Women “On the Field”: Strategies for Increasing Female Youth Sport Coaches

Given that less than 20% of youth coaches are female, which I wrote about in my last blog I wanted to post some strategies that developed from the voices of mother-coaches that I interviewed with colleague Sarah Leberman (Massey U, NZ). The women identified many creative ways to increase the number of female coaches in youth sport.

To achieve this goal is much more complicated than convincing women they should coach or throwing up our hands and claiming “women just don’t WANT to coach” as the person below suggests in a letter to the editor in the StarTribune He states, “If a woman wanted to coach she would seek a coaching job. It is wrong to assume because there are not a lot of women coaches that there is some conspiracy to not have them coach. A more common-sense assumption is that they don’t want to coach. Just as not many men go into nursing or shop because they would prefer to do something else. Is there a conspiracy among women to keep us from shopping? Ridiculous.”

Yes women have “choices” but their choices are shaped by the gendered context of youth sport in which men hold most of the positions of power (i.e., club directors, youth sport organization Presidents, Head Coaches). Many women want to coach but they encounter what sociologist Mike Messner (USC) calls in his book a glass ceiling and “chilly climate”, due in part to the existing “old boy’s club” that controls youth sport.

Increasing the number of female coaches will take a variety of strategies at the individual, family, organizational and societal level. Arguably, the hardest levels to change are family and societal norms. A majority of women are still the primary caretakers of children and responsible for household organization which makes taking on coaching a “third shift”. The juggling of the worker-mother/wife-coach roles is exhausting and makes it challenging and/or overwhelming for many women to continue to coach or to agree to begin coaching. Changing societal gender norms and family division of labor is out of my control(!), but implementing some “easier” strategies at the youth sport organizational level might result in more women “on the field”.

Click here to see the handout I made on Strategies for Increasing Female Youth Sport Coaches

If you have other suggestions or strategies to increase female youth sport coaches, I would love to hear from you.

Youth Sport Needs More Female Coaches

swim-girl-under-water_istock_000006357654xsmallA lot of my research is done in youth sport contexts, including examining the barriers that prevent females from entering into youth sport coaching. While the under representation of female coaches at the collegiate level is given attention (See Acosta & Carpenter’s longitudinal report and the 2009 NCAA Report on Gender Equity in College Coaching and Administration:Perceived Barriers), less is known about the youth level.

In some recent research I’ve done combined with that of colleague Michael Messner (Professor of Gender Studies and Sociology at USC) we found that less than 20% of all youth sport coaches are female. Messner’s new book It’s All for the Kids: Gender, Families, and Youth Sport is a must read on the many barriers female coaches face and how gender hierarchies and inequalities are reproduced in one of our most popular social institutions—youth sport. Messner recently wrote a great op-ed in a So-Cal newspaper titled “Let’s have more crying in baseball” which is also a must read.

How is it that despite record participation numbers for girls and women across all levels of sport, that females are not entering into youth sport coaching? (look for a future blog on barriers..it is a complex issue!) The vast numbers of Post-Title IX women and former female collegiate athletes who clearly have experience and expertise to offer youth athletes are not translating into more coaches. Both Messner and I discovered that when women do coach youth sport, they are often relegated to “less prestigious” teams—recreational level, girls’ teams, or younger age groups.

Why does it matter if less than 1 in 5 youth sport coaches are female?

istock__mom-coach-soccer_xsmall Female coaches provide a rich opportunity to influence social change, challenge stereotypical beliefs pertaining to gender and leadership, and provide visible, active role models for children and youth—especially for girls. Access and exposure to female role models in positions of leadership (i.e., a coach) is particularly important to girls, as they have fewer such role models in their lives than do boys—and this is especially true in sport contexts. Girls are more likely to emulate and identify with a matched-gender role model (i.e., daughter-mother rather than daughter-father)—therefore the visibility of female coaches may have a positive impact on girls’ motivation and self-perceptions. In the absence of female coaches and role models, female athletes may devalue their own abilities, accept negative stereotypes, fail to realize their potential, and limit their own sport career aspirations.

In order for youth sport to be realized as a mechanism for social change, females must be seen in equal numbers in all positions of power within this important social institution. Much work remains to achieve this important goal that will benefit all children.

If you are in the Minneapolis/St. Paul Area and want to hear Professor Messner talk about “You Gotta Be Tough”:Challenges & Strategies of Female Coaches in Youth Sport on Wednesday, April 22, 2009 7-9pm, visit this website for more information. You can also read Rachel Blount’s column Studies blow the whistle on lack of women coaches in the StarTribune.

What do online biographies of NCAA coaches tell us?

I’m posting some information on a research project poster that a graduate student, myself and a colleague developed for the Sport, Sexuality, & Culture Symposium held March 18-20, 2009 at Ithaca College.

Examining Online Intercollegiate Head Coaches’ Biographies:
Reproducing or Challenging Heteronormativity and Heterosexism?

Pat Griffin and the It Takes a Team curriculum she helped develop has raised attention to the many ways that GLBT athletes and coaches experience prejudice and discrimination in overt and subtle ways. We were interested in analyzing heterosexism on university-sponsored athletics websites. Online biographies are a universal component of intercollegiate athletic websites and provide the public with an accessible “up close and personal” source of information about coaches and teams. This project extended work of sport media scholars who contend that coverage and framing of athletes and coaches present females in heteronormative ways in print (Fink & Kensicki, 2002; Kane & Buysse, 2005), broadcast (Billings, Halone & Denham, 2002) and new media (Jones, 2006; Maxwell, 2008).

Online biographies of NCAA Intercollegiate Head Coaches of the Big Ten Conference (N = 226) were examined for patterns of textual representations that reaffirm heterosexuality as the norm.

sssc-conference-2009_poster

We found two interesting trends:
1. The pattern of underrepresentation of female coaches in the Big Ten was apparent.
2. A complete absence of diverse sexual orientations was reflected in biographical narratives.

To read more about the trends that emerged from the data, see all the results, or download the poster click here.

If You Succeed…Don’t Try, Try Again…Coach Men!?

When a coach excels in coaching, for example women’s basketball, why is the coach encouraged or challenged to try a hand at coaching men?

This pattern of comparison has happened a few times this year, ironically to two of the most successful coaches in women’s collegiate basketball. Most recently, Geno Auriemma (Head Coach of the UConn Women’s Basketball team and current National Champions) was praised by Bobby Knight after Tuesday’s championship game. Knight said in response to Auriemma’s sixth national title in women’s basketball, “The guy is really, really a good coach. One of the best that I’ve ever seen in the game of basketball.” Knight went on to say that Auriemma is so good, he could even coach men. When Tennessee Lady Vol Head Coach Pat Summitt won her 1,000th game this year, adding to the fact she has the most wins of ANY coach in college basketball, some argued she is “so good” she should or could coach men. (Ironically I don’t think Knight had similar praise for Summit’s achievements) I have NEVER heard the reverse, such as, “John Calipari is so good, he should consider coaching the women,” or “Roy Williams has won a couple national championships on the men’s side, he could even coach women.” Why?—because this would be perceived as a ludicrous step backwards.

Assuming Auriemma or Summitt would want to coach men, suggesting they could or should is insulting, not complimentary. Such statements are based on the assumption that coaching men is the “real game”, the pinnacle, or more rewarding than coaching women. It also implies that a coach hasn’t “made it” unless s/he has coached men and constructs the women’s game as less valued and important. Similarly, it suggests that coaching men is more difficult and challenging, takes away from the accomplishments of successful coaches in the women’s game, and marginalizes their coaching achievements. Instead of speculation and comparison, let us simply celebrate and applaud their accomplishments.

What Makes an Effective Coach?….It’s NOT Gender!

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.