The Scarcity of Female Coaches-Part III

This week marks the 40th anniversary of Title IX. Currently I’m out in Denver for the NCAA Women Coaches Academy (run by the Alliance of Women Coaches) and in the next room is the NCAA/NACWAA Institute for Administrative Advancement where in both rooms the current and future generation of coaches and athletic administrators are being empowered. Seeing this group of women is inspiring and motivates me to continue the work I do to help them in part to succeed and stay in sport careers. Unfortunately they need a lot of support to do so.

As I was getting ready this morning I caught part of the ESPN Outside the Lines piece on “Coaching Conundrum” as to why there is a scarcity of female coaches. The ESPN crew had been out in Atlanta filming at the Alliance of Women Coaches annual Huddle in last May. While the ESPN piece is great for raising awareness about the scarcity of female coaches, it only scratched the surface of this complex question. An espnW piece on “The Glass Wall” is a much more in depth treatment female coaches.

I have written previously about this issue (Part 2  here and Part 1 here), but I want to elaborate a bit more on the eve of the Title IX anniversary.

The barriers for female coaches reside at four levels.

1. Individual (perception of lack of competence or confidence, choose not to coach, perception of time commitment to fulfill role)

2. Interpersonal (family & domestic commitments, lack of support from administration, negative recruiting from colleagues)

3. Organizational (lack of opportunity for professional development, lack of family-friendly policies, limited opportunities for advancement, lack of female role models in positions of power)

4. Societal-Cultural. This is the level that rarely gets discussed, is the hardest to change, and has to do with stereotypes of women, gender and leadership. The traits of effective leadership we mostly highly value in US society align with a male/masculine leadership style. If women don’t adopt or conform to this style (firm, authoritarian, assertive, loud, in control, competitive) they are perceived to be incompetent and weak. If they do adopt this style, the are often labeled a bitch because she is not conforming to a stereotypical female leadership style (caring, quiet, nurturing, passive, collaborative). The key here is that the association with gender and leadership is constructed and arbitrary, but has a dramatic effect on the careers of female coaches. If those in positions of power are mostly men (and they are!) and they are not aware of their own uncritical acceptance of leadership beliefs, and largely believe that male coaches are more competent than females…this will result in most likely a male being hired into the position. The result?–The current structure of sport and male power does not get challenged and females remain marginalized and in the minority, and because men continue to dominant the sport landscape and occupy the most important positions, society at large continues to believe that men are inherently more competent to coach.

Effective leadership is not gendered. Being competent, knowledgeable, facilitating optimal performance, treating people with care and respect, being organized, communicating well, are not inherent to males or females.

Female coaches need a voice in the sport landscape that is dominated by men. Be part of the critical mass and join the Alliance of Women Coaches.

Look for a full length article I wrote with a graduate student on this topic coming out in July 2012 in the inaugural issue of Sports Coaching Review titled “Barriers and support for female coaches: An ecological model.”

Gender Differences in Coaching

Good coaching is good coaching, regardless of athlete gender.

Male and female athletes are much more similar than they are different. There is just as much variability within females and within males, than between males and females. Despite the popular Mars/Venus perspective that females and males are vastly and inherently different, psychological research has not proven this true (see APA keynote from Janet Hyde titled “The Gender Similarity Hypothesis”).  Similarly, despite widespread opinions, anecdotes, quotes from famous coaches (i.e. Anson Dorrance), and popular press “coaching girls” books that are not evidence-based, research in coaching science and sport psychology does not support the idea that coaching males and females is different.

The only statistically significant difference, but has a very small effect size, is that female athletes prefer more democratic leadership styles from their coaches.

The Self Determination Theory states ALL human beings have 3 inherent needs-belongingness, competence and autonomy (I call them The 3C’s = care, competence and choice). Similarity.

Here are some common stereotypes I hear about coaching girls: more emotional, take criticism personally, too sensitive, hold grudges, need to talk and socialize, value relationships more, less competitive, need a cohesive team, lack killer instinct, and are better listeners. I would argue, yes this is true for SOME girls, but it is also true for SOME boys.

A Mars/Venus “difference” approach to coaching exaggerates, promotes, and reinforces outdated and dangerous gender stereotypes that are potentially harmful to BOTH males and females.

For example, if a coach believes or uncritically accepts that boys are inherently more aggressive and competitive, the coach may have different expectations and ways of structuring practices, interacting, communicating, motivating and leading girls. Similarly, if coaches believe boys don’t value connections and friendships, this too erases boys’ need for feeling a sense of belongingness. Coaching based on opinions, beliefs and popular press coaching books of inherent difference is dangerous and can limit the experiences of athletes, regardless of gender.

Coaching science researchers have demonstrated that good coaching is good coaching.

NOTE: If you would like to read a more in depth critique of this topic, please consult: LaVoi, N.M., Becker, E., & Maxwell, H.D. (2007). “Coaching Girls”: A content analysis of best-selling popular press books. Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal, 15(4), 8-20.

Broken Systems: Sport, Education & Health Care

The health care debate over the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has got me thinking about systems. Like many Americans I didn’t know much about the ACA, only that it is hotly contested. Unlike many Americans I have recently taken some time to get educated about the complex facets of the new law so I can be informed. I encourage everyone to do the same as health care affects EVERYONE…including you.

Two other systems that affect a majority of Americans are education and sports.

What do all these important social institutions have in common? They are all broken and dysfunctional. At the heart of dysfunction is how those in positions of power are rewarded and how the “client”(i.e., student, athlete, patient) is treated.

Currently, in our health care system doctors are paid/rewarded by treating sick patients (i.e.,  visit clinic, have tests run, buy drugs), not for how healthy their patients are, preventative care or keeping patients well. The quality of patient care is not at the heart of our current health care system, money is. The ACA is trying to change that by rewarding doctors for keeping health care costs LOW and patients healthy.

In the American education system, teachers are paid/rewarded regardless if their students learn, earn degrees, or receive a quality education. In some states (like MN) middle and high school teachers receive tenure, so even if their teaching is of poor quality, firing them is difficult. The same is true of colleges and universities. If students fail to achieve the standardized testing metrics of No Child Left Behind, a school is punished but not the teachers directly (to my knowledge). I teach at a university, and I get paid regardless if my students learn or earn degrees. The quality of student education is not at the heart of our education system, because there isn’t enough money allocated to fund public education.

However I know one person who will get a very LARGE bonus (a bonus larger than most faculty members earn in three years!!) if the students in his care do perform well in the classroom, and he isn’t a professor. New Ohio State Head Football Coach Urban Meyer will get “Bonuses of up to $300,000 a year if players meet certain academic progress and graduation standards.” The subtext reads: You should care about and keep your players academically eligible to play, so you are more likely to win, which brings in money to the university (i.e. TV revenue, conference revenue sharing, bowl appearances). I’m not saying Meyer shouldn’t care about his athlete’s academic performance, he should, but that is not his job. His job is to win football games. The quality of athlete experience and education is not the focus of the current “big time” (what Murray Sperber calls ‘Beer & Circus’) college sport system, money is.

If the primary structure and goal of college sports is to win, and coaches are rewarded for winning (i.e., bonuses, bigger salaries, better jobs, job security) the system is ultimately broken and in need of reform.

Winning is important and I’m not saying it isn’t or that teams/athletes/coaches shouldn’t strive to win. The point I’m making is when the primary structure of sport is set up around winning (and winning = money), exploitation of athletes, corruption, cheating the system, and scandal becomes more likely.

The problem in all three systems? The WRONG people are being rewarded with money in the wrong ways and the quality of athletic/education/medical experiences of the “client” is often secondary.

The proof? You don’t have to search very hard for recent headlines involving scandals in sports, education or medicine.

Push-ups for Punishment in Youth Sport = Bad Idea

At an American Development Model USA Hockey Symposium I recently attended, Bob Mancini (ADM Regional Manager) said:

“Push-ups for missing the net is the worst thing we’ve ever done for hockey”

I have written previously on why punishment in youth sport is a terrible idea based on sport psychology evidence. Two of the reasons included were punishing kids for not completing a skill correctly can make them fear failure and the punishment doesn’t help them learn improve the skill they are being punished for misexecution.

Making mistakes is how we learn. No one executes a skill perfectly every time. We make attempts, hopefully get constructive feedback, learn from errors, make adjustments and try again.

When Bob made his statement, I agreed with him. I asked him why he felt that way and he replied because kids today don’t know how to shoot because many coaches use the “push-ups for punishment” for not shooting on net. Instead of aiming for  holes or upper corners (more difficult and likely to result in a shot high or wide and not putting the puck on net, but more likely to result in a goal!), kids will shoot the puck safely  “on net” right at the goalie to avoid push-ups.  The result is “successful” shots on net but no long term shooting skill development….and probably  less goal scoring during competition.

Many coaches reproduce this practice without thinking about why.  In coach education workshops I ask coaches to think about “the why” in everything they do. Does this help my kids develop the skills they need to 1. optimally perform, 2. develop skills, or 3. have fun and enjoy their sport? If the answer is “NO” to all three things, then it shouldn’t be done.

When I suggest coaches not use physical activities for punishment I often get push-back (pun intended). The question is: What do I do instead? In the case we are talking about here, instead of push-ups for shots not on net I would simply pull the kid aside, give him/her constructive feedback to help them get the shot on net in the future, and let them get back in the drill to make another attempt.

Last point on physical activity as punishment: If we want kids to value and enjoy physical activity for a lifetime, we shouldn’t teach them that physical activity is a punishment.

Women’s Basketball Coaches By the Numbers

With March Madness and basketball on the minds of many, I thought I’d provide a “by the numbers” analysis of coaches of women’s basketball. In previous blogs I have outlined, in part, the many barriers female coaches face in entering and staying in coaching at all levels (to read click here and here). Two writers for espnW, Fagan and Cyphers, published an in depth story on this topic titled The Glass Wall: Women continue to shatter stereotypes as athletes. So how come they can’t catch a break as coaches?” that is worth a read.

The 20111 WNBA Champion Minnesota Lynx Head Coach Cheryl Reeve in an article by Fox Sport North, discussed her desire to see more female head coaches in the league. When the WNBA formed in 1997, seven of the eight head coaches were women. Today, the league boasts two all-female staffs, in Indiana and Los Angeles, and six of the 12 head coaches (50%) are women. Of the 33 total coaches, 21 are women, and there are no all-male staffs. The writer of this article makes an interesting point–successful female coaches in the WNBA have primarily been mentored by NBA experienced male coaches. Now female coaches like Reeve can provide visible role models and mentor other females who desire to coach at the professional level.

At the collegiate level some interesting patterns also arise. According to Acosta & Carpenter’s 2012 Women in Intercollegiate Sport Report, basketball is the sport most commonly offered on college campuses and 6 of 10 (60%) of women’s basketball teams are coached by females. This is interesting because only 42.9% of female college athletes in all sports are coached by a female. At the most elite level, the percentage of female head basketball coaches is even higher.

In the Women’s NCAA I basketball tournament, in the Elite 6 of 8 (75%) teams were coached by a female head coach. In the Final Four 3 of 4 (75%) teams were coached by a female head coach. In the championship game both teams (100%) will be coached by a female head coach-Muffet McGraw of Notre Dame, and Kim Mulkey of Baylor.

Is this proof that females are ultimately more successful coaching females when given the opportunity? Is this a sign of the times that the percentage of female head coaches in women’s sport is on the rise? Or is it just a unusual year that makes it seem like the glass ceiling/wall is cracking when it really hasn’t?

Regardless of how you may answer these questions, having McGraw and Mulkey coaching against each other in the NCAA Championship game provides visible role models for young girls and women who aspire to coach, communicates that females can be successful at the highest levels of women’s sport, and helps change gender stereotypes that females are not as competent as their male counterparts.

NOTE: Read a NYT article about pay disparity between head coaches of men’s and women’s basketball. It statesFor Division I basketball, the median salary for coaches of a men’s team in 2010 was $329,300, nearly twice that of coaches for women’s teams, who had a median of $171,600. Over the past four years, the median pay of men’s head coaches increased by 40 percent compared with 28 percent for women’s coaches.” To read full story click here.

Coaches Can Learn…

One of my primary areas of research pertains to the many layers of barriers that influences the scarcity of female coaches at all levels. I find blog inspiration comes in waves, as did the following two today.

1. A great piece on espn.com covered the implications of homophobia and negative recruiting that plague women’s athletics and particularly women’s basketball. I thought this piece was very well done and lays out the complexities of the issue and how it may detract females from entering and staying in coaching, as I had wrote about in a previous blog.

2. The second is a job in the NCAA Job Market posted by Rhodes College for a “Assistant Football Coach & Assistant Softball Coach”. While this is a somewhat  unusual combination, what is more unusual and ridiculous is the job description which states, “Bachelor’s Degree required. Must have served as a high school and/or college football coach, and be able to (learn and) coach softball.” LEARN softball?! It is a college coaching position! How would you like to be the women on that softball team? Would a job posting ever read like this, “Bachelor’s Degree required. Must have served as a high school and/or college softball coach, and be able to (learn and) coach football”?  This example highlights how certain sports (in this case football) are valued over others on this particular campus, but reflects the sentiment on many others.

There are many things  novice and expert coaches can learn, and the stories above outline that often times coaches and those in positions of power in sport learn patterns of behavior that perpetuate and reproduce inequalities.