What do Online College Coach Biographies Tell Us About Inclusivity?

See a guest column I wrote with graduate student Austin Stair Calhoun for the Women’s Sports Foundation, It Takes a Team newsletter titled: What Can Online Intercollegiate Coach Biographies Tell Us About Inclusivity and Tolerance of Diverse Sexual Orientations?

In a previous blog I posted our pilot study poster and results about this project. We’re currently finishing the data collection and analysis (with undergraduate Alicia Johnson, Minnesota State) for a full-scale national study which replicates the pilot. Stay tuned!

Relational Expertise for Coaches

Relational expertise for coaches is the capacity to create meaningful, close connections with others that leads to mutual growth and development. My work in this area has been greatly influenced by the Relational-Cultural Theory (RCT) developed by Jean Baker Miller and colleagues at the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) at Wellesley College. I was introduced to WCW and RCT when I has the head tennis coach at Wellesley from 1994-1998.

growthRelational-Cultural Theory (RCT) suggests that growth-fostering relationships are a central human necessity and disconnections are the source of psychological problems. According to RCT a close relationship is defined by four qualities: (a) authenticity (the process of acquiring knowledge of self and the other, feeling free to be genuine in the context of the relationship in an ongoing effort to represent one’s true self while assessing one’s own risk and gauging the impact of certain truths on the other and respecting the needs of the relationship), (b) engagement (perceived involvement, commitment, responsiveness and emotional availability), (c) empowerment/zest (the experience of feeling personally strengthened, encouraged and inspired to take action through connection in a relationship), and, (d) the ability to deal with difference and conflict (the process of expressing, working through and accepting differences in background, perspective and feeling leading to enlargement of the relationship, rather than disconnection)

We rarely and explicitly train coaches to become relational experts.

I wrote a guest column this month for the Minnesota Women’s Press LeaderVoice on my experiences and thoughts on the Relational Coach. I also have a published article in the International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching titled Expanding the Interpersonal Dimension: Closeness in the Coach-Athlete Relationship

picture from the401kconnection.com

The Case of the Pink Hockey Gloves

pink glovesA couple years ago a student in my Psychology of Coaching class told me a story of a local youth hockey coach. This coach wanted to make his team of U12 boys “tougher.” To accomplish this goal, he decided to give the least tough skater on his team (in his opinion) a pair of pink gloves to wear for the next practice. He named this honor “the pussy gloves.” A majority of the time, the pink gloves were awarded to the same boy. I wish I were making this up.

There are so many reasons why this motivational tactic is the farthest thing from motivational, aside from the fact it is sexist and homophobic. Unfortunately this type of coaching behavior is not uncommon and often goes unchallenged as the status quo.

One Sport Voice Concluding Summer Thoughts About Sport

Where did summer go? As a new school year begins tomorrow, I’d like to share a few things I’ve been thinking about over the summer.

1. After giving parent and coach workshops this summer, I’m more convinced that ALL coaches and ALL parents should attend research-based educational workshops that help them create a positive climate for youth athletes. Schools, athletic associations and club teams have to mandate attendance, otherwise the folks who show up are predominately the choir. Anything less than a mandatory attendance policy is not effective in creating the kind of change needed to ensure that sport is done right.

rural-road2. More research is needed on the issues that arise in sport for rural communities. Nearly all of our youth sport research includes suburban or urban communities. Very few researchers have focused on issues particular to rural communities and sport participation. I can only think of the Women’s Sport Foundation report Go Out And Play: Youth Sports in America by Sabo & Veliz (October, 2008) that includes data about rural kids and sports. After giving workshops in a small Minnesota community—with NO stoplights—I learned small rural communities have many of the same issues as their city counterparts, but I think unique issues exist. I talked with parents and coaches, many of whom approached me with stories of sport gone wrong and told me their stories with misty eyes, pain, frustration, and helplessness.

3. While in an antique store this summer I found James Michener’s book Sports in America written in 1976. He details the state of female, youth, collegiate and pro sport in the US (among other topics) just a few years after the passage of Title IX. It was a very interesting read and my take away was–The more things change, the more they stay the same, and some of the issues we think are “new”—such as the professionalization of youth sport—have been problematic for over 30 years.

So as I start the new school year, the focus of my work is ever sharper. Stay tuned for many new blogs that incorporate additional summer musings!

Women Leaders in the WNBA: Gaining Ground or Walking Onto the Glass Cliff?

The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) just released the 2009 Race and Gender Report Card for the WNBA. The WNBA is the only professional league to get an “A+” for both race and gender two years in a row, a feat that remains elusive to any other professional league.

In terms of gender here are some highlights:
+ In 2008, women made gains in terms of percentage as head and coaches, team vice presidents, senior administrators and professional administrators, but lost ground slightly in the League Office. In the 2009 season update, at the beginning of the season, women gained further ground with a 10% increase as head
coaches (46%), a 4% point increase as general managers (to 58%) and a 10% increase as CEO/President (to 43%).
+ Donna Orender remains the only woman president of a professional sports league.
+ The number of women in the CEO/Presidents role for WNBA teams increased from four to five at the start of the 2008 season, and from five to six in 2009.

The TIDES report ushers in good news for women leaders and the WNBA, during a summer in which the floundering economy has taken its toll on the league. The numbers are heartening, but after just reading a book chapter about the “glass cliff” for women in organizations, it left me wondering if the increase of women in all positions of power in the WNBA might not be all positive.

glasscliff_no titleMost everyone is familiar with the glass ceiling metaphor commonly used to describe the often subtle and unseen social-structural gendered barriers that prevent women from reaching the highest echelons of corporate leadership.

The glass cliff is a similar metaphor used to describe the phenomenon of women’s appointments to precarious leadership positions. The glass cliff illuminates the stress experienced by women who have made it through the glass ceiling (i.e., Head Coaches, CEOs, Presidents of WNBA teams) and find themselves in a more vulnerable and precarious position than their male counterparts. Women on the glass cliff often fight an uphill battle for success, without the support, information and resources needed to effectively execute the job.

Researchers have recently uncovered that when organizations are in crisis and have a high risk for failure, women are more often appointed to positions of leadership. Two explanations are offered: 1) women are perceived as particularly well-suited to manage the crisis, or 2) women are appointed to glass cliff positions because those who appoint them want to protect men (or expose women).

Are women being appointed to more positions of power in the WNBA, so failure of the league (if it happens…and I hope it doesn’t!) can in turn be attributed to women?

[photo credit to liikennevalo and knowhr.com]

Stilettos & Heels: “Helping” Female Athletes Transition to the Real World

Today the NCAA Double-A-Zone blog posted information on two programs that are helping prepare female student-athletes for the real world.

cinderella_nikeKansas’ “Hoop 2 Heels” and Oklahoma’s “Sooner Stilettos” aim to help female athletes transition from athletics to the professional world by learning etiquette, networking with women in positions of power, developing skills, and building resumes. The programs also provide female role models for the student-athletes. Fantastic idea! Access and exposure to female role models in positions of leadership and power is particularly important to girls and young women, as they have fewer such role models in their lives than do their male counterparts—and this is especially true in sport contexts. Such programs may also help females more successfully navigate the confusing (and gendered) professional labyrinth, and make the process of participating, gaining access, and reaching the highest levels of power a bit more obtainable.

Unfortunately, the chosen names of both of the programs only serve to reinforce traditional notions of femininity which continue to limit females in all contexts. Being a successful professional in the real world has nothing to do with donning heels and conforming to feminine norms. In fact, based on the data women who act in traditionally feminine ways (i.e., nurturing, warm, caring) are perceived as less competent.

Perhaps renaming the programs “From Basketballs to Briefcases” would be more appropriate and helpful.

A Coach Who Gets it Right

WilkIn the media we more often hear horror stories than positive stories regarding coaches. Fortunately many coaches do get it right and positively affect the lives of countless others.

A wonderful example of just such a coach is Steve “Wilk” Wilkinson, Ph.D., former Head Men’s Tennis Coach of Gustavus Adolphus College. Wilk just retired after 39 years of coaching at Gustavus and is the winningest men’s collegiate tennis coach at any level. His teams competed in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) and achieved a record of 334-1 (.997) in his tenure (you can read more about Wilk’s many accomplishments here, here, and here.)

While his record is impressive, it is his legacy of using tennis as a vehicle to holistically develop young people that is to be most admired. Wilk is a true exemplar whose definition of success has nothing to do with winning. To hear him explain his “Three Crowns” philosophy of positive attitude, full effort, and sportsmanship, listen to these short videos (here and here)-it is well worth your time.

His philosophy is a real life example of how a primary focus on things that can be controlled—rather than on winning—can lead to simultaneous positive development and positive experiences and increase the likelihood of optimal performance. If only there were more Wilks in the world of sport and the world in general, it would surely be a better place for everyone.

Women Coaching Sports: A New Educational Series

Currently I am working on developing the first Women Coaching Sports workshop. Research shows female athletes who have never been coached by a female often believe that male coaches are more competent than female coaches. In the absence of female coaches and role models, female athletes may devalue their own abilities, accept negative stereotypes, fail to realize their potential, or consider coaching as a viable career path. In addition, research indicates that coaches cite formalized mentoring as the most important factor in their acquisition and development of coaching knowledge and expertise. Less than 20% of all youth sport coaches are female, and many female coaches face personal, familial and structural barriers that prevent or impede them from entering and remaining in coaching.

U of M coachTo help address these barriers, I’m developing an educational series for women who coach sports at the youth and interscholastic levels. Some of the curriculum utilizes ideas from youth sport mother-coaches I interviewed as part of a research initiative. The series mirrors the NACWAA/HERS Institute for collegiate coaches and administrators.

The purpose of the Women Coaching Sports workshop series is threefold:
1. To provide cutting-edge, research-based educational workshops for females who coach at the interscholastic and youth levels
2. To provide an opportunity for female coaches to build community, network, and develop on-going support for each other throughout their coaching tenures
3. To attract, develop, retain and empower diverse female coaches

The series is a collaborative outreach project of two entities at the University of Minnesota—the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport and the Minnesota Youth Sport Research Consortium.

I would love to hear your ideas about content to include in the workshop series or ideas you may have. Stay tuned for more information about this exciting venture!

The Role of Fathers in the Lives of Youth Athletes

DAd & Son golfers_iStock_000004230306XSmallA great deal of research outlines how important father’s are in the lives of their child athletes. Here is a quick summary five positive findings (there are many more of course!):

1. Fathers typically take on the direct and active roles in sport-i.e. “the coach”. Fathers are the majority of coaches in youth sport and by most recent estimates, fathers comprise 80% of more of all youth sport coaches.
2. Fathers can be important active role models for their children. Active dads increase the likelihood of active kids.
3. Fathers’ values, beliefs, & expectations greatly influence the actives lives of their children. For example, children’s perceptions of their father’s beliefs in their sport ability can predict the child’s belief in their own abilities. This is important because children who feel competent and perceive they are good at sport, are more likely to keep playing!
4. When fathers focus on the learning and enjoyment inherent in (most) youth sport, children are more likely to stay in sport, demonstrate better sportsmanship, worry less, and have more fun.
5. Most of all sport provides a meaningful opportunity for fathers to spend quality time with their children in a context most children love and enjoy!

For some great information about the role of fathers in the lives of their children, check out The Dad Man-a.k.a Joe Kelly-who also writes a blog called Dads & Daughters. TCRR-Cover-cover

For a summary of research on the influence of sport parents in the lives of girls, including fathers, you can download a free copy of The 2007 Tucker Center Research Report: Developing Physically Active Girls (see pages 26-28).

Happy Father’s Day and thanks to all the dads who positively influence their own and other people’s children in youth sport contexts.

A Sign of Things to Come?: Recent Departures in Women’s Basketball

I’ve read about three recent occurrences that have me thinking. While two may be related, all three may be a sign of things to come. departuresI’m talking about the recent departures of two male WNBA Head Coaches “to pursue possibilities in the NBA” and the second-ever early departure of Rutger’s Epiphanny Prince to “play basketball professionally in Europe before entering the 2010 W.N.B.A. draft” (Schuye LaRue was the first-ever woman to leave early from Virginia after her sophomore year in 2001 to go play abroad before getting drafted in the second round by the Los Angeles Sparks in 2003…thanks @hoopfeed!)

Successful Bill Laimbeer left the Detroit Shock after three games, and the not so successful Don Zierden left the Minnesota Lynx three days before their home opener to return to coaching in the NBA. While WNBA league officials and the departing coaches were assuring fans their departures were not a sign of trouble for the league, I’m not so convinced. I hope I’m wrong. What it does signal is that despite your success as a male coach in the WNBA, you can still get “called up” or return to the NBA. Would a successful—or better yet an unsuccessful—female coach ever get the same call? (maybe if your name is Pat Summitt, but I’m pretty sure that one’s gender is not a predictor of effective coaching so in theory many women should get said call)

As for Prince forgoing her senior year of ball at Rutgers to play professionally…One one hand, why not go and start making money immediately?—males have been doing it for years as has been pointed out. Prince states she “plans to buy her mother a house and support an A.A.U. team in Brooklyn”, so the move seems to be primarily financially motivated. On the other hand now that the seal is broken, will droves of other young women follow suit maybe never to return to finish their degrees? (and I’m not saying Prince won’t finish, but highlighting the possibility). Is this a trend we want female athletes to perpetuate? In essence, Prince’s move is no different than those of Laimbeer or Zierden….all three are leaving one basketball team, to pursue what is perceived as a better, bigger, and more lucrative opportunity with another team.

I’m not sure if this collective trend signals a sign of the times or is a sign of things to come….or both. And if it is of things to come….what “things” are we really talking about?

Update: To read more about various perspectives about Laimbeer click here or here.

To read more about what Gina Auriemma says about Prince’s departure, click here or read Altavilla’s blog. The NY Times also weighs in with an article titled “She’s Turning Pro, but Is It Progress?”