Modeling Brave not Perfect

By Christine Bright

At We Coach, when we are training coaches to work specifically with girls, one of the strategies that we talk about is Brave not Perfect. The shortest version of this idea is that we ask girls to set aside some of the things that society requires of them (i.e. perfection) and let them try something new that they might mess up without fearing failing. As our society functions right now, I believe that because we ask for perfection from girls and women, we are missing out on a lot of their creative, wild, silly, smart full selves and ideas. Which is really sad. Because if we could find space to allow misses from girls, we would see a lot of radical cultural change for the better. I know you have a niece or sister or neighbor who fails beautifully all the time and doesn’t care what anyone thinks and that is amazing. And we can make her less of an exception. If more girls felt free to try advanced science or windsurfing or whatever they are feeling passionate about, that would be a society-wide net positive. In training, we talk about the study that shows that women only apply for jobs when they meet 100% of job requirements whereas men apply when they meet only 60%. It’s a groaner moment to talk about this study with a group of adult women because if they didn’t know the exact study, they instantly believe it and you can watch their brains thinking about their last job applications. This demonstrates that it isn’t only girls (kids doing the hard work of growing up) that are searching for ways to shed a society-inflected unattainable perfection, it’s a large group, maybe even the majority of adult women as well. The last time I facilitated Brave not Perfect, one participant asked if we could just talk about how she could apply this to her own life.

Well, Chicago coach, here you go. One of the first and most intuitive strategies for coaching is modeling the behaviors that you want to see. If you would like respect, you give respect. If you would like participants to leave their Hi-C at home and hydrate properly, you leave your sugary coffee drink in the car too. That means, if you would like your players to try out Brave not Perfect, you need to try it out too.

Remember for some girls, Brave not Perfect could just be arriving at practice. If sport for girls isn’t part of their family or community culture, they could be demonstrating true bravery by showing up. For others, showing up is easy, so Brave not Perfect is going to look different for each participant, and it is going to look different for you as an adult coach. Here are some strategies for making Brave not Perfect an explicit part of your team culture:

1. Explain it to your team, talk about why you are focused here. Whenever I have done this, girls already know that something is different for them than for boys. You can do this explanation mainly in questions, and your team will paint you a picture.

2. Leave room at the beginning or end of practice for girls to tell Brave not Perfect stories.

3. Make a coaching or skills based error (on purpose or not) and call it out. I remember one time as a new coach, I asked my team to arrive 45 minutes before the game started for warm-ups. Everyone did what I asked. But I WANTED them to be ready to warm up 45 minutes before. They still had to put their socks on, roll their pre-wrap, tape their ankles, etc. I called them in and said, “Team, I made a mistake. I asked you to be here 45 minutes before the game and you were. What I needed to say was “Be here ready to warm up 45 minutes before the game.” Now we are running late, can you help fix my mistake by getting ready to go quickly please?” It would have been much easier to yell at my players for not being ready, even though I never told them to be ready!

4. Share your own examples of Brave not Perfect. For coaches, there are lots of Brave not Perfect moments, but some of your best stories may come from outside practice. Which means you have to use the strategy outside of practice to share. Here are some other times that I use it. Remember, your list will look different than mine:

  • I volunteered to write a blog post for We Coach (this one). It is my first blog post and it is terrifying to write in my own voice and share.
  • I make a goal to share at least one thought or idea on every “staff meeting.”
  • I try new athletic activities- most recently, climbing. I wanted to remember what it feels like to be a total athletic novice, and boy did I find that feeling.
  • I started to learn the ukulele- I have defined myself as a non-musical person and realized that wasn’t helping me. So now I can strum and sing. Sort of.
  • I was asked to be the head coach of a high school varsity soccer team when I was pregnant with my second child. In a moment of pure brave not perfect, I said yes.
  • I am a parent. Brave not Perfect every day.
  • 5. Of course, we would wildly prefer to NOT have a pandemic on our hands, COVID-19 gives us an opportunity to connect with our players in a new way. Learning a new technology or trying to connect virtually is very Brave not Perfect. Chances are you have already tried a couple of ways to connect with your team and maintain relationships. I bet some have been full misses and others are sticking and working for now. Beyond technology, this moment in time gives us a chance to remind our teams that we are humans too. Sharing your COVID hair, or your messy house, or your misses as you (we) struggle to find “normal” will reinforce that we are all doing our best to be brave at this moment.

    If you are new to trying Brave not Perfect, it’s hard! Like I said at the beginning, some stuff in our society is set up to make it especially hard for women to be brave. Those things exist for you whether you have named them or not. So it’s not like since you are an adult, this should be intuitive and easy. It takes work. And frankly, it’s not fair that this work falls on you. It’s ok (or probably good) to be angry about that unfairness. Anger can lead to big change for you personally, and for our society. I think knowing that it is work helps it happen. Start small, try often and remember, the best part of Brave not Perfect is that if you botch it, you were still brave.

    Just like sports, the more you practice it, the more intuitive it becomes. Your team will be so grateful for your modeling of Brave not Perfect and hopefully it feels good to you too.