This week the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport released a new report : 2018 Tucker Center Research Report, Developing Physically Active Girls: A Multidisciplinary Evidence-based Approach.
The report includes eleven chapters written by leading multidisciplinary scholars. Evidence-based chapters include psychological, sociological, and physiological dimensions of girls’ physical activity participation, as well as chapters on sports medicine and the influence of mass media of girls’ health and well-being. Because “girls” are not a singular monolithic group, chapters focus on girls’ intersectional identities and include invisible, erased, and underserved populations such as immigrant girls, girls of color, girls who identify as lesbian, transgender and queer/questioning, and girls with cognitive and physical impairments. The report ends with a Best Practices chapter and a Positive Model for Developing Physically Active Girls to guide thought, program development, interventions and research.
To read and download the full report, Executive Summary or the Positive Model click here.
The second piece I wrote for swimswam.com about the false narratives and barriers facing women coaches can be found here.
In the piece I write, “The lack of women coaches is not the problem, it is a reflection of a problem. That problem is a culture that does not value and support women.”
The first piece outlined 8 Reasons Why Women Coaches Matter. If you think women coaches don’t face barriers, please read the comments on this blog and the piece that started it all, which was about data on lack of women head swimming and diving coaches at the collegiate level.
In my research I have interviewed Athletic Directors (ADs) on their best practices in recruiting, hiring and retaining women coaches. [to read the full report, click here.] Nearly all of them stated they want to hire “the best” for an open position. The best person, the best fit, the best qualified, the best (i.e., a winner, successful, track record of success), the best of the best! ADs are competitive people, and rightly so! “The best” is part of their everyday language, and not being the best means your job may be on the line.
However, what is not readily apparent in “the best” narrative is the underlying gender bias and gender stereotypes that affect how leadership is valued, perceived, and evaluated.
Stereotypes and gender bias are inherent in constructing and reinforcing what a real leader ‘looks like’ and ‘does.’ For example, what it means and has meant historically “to coach”—being assertive and in control, aggressive, ambitious, confident, competitive, powerful, dominant, forceful, self-reliant and individualistic—are characteristics typically associated with men and masculinity. This identity of the ideal/best coach is reinforced by society and the media, where coaches are constructed and held up as heroes and the male coach is a symbol and ultimate expression of the idealized form of masculine character.
Therefore when ADs state they want “the best” coach, this statement automatically privileges and favors male coaches over women, whether intended or not. However, “the best” might also be a coded way ADs can talk about hiring women without
putting themselves or the institution at risk for gender-based discrimination litigation by male applicants.
Clearly, a complex set of conscious and unconscious inferences are contained within persistent and common “hire the best” narratives among college Athletics Directors. The pervasive “best” narrative illuminates the need for bias training and awareness that bias has a potential impact on the perception, recruitment, evaluation and hiring (and firing) of women coaches.
In Part I and II of this series, Changing the Narrative for Women Sport Coaches, I laid out how women coaches are framed shapes the discussion, and the numerous “blame the women” narratives that exist. In this blog I will tackle one particular narrative, provide counter narratives and suggest strategies for change.
BLAME THE WOMAN NARRATIVE: Women don’t apply.
I hear from coaching directors and athletic directors (ADs) they want to hire women, but women just don’t apply. For example, if a head coach job is open an AD might get 45 male and three female applicants. The lack of women applicants provides proof that women don’t apply [subtext: Women CHOOSE not to apply].
Let me provide a few counter narratives and perspectives.
- In the example above three women did apply, so it isn’t they “don’t” apply, they don’t apply in the same numbers as men.
- In Part I, I outlined that choices of individuals are made within a system. The fact women “choose” not to apply is due to numerous factors and interpersonal, organizational and societal barriers their male counterparts do not encounter.
- Often when a head coaching position is posted, the AD already has a short list of candidates. Women know this, and if they aren’t on the “short list” why take the time and effort to apply. What this speaks to is this: informal and formal networks of the AD matters. When an AD wants to hire someone he (and in some cases she, but we know a majority ADs and coaching directors are men) turns to his networks. Most people’s networks are other people like them (i.e., other men, people they worked with in the past, classmates from undergraduate or graduate programs, people in the same position and industry. This is often called the ‘Old Boy’s Club’). Who is hired is often a reflection of the formal and informal network of the person doing the hiring. Staying within one’s network reproduces gendered discrimination (whether intentional or not). If you’d like to read a great article about gendered networks of NCAA ADs and SWAs click here.
- Women coaches exist in a system where they lack the network, status, resources, information, and access needed to seek, occupy and maintain leadership positions. Another way to put it, women coaches aren’t in the Old Boy’s Club and when a job opens, it is often too late for them to get in the game.
So what is the solution?
Change must occur at ALL LEVELS but it starts with the AD because that person has the most power in the system!
Strategies for the AD to consider:
- Believe that qualified women exist and do want to coach. Go out and actively seek, find, encourage, invite, ASK and ACTIVELY recruit women to apply. Build relationships with a diverse pool of candidates in advance so your short list is diversified. Recruiting women coaches, just like coaches recruit athletes to their teams, is about building a trusting relationship. You must work to convince women why your institution is a good fit for them (and their family if that applies) and why you want them.
- Contact the Alliance of Women Coaches and sport coaching organizations and ask for qualified candidates who are looking to make a move. Call colleagues who have made a similar hire recently and get their short list.
- Diversify your network.
- Ask yourself: Why aren’t women applying to your institution? Is your department a place where women want to work? Do they see others like them? Do they see evidence that women coaches matter? Will they feel valued and supported in your department?
- Challenge your common sense beliefs and the way you frame and think about the lack of women coaches in the applicant pool. Try to see it from the perspective of the female applicant and potential female applicants.
- Resist the temptation to blame women for not applying and instead reflect on how to encourage more women to apply, and make the workplace a supportive and inclusive place.
In Part I of this series I outlined why the way women sport coaches are framed is often problematic. For example there are many popular narratives about why the percentage of women coaches remains stagnant, and many of them blame women. When women are blamed, the system AROUND the women does not have to change.
Below is a list of common “blame the women” narratives I have compiled over the last 10+ years in doing research, advocacy and education for women sport coaches. Through my research I, and others, collect data that dispels or supports these narratives. Based on existing data, I can tell you very little data exists to support these narratives (although there is a LOT of anecdotal evidence and individual opinions, but that doesn’t mean the narrative(s) is true).
If you know of data the helps dispel or support any of these narratives, please let me know! (firstname.lastname@example.org). In my next blogs I will provide counter narratives to this list above. #SHECANCOACH
I visited Marti Erickson on MomEnough to do a second podcast on sport parents where we discussed youth sports, questioned many assumptions, called out unhelpful parental behavior and challenged parents to step up and use proven approaches to help children reap optimal benefits of organized sports. Listen to the podcast here.
Did you recognize any of your own parenting behaviors in what parents should not do? What were the most important things parents should do?
My first podcast “Being a Good Sport Parent: Practical Guidance on Bringing Out the Best in Your Young Athlete” with MomEnough is here.
I recently had the opportunity to give the Tucker Center’s Distinguished Lecture where I laid our current and historical data on the Paradox, Pitfalls & Parity: Where Have all the Women Coaches Gone? You can watch the lecture here (I start about 14mns in, so fast forward!!)
A puzzling paradox exists when it comes to women occupying sport leadership positions—particularly coaches. Two generations removed from Title IX, female sports participation is at an all-time high, yet the number of women coaches is near an all-time low. At the college level alone, female coaches are in the minority, representing just 43% of all head coaching positions in women’s sports nationwide. It is simply not possible that as each new generation of females becomes increasingly involved in and shaped by their sport experience—especially at the most elite levels of competition as evidenced by the dominance of the U.S. female athletes at the 2016 Rio Olympics—they simultaneously become less qualified to enter the coaching profession.
In this lecture I answered three questions I frequently get about women in sports coaching:
1. Why do women coaches matter? Why should we care?
2. Why is there a stagnation in the under-representation of women coaches?
3. What can we do about it?
I feel compelled to write yet ANOTHER blog about how the sport media shamefully covers women’s sports in general and the Minnesota Lynx specifically. Currently, the Lynx are the reigning WNBA Champions and until yesterday (June 24, 2016) were undefeated, notching a record-breaking 13-0 start, the best start in the history of the 20 year old WBNA league.
For the last 10 years, and more specifically the last 5 years, I and many others–including Lynx Head Coach Cheryl Reeve, have educated, implored, asked, cajoled and tried to shame the sport media into respectfully and fairly covering the Lynx.
Why cover the Lynx? I’ll give you 5 reasons.
1. Because they are amazing athletes that deserve the coverage of their males counterparts.
2. The Media constantly states they cover teams that win. People like to read about winners!…yet despite being the MOST winning team in Minnesota (maybe except for the Gopher Women’s Hockey Team who get nearly NO coverage as 2016 and 7 time NCAA D-I National Champions) the Lynx get less coverage than the Twins, who currently are having a miserable season and started their season 0-9 or the MN Vikings and MN Wild who are currently NOT in season. The Lynx are the most winning pro team in Minnesota. They have been in the WNBA finals 4 of the last 5 years, and have won it 3 times (2013, ’15, ’16).
Despite this amazing and dominant franchise, The Media continue to ignore and marginalize the Lynx accomplishments (see the New York Times piece “Cleveland Finally Won a Title. What’s the Most Cursed Sports City Now?”) which ranks Minneapolis as the 5th most cursed city without a pro championship, which erases and dismisses the accomplishments of the Lynx (see screen shot below).
3. The Media states they cover teams people are interested in, but take no responsibility in CREATING that interest. People ARE interested in the Lynx, despite the fact The Media doesn’t give them fair or equal coverage. If you have attended a Lynx game, you can’t deny the energy or interest in the Lynx that is palpable in the Target Center where the Lynx play their home games.
If you haven’t been or tuned into a game on ESPN, you are missing out. If you are The Media trying to write a positive story about the Lynx, don’t title it “Despite winning streak, Lynx fan base remains small.”
Shame on MPR, you should know better! If I don’t know or follow the Lynx, this title does not make me want to tune in or attend. It does not increase my interest in the team. And the truth is, the arena is full! (see picture below from the June 24, 2016 Lynx v. Sparks game).
4. The Lynx are positive role models for girls, but also for boys…as good people AND as great athletes. They are good people, care about each other, play unselfishly, are engaged in the community, always give full effort, are gritty & tough competitors, have good sportsmanship, and are the epitome of what champions look and act like.
5. The amount of coverage the Lynx get is disproportionate to their talent and reflects a false reality of participation trends in the US. Female athletes make up 43% of all sport participants, but get < 4% of all sport media coverage (if you want more info, watch “Media Coverage & Female Athletes” an Emmy-winning documentary on this topic).
If you agree, share, tweet, and/or post this. Your voice matters. Join the #HERESPROOF campaign to prove the the media that people ARE interested in women’s sport.