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.
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 recently had the opportunity to work in collaboration with espnW to develop discussion guides for the Emmy-nominated Nine for IX film series.
The Nine for IX Knowledge Center is a free resource available to institutions, organizations, administrators, professors, coaches, and students who want to lead thoughtful and engaging discussions around key themes in the films. The Knowledge Center provides discussion guides for each film, film posters, and a sign-up form to receive the Nine for IX DVD set, all free of charge. The Knowledge Center is a tool that goes beyond the entertainment value of the films and leverages the rich educational content of the embedded lessons and messages within the films.
The discussion guides generate thought-provoking discussion topics around key themes and issues present in the films such as gender equality, intersectionality, identity politics, sport and politics, social class, racism, and sexism, along with issues related to sport psychology, sports media coverage, sports marketing, and sports as a vehicle for developing role models. Each unique guide contains Key Concepts, Discussion Questions, Additional Readings and Additional Activities.
I wrote a specific guide for coaches for The 99ers, a film about the 1999 Women’s World Cup Championship team, that coaches can use as a team building activity and to discuss what it takes to develop performance excellence and a positive team culture.
To access the free materials, including obtaining a free DVD box set of the Nine for IX film series, discussion guides, and posters visit the espnW Nine for IX Knowledge Center.
The last week was a particularly terrible week in terms of egregious coach behavior coming into public light. I am not going to weigh in on the Penn State/Paterno/Sandusky/He Said-He Said/Student Riots Sex Abuse scandal. Others have written on this topic. My favorite pieces (here and here) of the many out there on this topic are by Dave Zirin, who writes for The Nation. He summarizes The Big Problematic Picture of “the billion-dollar logic of big-time college football”.
What may have been lost in the media frenzy over the aforementioned was the egregious behavior of another football coach. A Wyoming high school football coach resigned after he made his players fill out a “Hurt Feelings Survey” (see picture). What would possess a coach of boys to conceive, construct and deliver such a survey is baffling to many. However, it isn’t all that mysterious when placed in the big picture context of how football is the epitome of a masculinity breeding ground and apprenticeship for teaching boys how to be men.
This survey teaches boys exactly what is expected of (real) men: don’t be weak, don’t have feelings, don’t show weakness, don’t tattle on other boys and men (i.e., perpetuate the culture of silence if you are harmed or abused, or see harm being done to others…sound familiar?), don’t be anything but a masculine heterosexual, and don’t turn to others for support or seek comfort when you are hurt (especially from a female like your mother who will surely feminize you even more!…tough it out by yourself and be a rugged individual). This survey teaches boys that being a real man is in opposition to: boyhood and childish behaviors, girls and women and all things feminine, nurturing forms of masculinity (like those needed by fathers and real partners), and gay men.
While the coach who constructed this survey was dumb enough to actually put this all on paper, don’t for a second think other coaches don’t “teach” these lessons to boys every day, in every sport, in every state. Until “lessons” like these are eradicated in youth and interscholastic sports through awareness, coach education and public outcry, the problems like those we have all hard about this week will unfortunately persist.
Since I returned from the espnW Summit a month or so ago, coupled with the WNBA Champions Minnesota Lynx win and the media treatment of their season, the conference the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport just hosted about creating change, the sport sociology conference (NASSS) which followed, and the breaking news of the Sundusky/Penn State/Paterno/Football scandal….I have a LOT of thoughts I’m going to try and put together coherently.
We are coming upon the 40 year anniversary of Title IX in 2012, landmark federal legislation which dramatically increased participation opportunities for female athletes in educational settings. Roughly 40% of all female sport participants at the high school and collegiate levels are female, yet female athletes receive only 2-4% of all sport media coverage and when they do they are often sexualized and portrayed in ways that minimize athletic talent, females are under-represented at all levels of sport in all positions of power, rampant homophobia exists in most sport climates which affects the sporting experiences of athletes and coaches regardless of sexual orientation, and in all sport settings boys and men outnumber girls and women.
How it is that after 40 years of participation progress for females males are the majority of participants, that females are covered LESS often in the media and are LESS often head coaches and athletic administrators than in previous decades?
As espnW is trying to find its way in marketing and drawing in female fans of sport, at the summit there was much discussion about a “new model” of sport for girls and women and not just replicating the dominant “male model” of sport which keynote presenter and former NFL player Don McPherson said “is broken.” Female athletes and those who run women’s sport do not have to aspire or replicate the male model. Some seem to forget or never knew that a different models in collegiate athletics did exist (i.e, the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women, AIAW, Division for Girls’ and Women’s Sports, Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics for Women, CIAW). For the most part these groups were student-athlete focused, looked out for the interest of the female athletes first, and were not concerned with the big time and growing more popular “Beer & Circus” aka Sperber model that those men’s athletics were making popular. These female athlete centered, women-lead groups were (to my understanding) not about making money, corporate sponsorships, TV contracts, opportunistic conference alignments, skirting rules in order to win and satisfy alumni and fans, and figuring out how to brand their programs to increase relevancy and thus be more scalable and salable. However as the NCAA took over the AIAW, men were predominately assigned to run and coach women’s athletics, women’s collegiate sport began to resemble the men’s model (note: arguably there are some positive outcomes to imitating the male model).
My point and challenge to those who care about girls’ and women’s sport is to think about who benefits when “we” replicate, imitate, uphold and reproduce the male model of athletics? Is this what we want to aspire to? Can we do it better? What does “better” look like and mean? How can we take what was working in the days of the AIAW, DGWS and CIAW, and merge it with new innovative ideas, to create a “new-old” model of women’s sport?
Should we think about these questions? Does it matter? I think the answer is a resounding: YES. It does matter because if we want sustainability, growth, and respect for women’s sport I believe that is not only a good idea to think about how to do it differently than what the men are doing and from what is currently being done in women’s sport, but it is necessary and imperative. Right now there are many signs that indicate the male model is broken…look no further than big stories of this year alone including the Ohio State Football/Tressel NCAA violations, conference realignments which are all about football and fail to take into account how longer travel might affect all athletes, women’s athletics or men’s “non-revenue” sport, the University of Miami football violations scandal, or the Sandusky/Penn State/Paterno/Football sex abuse scandal.
I think “we” can do better. Participants at the Tucker Center conference discussed concrete action strategies about how to create change for girls and women in sport and move the needle on some key disparities and inequalities. I challenged them to report back in one year to tell us about what they have accomplished. I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, we all should think about how to create broader change in the structure of (men’s) sport that allows and even encourages and permits the egregious behaviors of abuse and discrimination to flourish. (note: I’m not even touching upon the male professional model, which is a different discussion. Instead I’m focusing on sport programs situated in institutions of higher education).
So how do you think we can create structural changes in sport that move the needle that benefit girls and women in sport? I’d love to hear your concrete action strategies…big or small, grass roots or national, public or private.
The recent focus on the athletic attire of female athletes, “unifems”, concerns me for many reasons. I write “unifem” instead of “uniform” to make a point. Most of the discussions about what is to be worn, or not, in competition is largely about underlying concerns that female athletes remain and at least look “feminine.”
Aside from unifem concerns, some female athletes like some members of the German soccer team, purposefully pose nude in magazines like Playboy that exploit women so they can be perceived as less “butchy” and tomboy-like (i.e., “sweet”, feminine, and thus heterosexual).
Let’s be clear–concerns, policies and rules about females athlete uniforms are usually about making the uniforms smaller, tighter and a more feminine color. These concerns are usually couched under the guise of “performance” or “safety” or both. To my knowledge, and I will stand corrected, that aside from some initial data on compression wear, very little empirical evidence exists that demonstrates that a smaller or tighter uniform will improve performance for athletes (aside from the razor suit in swimming…which is under scrutiny and I believe is now banned). If uniform size were about performance, you would also see scantily clad male athletes.I am also unaware of any sport marketing evidence that demonstrates that smaller, tighter, more feminine uniforms actually increases ticket sales, interest in the sport, or sponsorships. Show me the evidence.
It is my opinion the discussion about female athlete uniforms is first, outdated, and second sexist.
Let me summarize some of the very recent discussions pertaining to unifems. Reminder: this IS 2011, but attempts to marginalize, sexualize and exploit the female athletic body and female athletes is alive and well, and I think getting more egregious.
1. To create a more “attractive presentation,” the Badminton World Federation decided all elite level female players must wear a skirt or dress while competing. The complete NYT story here.
2. The lack of attire for the Lingerie Football League earlier this spring I have already written about (and no, I still don’t consider the LFL a sport, but I do support the notion that some, probably a good %, of the women in the LFL are real athletes.)
3. A female Muslim weight lifter, Kulsoom Abdullah, who wants to complete but keep with religious traditions by covering her entire body, aside from her hands and face, has sparked debate at the international level. Many argue this policy is racist and Islamophobic, in addition to being sexist as male Muslim athletes do not have the barrier of covering in public that impedes athletic performance.
4. The Iranian women’s soccer team was in tears after being forced to forfeit a 2012 London Olympics qualifying match this past weekend because it showed up to play in hijabs, and some argue that “FIFA makes things worse for women.”
5. Twitter blew up when a picture of tennis player Serena Williams in a hot pink cat suit appeared on the internet.
So what is going on with the recent barrage of unifem incidents? Why now? Is this further evidence of the gains women are making in sport?
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.