For some time now, we are witnessing the constant attempt to equate women’s soccer in all aspects of men’s soccer, but they may not share the same attributes or characteristics. It is true that their social recognition should be at the same height in both cases, but like every natural evolutionary cycle, the usage and customs have historically marked a greater interest in society for men’s soccer.
Curiously, the birth of the latter, as we know it today, dates from 1863 in England, the result of the splitting from that sport that was played with feet and hands (rugby), while women’s soccer played their first official match in 1895 also in that country (London) between the country’s north and south teams. Only 32 years differentiate their origins and yet there is still a huge gap that is gradually narrowing.
But to understand well the differences between women’s and men’s soccer, those of us who work with athletes of both sexes, identify a series of unique characteristics that make them very different from each other, some especially important.
It would be a mistake to affirm that one type of soccer is better than another since sports attributes and abilities are different and consequently the style of play also, although both share similar foundations, rules and values. The proper management of these attributes and capabilities both at the individual level (sportsmanship) and group (coaching staff with the team), offer enormous potential for women’s soccer development that we will try to explain below.
Emotional Intelligence (EI)
Both training and competition generate a series of positive and negative emotions in athletes. Emotions are present in the life of the athlete and a good management of these will result in the achievement of as many goals and objectives as desired. The tool to manage those emotions is called emotional intelligence (EI). Through emotional intelligence, an athlete can regulate their behavior by optimizing their abilities and level of adaptation to competitive environments.
Emotional intelligence is the ability to perceive, understand, use and manage one’s emotions and those of others (Slovey, Mayer and Caruso – 2001).
The greater emotional control the athlete has, the better results they will obtain and the greater personal and professional improvement they will achieve in their career. The lack of emotional control can cause anxiety, high tension states, feelings of uncertainty, insecurities and above all fear of failure. At other times it is the lack of motivation, self-confidence or excessive worries that jeopardizes performance.
It is therefore essential to manage the need that players have to learn to regulate emotional flows. It is the task of the technical bodies to help athletes acquire the necessary skills and competencies that allow them to face demanding competition situations by helping them rationalize their emotions as they will be their motor of activity.
Men, women and emotional intelligence
Could we say that EI is equally developed in both sexes?
If our answer were yes, we would make a serious mistake in view of the result of numerous studies carried out over the years in the sports field. The answer is “no” and the reasons are as follows.
In the case of women and since childhood, the relationships between females and emotional competences are very close due to greater socialization between women and feelings. Emotionally, they tend to be more expressive and have a greater capacity to understand emotions for those who demonstrate greater ability in interpersonal relationships. They are able to better recognize emotions in others, being more perceptive and empathic than men. The reasons come from afar, as we say from childhood, since from an early age the socialization developed in girls is accompanied by the use of more emotionally charged words.
This fact causes the creation of a context in which girls develop verbal skills more quickly, making them more skilled in articulating their feelings and use of words. This allows them to have a set of resources enriched with which they replace emotional reactions such as physical fights, a resource commonly used in the case of children since they are young.
Over time, this difference in focus on emotion management ends up developing very different skills between men and women, acquiring the latter skills in reading verbal and nonverbal indicators, enhancing the ability to express and communicate their feelings.
However, men socialize from children in competitive contexts where they avoid expressing emotions to save a possible exposure to vulnerability. Children therefore become specialists in minimizing emotions related to guilt, fear, vulnerability and pain when they occur.
Taken to the soccer field, thanks to early learning, women exhibit a more extensive knowledge to perceive, interpret and manage their emotional expressions, giving them greater ability in managing emotional intelligence, a key element in sports development. Their perception and soccer practice, therefore, differs from the masculine style among other aspects, due to the management of the emotions generated in training and the competition itself.
The way in which they perceive gestures, actions, movements and reactions of the rival team, give rise to stimuli that in most cases are interpreted and managed differently than the way players on a men’s soccer team would interpret. This fact promotes a style of play conditioned by the management of emotional intelligence.
Force vs technique
It seems clear that, in most cases, men have more physical strength compared to women considering scenarios of equality in characteristics such as age, weight and physical fitness. But this is not a reason for underestimating capabilities in one way or another, since, in women’s soccer the potential lack of physical strength is widely compensated with attributes of technical quality, agility or coordination.
Undoubtedly these characteristics cause a different soccer style in both sexes, although neither is exclusive of the other, simply different skills and attitudes (emotional intelligence) are put into practice that show two different forms of action in this sport.
Effort Vs sacrifice
Another important element that must be considered as a conditioner in the practice of women’s soccer is that related to the physiological changes that women suffer in a natural way. By this we mean the menstrual cycles that directly influence sports performance.
With more and more scientific and sports interest in professional teams, global programs are being developed that seek to adapt the workload based on the menstrual cycles of the players. A case of recent success corresponds to the victory of the American women’s team that won the victory of the World Cup held in France in 2019. The coaching staff of that team attributes it as a key success factor apart from the abilities of its players, the management and monitoring they made of the physiological changes of the set to accommodate the intensity of the exercises in their preparation.
Men’s soccer is exempt from these types of issues, another factor for which the development of women’s soccer is different. Aspects such as this make the difference from the coach’s point of view to recognize when a player passes from effort to the sports sacrifice, something that those of us who work with females consider an act of courage, involvement and commendable commitment.
Goals and objectives
The above mentioned leads us to the establishment of goals and objectives in the design and planning of the sports program for the season, considering all the factors mentioned in the previous points. The evolution of the events during the course of the season can turn defiance into challenges when the conditions of the competition are hardened by the alteration of any of these factors beyond the injuries, to which the technical bodies must react immediately.
It creates a more distinctive additional element between women’s soccer and men’s soccer in relation to the greater number of imponderables that must be handled by the technical bodies of the women’s teams and the direct impact that their management will have on the practice of this sport.
At this point, we strive to equate women’s soccer to men’s when we truly see that there are many conditions that make them and will always be different from each other.
For those of us who are fortunate to be in addition to coaches, parents of soccer players, this time I have taken the liberty of consulting my son about his point of view regarding women’s soccer. His response was as follows:
“I do not want women’s soccer to be equal to men’s. People assume that men’s soccer is better than women’s, but that is not true, they are only different, but both should have the same equality. ”
I can’t agree more with this opinion, we have the privilege in Spain of being able to attend both styles of soccer with an increasing level of professionalism in each one that is constantly increasing. Let’s take advantage of it, let’s enjoy it and, above all, let’s support their comparison and continue enjoying this sporting diversity that makes us great in this sport.
From HO SOCCER and our Club, we want to share this reflection and jointly celebrate International Women’s Day with a special message dedicated to all those athletes who give everything on the field.
Josemi Rodríguez | C.D. Leganés
First Team and Youth Squads Goalkeeper Coach