Why a Woman Coach in the NBA Matters

Becky Hammon, Assistant Coach San Antonio Spurs
Becky Hammon, Assistant Coach San Antonio Spurs

This summer an NBA team was in the news… for hiring a woman to the coaching staff.

During the first week of August 2014, the San Antonio Spurs made history when they hired 16-year WNBA San Antonio Stars veteran Becky Hammon as a full-time assistant coach for the 2014-15 season.

While there are women coaches of men, the Hammon hire matters for a number of reasons:

1.The percent of women coaches at every level of competition has declined since the passage of Title IX in 1972…despite a record number of female sport participants. Based on the data, 20% of all college athletes–male and female–are coached by women and 43.4% of females have a woman head coach. If women are not seen in a position of power or a certain career, it is less likely other females will view that job as a viable and realistic career pathway. Seeing Hammon on the Spurs sideline matters because it communicates that women can (and do!) coach men at the highest level. It communicates a career possibility, and a lucrative one at that.

2. The best team in the NBA, the 2014 Champions San Antonio Spurs and the best coach in the NBA, 2014 NBA Coach of the Year Gregg Popovich, hired a woman coach. What winners do in the most visible and popular sports matters, because winning is valued in sport culture and society. Winners get to communicate what is valued, important and relevant. Popovich’s confidence in Hammon will help quell the gurgle of naysayers who believe women can’t coach men or help “mold boys into successful men” (as was stated by a current male head college coach in a Slate.com piece). If you believe this statement, then by the same logic, men should not coach females because they have no place in molding girls into women. Therefore, all athletes should be coached by the same sex. Obviously this is false logic as we know many male coaches help their female athletes grow and develop personally and athletically, and women coaches provide the same guidance, mentoring and coaching for males. Women can coach males at any level, but are rarely given the opportunity to do so.

Scholars argue the lack of opportunity for women to coach males at the highest level is about preserving and maintaining power. If women are given the opportunity to coach men in pro sports or D-I high-profile college mens’ teams, and succeed, who benefits and who doesn’t? If women are denied the opportunity to coach males–who benefits and who doesn’t?  If women are revealed as competent coaches in a domain historically and currently dominated by males–coaching males, and recently coaching all athletes–then the existing order of power may shift, and this makes some men who benefit from that power and privilege uneasy. All athletes can benefit from a gender-balanced and diverse work force–meaning they are coached by both men and women.

3. Hammon was hired because she is qualified and competent. It wasn’t a publicity stunt. Spurs head coach, Gregg Popovich stated in a release that Hammon will be an asset to his championship team. Competence matters and Popovich believes that Hammon’s knowledge and experience as a long-time veteran player and Spurs insider, will provide value to him, the coaching staff and the players. In her NBA press conference Hammon claimed she was hired because of her background, personal skills, capabilities and basketball IQ. She owned her competence.

Kudos to Becky Hammon, a coaching pioneer, as her presence at the highest level of a major men’s sport will hopefully start a national dialogue about why women coaches matter.

Related to the issue of women coaches of male athletes…

In July 2014 Doc Rivers, head coach of the NBA Los Angeles Clippers, asked Natalie Nakase to be an assistant coach for the team’s short summer league and announced she will return as the Clipper’s assistant video coordinator, a position she held last season. Nakase made her debut coaching males when she became the first female head coach in Japanese men’s professional basketball. Nakase’s goal is to be a head coach in the NBA.

In the MLB, Kim Ng is motivated, competent, experienced and poised to become a general manager. She is currently working with Joe Torre again in the MLB executive offices as Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations.

In professional men’s tennis, early in the summer of 2014 Amelie Mauresmo (2-time Grand Slam women’s tennis champion) was signed by ATP Top 10 player Andy Murray, which is in the works to become a long term arrangement.

There are other women like Hammon, Nakase, Ng and Mauresmo who want to and are competent to coach men and I hope 2014 will be the start of a trend…that competent and eager women will be considered, given a real opportunity, and hired for coaching positions, regardless of the sex of the athlete or level of competition.

To learn more about the Alliance of Women Coaches, a group dedicated to growing the number of women in the coaching profession click here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s