Is competitiveness Genetic? 'Do Men and Women act differently under stress'?

There is the age-old saying that men are from mars and women are from Venus.


‘More than 99% of male and female genetic coding is exactly the same. But that [1%] percentage difference influences every single cell in our bodies – from the nerves that register pleasure and pain to the neurons that transmit perception, thoughts, feelings and emotions.’ Brizendine, 2007.

There is the age-old saying that men are from mars and women are from Venus. This couldn't be more true when it comes to coaching. Most, if not all coaches will agree that the approach you take with boys is very different to girls.

Girls are naturally more emotionally connected to their game, respond better to positive reinforcement, supportive coaching and mentoring. Rather than a tough, work harder and you must be better approach. Boys, on the other hand, thrive on competing with each other. Coaching boys in pairs can encourage them to try harder, outdo each other through social facilitation.

Looking into the science behind this, psychologist Louann Brizendine’s book, The Female Brain, summarises the difference between male and female brains. Her research found that the female brain, although smaller than a male’s, contains the same number of brain cells, only they are more compact. The key finding was, ‘the female brain is so deeply affected by hormones that their influence can be said to create a woman’s reality. They can shape a woman’s values and desires, and tell her, day to day, what’s important. A woman’s neurological reality is not as constant as a man’s.’

  • So how are they specifically different?
  • The Insula, Hippocampus and Prefrontal Cortex are all larger in women
  • Men have two and half times the brain size devoted to sexual drive, as well as larger brain centres for acting and aggression.

Men’s self-esteem derives more from their ability to maintain independence from others, while women’s self-esteem is maintained, in part, by the ability to sustain intimate relationships with others

Some key physiological differences between male and female brains have been categorized, Cunningham and Roberts 2006, Inside Her Pretty Little Head. See the below table for instinctive reactions and feelings that are inherently different between men and women.
Area of Difference
Intellectual function
An analytical, focused, linear, logical perspective
‘Whole-brained’ perspective
Base reaction
Stress response
Fight or flight
Tend and befriend
Innate interest
Survival strategy
Through self-interest, hierarchy, power and competition
Through relationships, empathy and connections
Mental preferences
Hard-wired to systemise
Hard-wired to empathise

Intellectual function;
With women explain the reasons ‘why’ when performing a new technique or training drills. This enables a woman's brain to make the connections with sides, then understand the whole process. Men on the other hand, are more focused on the task at hand to achieve results.

Base reaction;
Acknowledging and understanding what instinctive reactions happen with men and women help you communicate more effectively. In a highly stressful environment, ‘women are more likely to use negative emotion-related coping strategies such as cognitive rumination and seek emotional support (Tamres et al., 2002)’. Women are also less likely to take risks and ‘go for the smaller wins that are more guaranteed (T Huston ‘How women decide’). Men are impulsive and tend to take bigger risks. Relying on their gut instinct to succeed.

Stress response;
A science journal Gender difference in neural response to psychological stress, published ‘the response [characterized as] ‘fight-or-flight’ in men and ‘tend-and-befriend’ in women (Taylor et al., 2000). Evolutionarily, males have to confront a stressor—such as a predator—either by overcoming or fleeing it. Females respond to stress by nurturing offspring and affiliating with social groups that maximize the survival of the species in times of adversity.

Translating this to a parenting and coaching role:
What can I do to reduce the stress?
What support can I provide?
How should I approach the boys and girls I coach differently?

All questions and topics we will explore in upcoming articles.

We would love to hear your experience in coaching differences you find between girls and boys. Do you change your approach and if so what strategies do you use?

Coach well


Research and sourcing largely compiled by Emma Whetnall. Thank you Emma!
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