Equity as Part of Mental Toughness Training: Challenge Your Dynamics

author - judy jarvis coaching gender equity

My URCA presentation, Cultivating the Mental Toughness Muscle in Practice, talks through how coaches can incorporate mental toughness training into their team’s practice. I’ll be drawing on my experiences coaching Jughandle, who made Nationals for the first time in 2018, as well as some useful external influences. 

Part of my presentation challenges the notion that equity and mental toughness are two entirely separate things. Coaching Jughandle through the 2018 season, equity and mental toughness became a positive feedback loop with each other.  

Equity and mental toughness are cyclical

Jug hadn’t had a head coach in their 11-year history but they had a very strong, positive and joyful team culture and always made Regionals. They were looking for a woman coach specifically to elevate women in the game and work on equity. I got involved because I felt the skill was there and the positivity was there to really achieve something. Among the biggest challenges facing the team was mental toughness. And looking back, the work we did on gender equity was part of our mental toughness training.  

Everybody’s voice matters

Equity was a big part of the agenda I felt well-placed to address, as the director of a campus LGBT center. And there were a couple things that I noticed when I joined Jughandle that were anti equity and anti mental toughness. 

One was a dynamic of “the women are just less experienced, so that’s why they don’t get the disc as much, they’re not as much in the leadership roles.” The narrative of the team was that the men “just know more, so that’s why they’re giving people more feedback, talking more in the circles, scoring more goals.” It was pretending that it wasn’t gendered, that experience just happened to be men and inexperience happened to be women. 

That’s just bullshit. We had to work through that towards understanding everybody’s voice matters on the team. Someone’s who’s been on the team 10 years of course has valuable things to say, and they may have major blindspots because they’ve been on the team for 10 years. It helped me to come in as someone attuned to gender dynamics, and as someone new, and as the coach, and say I didn’t accept the premises that weren’t equitable. 

Set a foundation of being open and vulnerable

The team knew from the get go that equity was part of how I was running the team. We had conversations about equity at practice as a team, but also made time to split into gender-alike groups to check in. I also spoke to everyone on the team about their goals and particularly with the women about their experiences with gender equity. This set a foundation of being open and being vulnerable. I was asking them what was working with their play and their impressions of the team. 

When their male teammates were doing something to prevent that woman’s growth, we had more tough conversations. I would call the male player up to share the feedback and make a plan. Tone was important here. You can’t chastise people, but instead encourage them to figure out what they might want to do differently. I’d say things like, “Your teammate is not feeling valued or appreciated by you when you do X”. I’ve listed a few common actions below.

Non-equitable actions to be aware of:

  • Talking over them 
  • Discounting their leadership 
  • Looking them off on open throws
  • Cutting them off on the field
  • Assuming they wanted or needed a lot of feedback

Creating an atmosphere where people can be heard

The culture we ended up creating together for the 2018 season was really positive and powerful.  It seemed that all players felt like they could share their experiences and be heard. And it also requires of trust to hear that constructive feedback: “you’re not being equitable in your play, what are you going to do about it?”

And it wasn’t just feedback from the women, but LGBTQ people and people of color. Everyone could be vulnerable and could trust their teammates to appreciate their experiences. We were appreciating the people giving the feedback and those receiving it. They could be validated when they wanted to work to improve themselves. And when you have that sort of investment in yourself as an athlete and a person, coming from all your teammates, that’s some next level trust. 

Trust increases the ability to persist

When you have that level of trust, you’re more willing to hang with your team in tough tournament moments. The skills that people learned from having difficult equity conversations allowed them to increase their trust and vulnerability which increased their ability to persist in difficult circumstances. In the end, equity fed mental toughness, which fed equity, which fed mental toughness.

That positive loop was a huge part of the Jug culture and it’s just one of the ways we worked on the mental toughness that got us to Nats. There was plenty more, from assessing the team culture to planning practices to approaching tournaments, all of which I cover in my URCA presentation.

More on this topic

Sign up for free to view Judy's full presentation, to be released this Thursday.

Sign up for the URCA Classroom to access our other gender equity and mental toughness trainings, including Equity, Ethics, and Professionalism, Simple Mental Strength Training Techniques You Can Start Today, and How to Generate Buy-In and Commitment.

Check out our other blog posts:

Having The Talk: Discussing Gender Equity With Your Team by Zara Cadoux

Gender Equity in Mixed Ultimate: Varsity Ultimate's Approach

What's Your Coaching Philosophy? by Dan Rule