your coaches in the high school level. But with the difference in guys and girls I would have to agree with Brandon that boys also have a great coach-athlete relationship. It is all about how the coach wants to be perceived within the team. In my personal experience I have had a great experience with coaches from having great friendships with some and other coaches that I don’t have much respect for the way they conduct themselves within the team. But with that said, all coaches adapt to the team they are coaching, whether it is with girls or boys, I feel the best coaches will be able to read the teams needs in being able to bring them all together to compete at their best. It has been said that girls are needing a social aspect in the sport to feel comfortable and want to play together, compared to boys who are a little more competitive in how they see the sport and do not need much social influences to want to play at their best.
    Another point brought up about male coaching a girl’s team is the touching aspect of things. I agree with the comment that a coach needs to know his boundaries on what is right and wrong to do with their team, and that touching of players should rarely be seen.
    To add a boys example of a coach disrespecting a team, we could use the Penn State child sex abuse scandal, where a former assistant coach of the football team having sexual abuse of at least 8 under age boys in and around the university property.
    There needs to be precautions on knowing who is coaching to make sure that our kids not only get a good sport experience but feel safe with the coach in a personal connection that have clear limits to how they interact with the players on and off the playing surface.

  6. s33ue says:

    Player and coach interaction are something that has been and forever will be a topic of discussion. Whether it be female or male sports, if a team has a coach of the opposite sex it will be discussed on the amount or level of interaction between the players and coach. As a female, playing on many female teams throughout my life, it is interesting to see the approach that male coaches will take when interacting with their female team members.

    It is important for players as well as coaches, at any level to maintain a professional relationship throughout their athletic relationship. There have been instances that I have experienced where a player has created a personal relationship with a coach, that reached beyond the lines of a “friendship” and that is when things can enter a grey area. It was highly uncomfortable as players on the team being aware of this relationship but it was the fact that is was unspoken and practically forbidden to be spoken of. In order for coaches to behave in a professional manner I think that it is important they pursue a personal relationship with the players on their team, but if they are of the opposite sex, I also believe that there is a different approach that is required by coaches. They need to be cognizant of the fact that at the end of the day a coach has accepted the responsibility of a being a professional and needs to act that way.

    I think that it is important for a coach to become available to their player, as they may be an outlet as an adult to communicate with an discuss issues that may stem beyond the sport. I think that this blog post creates many opportunities for people to think of experiences they may have had throughout spot but also allows them to think of their future interactions as potential coaches with youth and the actions they should take.

    Great post! It created much discussion!

    Gina R.

  7. colleendaly says:

    Playing on competitive sports teams my entire life I have definitely seen many female athletes who like to share a close bond with her coach. I believe that female athletes definitely communicate with their coach about other topics than just their sport compared to male athletes.
    Although there has to be precautions, I do think female athletes look for a coach that they find approachable and can feel comfortable to talk about their issues with. It is certainly different coaching girls sports compared to boys. Mainly because of the relationship that a coach builds with the team. In my experience as a coach, boys teams tend to just want to play and do not want to get to know their coach or talk to him or her about other topics. However, girls do want to spend the time to talk with their coach and get to know him or her. It is extremely important for youth to feel comfortable around their coach and can go to their coach to talk about issues that they need to discuss.

    I really enjoyed this blog because I strongly believe that male athletes do have a different relationship with their coach than females. Great blog !

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