Ok, ok so there were two male head coaches vying for the NCAA-I Women’s Basketball Championship in 2009—the first time since 1988. Kudos to Geno Auriemma and Jeff Walz, obviously they are effective coaches. Why was this media worthy? The media’s coverage and the public interest in this phenomenon seemed disproportionate and rooted in three major beliefs (and probably more, so please weigh in!). First, is it that we are shocked that is has been SO long—over 20 years!—since males have coached two teams to the national championship in the most visible, well attended and popular sports in women’s collegiate athletics (even though men are the majority of coaches in this sport and level)? Or second…is it that we are surprised that at least one female coach has trained her team into the championship for the past 21 of 28 years (click here to see the breakdown)? Did you know that in the history of the NCAA-I Women’s Basketball Tournament that 75% of the winning teams were coached by female head coaches? Or third, are we celebrating the fact that despite the dearth of female collegiate coaches and the host of social, personal and structural barriers they face, females have managed to thrive in women’s basketball? Or… is it a mix of all three? Whichever way you lean, the bigger questions are—why are people surprised, and why is this newsworthy? I think the disproportionate attention reveals some deep seeded beliefs about male and female coaches and their abilities.
One writer on the NCAA.com blog quickly made the link between two male coaches in the final and why female athletes prefer male coaches. That is a BIG leap and is problematic on many levels as fellow Women Talk Sports blogger Megan Hueter points out. I am also reminded of the Women’s Sport Foundation position paper that refutes myths and commonly held assumptions about the female athlete “preference” for male coaches. I won’t recap all the main points which discuss in short, the effects of rarely seeing females in positions of power in all contexts, the belief that male coaches are more competent, and homophobia. I encourage you to read it.
In the end, after UConn and Auriemma cut down the nets, I am certain of a few things. I’m certain that the reason why all the women’s basketball teams in the last 28 years have ended up playing for a national championship is that they had EFFECTIVE coaches—which has nothing to do with the gender of the coach. I’m also certain the players on those teams were talented. I hope, sooner rather than later, that we can move away from talking about the gender of the coach and turn our primary attention to the characteristics that make a coach effective.