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Assertiveness An Important Skill for Girls and Women in Sports

Picture These Scenarios

frustrated basketball player

You've just moved to a new school. They've got a pretty decent basketball team. You were the best point guard at your old school. But, here, the coach doesn't really know you -- and your position is a seat on the bench. You are getting pretty frustrated and angry. You don't even want to talk to him!

You've just watched your daughter take a blow to the head on the field. This happened last week too, and the coach put her right back in the game. You think that it would be better to let her recover and stay out of the rest of the game. But, you are just a mom, and she is the coach. You are afraid of confronting her. You can just feel the blood flushing up in your cheeks!

You have finally made it to the high school fencing championships. Things are not going according to plan. This is already the third point that the judging official says you've lost. You know that he is wrong. You are about to have a major temper tantrum right on the mat.

Most athletic events involve INTERACTION between people. There is some interchange of words, feelings and behaviors. Teammates, coaches, athletic trainers, spectators and parents all have opinions and ideas. Most of us know that losing our cool and blabbing out our emotions in someone's face is not the right way to communicate.

But the opposite kind of behavior is a big problem, too. Keeping feelings bottled-up, particularly when you feel mistreated, can cause real difficulties. It shows a lack of self-respect. It gives people the message that you can be walked on or that your opinions just don't count.

Some people are under the impression that asserting oneself is "unladylike" or "improper". In reality, however, learning how to be assertive can give you a sense of inner integrity. Being assertive is the ability to express feelings, to say "no", to ask favors, to question the coach.

Webster's dictionary defines assertion as "behavior that emphasizes self-confidence and persistent determination to express oneself in a positive way." There is an important distinction to be made, here. Being assertive does not mean being aggressive. Asserting your power is quite different from trying to dominate someone with ruthlessness and cruelty. Aggressive behaviors are counter-productive - you end up losing real power and influence.

Assertiveness is not an attack technique. But, rather, it is a mind-set. It is actually a more powerful way to achieve your objective. It is the balance point between acting wimpy, hesitant, timid and acting harsh and abusive. Being assertive is being appropriate, firm, honest and genuine.

Determine your present level of assertiveness. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What do you do when you are treated unfairly?

  • Do you find it difficult to ask others to do you a favor?

  • Are you comfortable getting all the information you need about your injury from the doctor?

  • How do you handle criticisms?

How does one learn to get what they deserve in an appropriate way? You need to develop an assertive approach that enables you to act in your own best interests- in a comfortable manner. You have to have a "game plan' for the next situation that arises.

First step: You need to reduce your anxiety about being assertive!

  • Try some centered, deep breathing

  • Observe and model someone you admire for their assertiveness

  • Ask yourself, "What's the worst thing that can happen if I say something?"

  • Pretend that you are assertive - and get comfortable with this new role

Practice, practice, practice:

  • Like any skill you learn - it will come easier with training

  • Role play with someone

  • Practice facial expressions and voice tones that match your message

  • Start your sentences with "I"

  • Do mental rehearsals of specific scenes that may happen

Important recommendations:

  • If you are emotional - calm down first before any confrontation

  • Focus on easing your heart-rate

  • Talk slower

  • Take three deep breaths

  • Keep confrontations private - do not put people on the spot in public

  • Maintain eye contact while you are talking and listening

  • The "weight" of your message will be increased if you face the person

  • Act before any resentment builds up.

The results can be remarkable. Others will begin to take responsibility for their actions, because you chose to be assertive (and not aggressive!). Along with a newfound level of self-confidence, you will gain the respect of others. Communication will be enhanced. You will be "in the loop". You won't have that feeling of being taken advantage of. Remember that you have every right to express your feelings and opinions, to be listened to and to be treated with respect. Learning to be assertive is a great way to fulfill these rights.


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