On Wednesday, Nike announced their new Coaching Girls Guide. In partnership with We Coach, an organization devoted to the recruitment, advancement, and retention of women coaches in all sports and levels, Nike is looking to bring more women into the coaching role and keep girls in sport for longer. Shalane Flanagan, a former Nike athlete and current coach with the Nike Bowerman Track Club, had the same vision during her time as an athlete – which she has now realized through her new role. However, Flanagan doesn’t believe the work is done, that in fact, it’s just getting started.
Flanagan wrote in a Nike op-ed, “To me, coaching begins with leading by example. I believe we need more women in the arena of coaching, because we can’t become what we don’t see. We need positive role models for girls and young women at all levels of sport. We need caring, compassionate and inclusive leaders who create communities that lift and inspire – which is why I’m so excited about resources like the Made to Play Coaching Girls Guide, which provides coaches and caring adults with the tools to make sport fun for girls.”
Flanagan has been a massive role model for distance runners worldwide. The runner was one of the most consistent performers at all levels of the sport (from high school to university to elite track to professional marathoning), competing in multiple Olympics (her first at the age of 23 in 2004). She would go on to qualify for the 2008, 2012 and 2016 Games.
But her priority isn’t just elite running – she wants all women to stay in sport, regardless of ability. Flanagan describes participating in team sports as a kid and finding that though she wasn’t the best, it was important for her development. “Just because you’re not the best at something doesn’t mean it’s not worth it. Comparison is the thief of joy – it’s key to run your own race and focus on your own goals and not those of others. Sport is about progress and self-improvement over anything else.”
Marielle Hall is a 2016 Olympian in the 10,000m who moved to Portland, sight unseen, to be coached by Flanagan. “I moved because she believed anything was possible and I wanted to be in an environment where anything is possible. She puts the onus on you as a person to work hard, but you know you’ve got her support. I’ve been able to come into my own as a person, on top of improving in training.”
Flanagan’s advice for parents who are coaching girls
Flanagan feels that the key to sporting success is keeping it enjoyable. “There has to be an element of fun. Both of my parents were really elite marathoners, but when I was young we didn’t look at running like training. It was more like playing.” She continues: “To keep young women in sport, the key is connections. You need to be excited to go to practice. That should come from a foundation of playing with their friends, and carry on from there.”
She encourages parents to keep options open for their kids, allow them to try lots of stuff and then choose the sport they like best. For parents or coaches interested in the guide, it can be found here.