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How to get female athletes to stop saying sorry?

Coaching athletes for years, the one thing that I usually correct is when a player says they are sorry. The biggest reason is that I want my players to gain their power back. My goal is to instill confidence and accountability. 

After practice one day, I decided to do some research, spoke to some athletes and here is what we found. 

girls playing basketball

Why do women apologize so much?

A University of Waterloo, Canada study and this article found that women tend to apologize more often because they have a lower threshold than men for what they consider offensive. Over-apologizing can undermine your authority and negatively impact your career. Or in this case, your status on your youth sports team. 

If one of my players makes a mistake, they say they are sorry. They are trying to be kind and respectful. We understand the part of female athletes not wanting to be considered cocky. It is important for girls to be looked up and liked. That wanting to be liked is linked to so many things and how they behave on and off the field. So what is being said to girls.

What are the conflicting messages to girls:

It is hard, there are many different messages girls receive. Their willingness to please others sometimes prevents the qualities we want in our girls. 

From Child Mind article on Why Girls Apologize too Much, Dr. Hinsham looks at the why. Girls, Dr. Hinshaw explains, are also told to be ambitious, smart, and successful. But for them the directive comes with conditions that hamper individuation.

  • Be confident, but not conceited
  • Be smart, but no one likes a know-it-all
  • Ambition is good, but trying too hard is bad
  • Be assertive, but only if it doesn’t upset anyone else

As coaches, we want our girl players to be confident, smart, ambitious and assertive. When we instill confidence in our female players, they become better at their sport. They become better teammates. It is a cycle that will find its way into the classroom. If you have confidence in one part of your life, those same processes find their way to work. 

What can girls say instead of apologizing:

Another stealthier version of apologetic language is “hedging”—not exactly apologizing, but still expressing a lack of confidence. Examples of common hedges include:

  • “Excuse me, can I ask…”
  • “I might be wrong, but …”
  • “I don’t know, but…

Some changes in language when playing and practicing. We asked a few athletes and here is what they had to say. Here are 3 good alternatives that are short, confident and easy to say on the move – while in a game or practice. 

  • My bad
  • Let me try again
  • That’s on me 


My goal as a coach is to instill a love of the game, confidence, accountability, being a good teammate and leader. We want them to acknowledge mistakes, self reflect and move on. Changing language can help players do that. And these small changes will overflow to other parts of their life.

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August 1, 2022

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