A couple years ago I did a podcast for John O’Sullivan of Changing the Game Project about youth sport, sport parent behavior research, and how to help parents be better on the sidelines. Take a listen!
5:00 When she became interested in issues for Women in Sport Leadership?
8:00 Why is there a decline in women in sport leadership?
15:00 What would it take to get more women coaching sports?
21:00 Why does Nicole think kids are quitting sport?
28:00 Nicole explains “background anger” and how it affects children
35:00 What is Kid Speak?
48:00 Winning and Character Development are not mutually exclusive
While girls and women participation in sports since Title IX has exploded, only about 40% of them are coached by women. The film explores supporting research, dispels false narratives, celebrates female coaching pioneers at all levels of competition and highlights stories of success and hardship. Their stories are the universal stories of women coaches who fight many battles to pursue their passion to coach. Produced in collaboration between Twin Cities Public Television and the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport.
Share it widely to your networks and help be a part of changing the culture of sport for women coaches, where they feel safe, valued and supported.
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.
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 MomEnoughto 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 ishere.