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Are men and women both from Mars-nus?

Men are from Mars and women are from Venus, argued John Gray in his best-selling book of 1992. When it comes to the workplace, however, men and women are treated as hailing from the same planet with little consideration given to areas such as pressure, teamwork and motivation where sport psychology would indicate there are differences. What can sport teach us about managing women and men?


In the research for her award-winning book Mind Games, Kinetic associate Annie Vernon aimed to understand how men and women respond differently to situations. A number of coaches and sport psychologists said to her, ‘of course they do’!

Sport psychologist Dr Kate Hays has researched the differences between elite male athletes and elite female athletes in how they source and assemble their confidence. Her research indicates they go through this process in markedly different ways. Hays’ work has found that gender is related both to the source of confidence and to the type of confidence.


As a general rule, women derive confidence from good personal performances and the process; men derive confidence from winning and the outcome. The role of the coach was also very different between the genders. In this study, the women derived confidence from the social support of the coach: the encouragement, rapport, and trust that the coach showed in them. The men seemed only to need the coach to set the training programme and do a good job, and that was enough for their confidence. Women need emotional support.

This study highlights the need to source confidence from lots of different places. Because if one source of confidence (for example, I’ve always nailed it on the big occasions in the past) fails, the whole edifice might shatter. The study found that there are more things that can potentially knock the confidence of female athletes as opposed to male, such as not getting on with their coach –their confidence is more fragile. Women are also more reliant on external information. ‘Women athletes derived confidence from a perceived competitive advantage, such as seeing their competitors perform badly, or crack under the pressure of competition. In contrast, men just believed they were better than their competition . . . female world-class athletes tend to be situationally dependent on external information in establishing performance expectations.’


When applied to a practical sport setting, some of Hays’ conclusions are echoed by another sport psychologist. ‘From a female squad point of view, you definitely get a sense that the quality of relationship that exists within the group is an important source of confidence. Are we supporting each other? Are we getting along well? Is there a harmony behind this? Is the team strong? That sense of togetherness is an important source of confidence, which you wouldn’t necessarily look at from the guys in the squad, and ask if they need that sense that We’re all OK to be confident. To me, that’s one of the obvious differences; that social support element is a very important piece of it from a gender perspective.’

Sport would advise us that men and women should be managed differently. Have you thought about whether you’re putting structures in place to support both genders slightly differently?


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