Changing the Narrative for Women Sport Coaches: Part I

dorothy_webb
Dorothy Webb, Head Volleyball Coach, Wellesley College

The under representation of women coaches within the institution of sport has been framed in many ways–from a historic decline since the passage of Title IX, to scarcity, to the more current narrative of stagnation.

OK if you are new to this topic, let me give you the data to get you up to speed. In 1972 prior to the passing of Title IX, 90% of girls and women were coached by women–today that number is only ~40%, a number that has been stagnant for the last decade (see graph below).

stagnation

If you are asking why this matters or women coaches matter, please watch this video [forward to 22:00-25:00mn in].

Women coaches exist within an occupational landscape and sport system that is dominated by men at every level, in every position, and in nearly in every sport and institution (see here if you need the data!).

Within this system, many women coaches do not feel supported, valued, or connected to the athletics administration in ways that help them be successful. Ironically, women are often blamed for the lack of, or stagnation, of women coaches. By blaming women (the people in the system with the least power) the systemic changes that need to occur to create change and unstick the stagnation fail to happen. “Women just don’t apply” is an oft heard narrative, which places blame on women. Instead of figuring out why women don’t apply or spending time and energy to actively recruit women into the candidate pool, the buck stops at the individual level–the woman or women who CHOOSE not to apply. The End.

A lack of women applicants then provides proof that women aren’t interested in coaching, and the decision maker doing the hiring is off the hook and the system in which women make choices remains unchallenged. Choices are not made in a vacuum. Choices are influenced by the people, communities, networks, family, organizational culture, and socio-cultural factors around the individual [if you want the data pertaining to the numerous barriers women coaches face in the system, see Women in Sports Coaching, watch this video, or read these blogs].

How the issue of women coaches is framed matters!  Narratives matter!

framesFraming is how something, someone or a group of people are presented to the audience which influences the choices people make about how to process that information. Frames are powerful communication schemas (i.e., narratives) in which meaning assigned to an individual, in this case women coaches, is constructed. Framing is the selection, omission, and organization of the issue by individuals (i.e., the media, ADs) to explain the phenomena. Often dominant frames, whether true or not or whether based on empirical data or not, get taken up as “the truth” and uncritically accepted, like the example above that “women just aren’t interested in coaching.”

Leading up to International Women’s Day on March 8, 2018 I am going to be writing a series blogs to help shift the narratives around women sport coaches that might help us unstick stagnation.

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