I was a guest on the Premier Hold Fast podcast with OLY David Plummer from Preimier Sport Psychology. We talk about sport leadership, team culture, moral exemplar coaches and more!
Girls Physical Activity Declining
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.
LaVoi gives Distinguished Lecture on Women in Sports Coaching
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?
SI Sportsperson of the Year Cover Image of Serena Williams: Opportunity Missed
Elizabeth Daniels, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs
Mary Jo Kane, Ph.D., Director, Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport, U of Minnesota
Cheryl Cooky, Ph.D., Associate Professor of American Studies, Purdue University
Nicole M LaVoi, Ph.D., Co-Director, Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport, U of Minnesota
Sports Illustrated (SI) recently named Serena Williams its Sportsperson of the Year. As scholars who have spent our academic careers examining media coverage of women’s sports, we are thrilled to see a highly accomplished female athlete awarded this most prestigious title. Considering her on-the-court accomplishments in 2015 Williams is clearly worthy, having won three major tennis titles, amassing an overall 53-3 record, and extending her No. 1 ranking for a third consecutive year. Williams has now joined an elite club of past SI winners: Only 8 other women and one women’s team are in this elite group compared to 68 male athletes or men’s teams. It should be noted that Williams is only the second women of color to be awarded this distinction (track & field star Judi Brown King was the first in 1987). This honor is especially poignant on the heels of Williams’ return to the WTA’s Indian Wells Tournament this past spring after a 13-year boycott of the tournament where she endured racist comments from the audience in 2001 about which tournament organizers did nothing. SI noted her commitment to drawing attention to issues of race in sport was part of why Williams was selected. Serena Williams has proven herself to be a champion time and time again despite discriminatory and harmful distractions leveled at her by sport audiences and media. For example, she was subjected to critiques of her muscularity this summer in an article in The New York Times on body image in sport, which some argued was a thinly veiled commentary regarding black women’s bodies and how they do not fit white, middle-class norms of beauty.
In spite of Williams’ unprecedented accomplishments as arguably the greatest female tennis player in U.S. history, she was featured on the cover in a sexually provocative pose. Perhaps anticipating criticism for such a choice—SI is, after all, a sports not a fashion magazine—they immediately emphasized the point via tweet that this portrayal was Williams’ idea. The choice to feature Williams dressed in an all-black lace bodysuit and patent leather power pumps perched on a throne as Queen of the Court has been supported by some who see this portrayal as empowering. We suggest that there were other choices available to SI and to Williams herself, ones that are not only empowering, but powerful. Unfortunately, such an editorial choice is not new at SI. Anna Kournikova (5 June 2000), Jennie Finch (11 July 2005), and Lindsey Vonn (8 February 2010) have all been portrayed in similarly sexualized ways. Serena Williams herself has appeared in SI’s Swimsuit Issue in 2003. Perhaps not surprisingly, SI has a poor track record when it comes to depicting highly accomplished female athletes outside of the Swimsuit Issue. A recent study of SI covers from 2000-2011 found that women were on only 35 out of 716 covers, and just 11 of those 35 covers showed female athletes in poses comparable to male athletes (2). Clearly, it is a rarity to see a female athlete portrayed as an athletic champion on the cover of this incredibly influential U.S. sports magazine. Regrettably, female athletes are similarly ignored in broadcast media (3). As a result, we fail to see female athletes on any regular basis portrayed as accomplished athletes in mainstream sport media and we have all written previously about how this paucity of coverage negatively impacts interest in women’s sports (4).
Sexualized images of female athletes, in contrast, are not hard to find–simply google ‘female athletes.’ Numerous scholars have also documented that the sexualization of female athletes is a common practice (5). Unfortunately, this is part of a broader pattern wherein girls and women are sexualized in media and popular culture. Three major reports from the UK (6), U.S. (7), and Australia (8) have all documented the prevalence of this practice and its negative consequences on girls and women. When women are sexualized in the media, female viewers may think of their own bodies as objects and reduce their personal value to their physical attractiveness instead of to their talents, personality, and contributions to the world. Our own research has shown that this is precisely how adolescent girls and college women respond to sexualized images of female athletes (9). In addition, sexualized images of female athletes do not generate interest in women’s sports (10). Research also indicates that media images which portray female athletes in powerful action photos generate not only interest in, but respect for, women’s sports. Additionally, after viewing such images teen girls and college-age women are more likely to think about their bodies in terms of their physical skills and capabilities. Portraying sportswomen as gifted and accomplished athletes has the untapped potential to make girls and women feel good about their bodies—which is a significant challenge in today’s media environment inundated with unrealistic and idealized images that create body dissatisfaction.
In an ideal—not to mention realistic—world, images which display female athletes (and their bodies) for what they actually do rather than how sexually empowered they may appear would be easy to come by. If this were the case, girls and young women could have magazine covers of their female sports heroes in their bedrooms as a reminder of what women are capable of and as an equally important reminder that our society values them for what their own bodies can achieve on the court, rather than for how sexually attractive they are. Unfortunately, as Sports Illustrated reminds us, female athletes who dominate their sport are currently only celebrated if they look good doing so.
Dispelling Myths About Women’s Sport: Post Women’s World Cup 2015
Even if Dave Zirin doesn’t want to keep defending women’s sport in the wake of the Women’s World Cup that smashed ratings (although I know he will!), we at the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport decided to write a piece that will help change the narrative and dispel false narratives about women’s sport.
Read our exclusive on espnW titled “Even in the Wake of a Record-Setting Women’s World Cup, Myths Still Surround Women’s Sports” where we refute the four most common myths about women’s sport.
The statistics surrounding the 2015 Women’s World Cup (WWC) make it abundantly clear that people are interested in women’s sport. In sum, the WWC final:
- was seen by 25.4 million viewers on Fox—a record for any soccer game, men’s or women’s.
- generated record numbers of viewers on the Fox Sports Go streaming app.
- drew 2 million more viewers than Game 7 of the compelling 2014 World Series between the Kansas City Royals and the San Francisco Giants in October which attracted 23.5 million on English-language television.
- eclipsed the recent NBA Finals Game 6 featuring Golden State’s title-winning victory over Cleveland last month on ABC with 23.25 million viewers.
- buried Chicago’s Stanley Cup-winning victory in Game 6 over Tampa Bay last month on NBC with 8 million viewers.
Despite these statistics, many myths about interest in women’s sport continue to prevail. Help prove that interest in women’s sport does exist and join the #HERESPROOF social media campaign! Click here to see the infographic we put together on 2015 WWC viewership.
TEDx Talk– Now You See Her, Now You Don’t: The (In)visibility of Females in Sport
What I Love & Dislike about Coverage of Mo’ne Davis
I LOVE and DISLIKE that 13-year old Philadelphia-based pitcher Mo’ne Davis is creating a stir in the 2014 Little League World Series (LLWS).
LOVE: It is creating awareness that girls can and do play baseball, and can pitch and play successfully against boys. Davis is throwing like a girl–athletic, competent, knowledgeable, competitive.
DISLIKE: Lots of girls outperform boys every day in a variety of sports and it shouldn’t be a big deal and certainly not create a national media event…it should be common knowledge. At 11-13 years-old (the age of LLWS players), developmentally girls are usually ahead of or similar to most boys in height, weight, strength, speed and power. Thus it makes sense Mo’ne and other girls can “hang with the boys” or outperform them. As colleague, Olympian, and Women’s Sport Foundation advocacy director Nancy Hogshead Makar posted: “Way to go Mo’ne Davis! At the same time, there’s too much awe and disbelief that a girl can be a truly outstanding athlete – Especially pre-puberty, where there are very few physical differences. If you’re “AMAZED” – you need to see a lot more female athletes.”
LOVE: The public gets to SEE Davis pitch/bat/field, and SEE her on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Being seen on two of the biggest sports media conglomerates–ESPN and SI--matters. Being seen communicates what is relevant, important and valued. Davis provides visible proof of a performance continuum in sport and communicates positive messages to young girls about athleticism that transcend gender.
LOVE: Mo’ne Davis has become a role model for both girls and boys alike.
DISLIKE: I don’t think children in any sport should be on ESPN at all. Period. It is exploitation pure and simple. It teaches and sends children the wrong message about what sport should be about. If you’ve watched any of the LLWS, it doesn’t take long for the kids to find the camera trained on them and catch them looking into the camera…instead of focusing on the game at hand. It creates scrutiny and pressure on youth athletes, a pressure that not many youth are equipped to cope with yet. How would you like your failures to be broadcast on national TV when you were 12 yrs old? In addition, it is rumored that Davis signed gear is being sold for big money…none of which will benefit HER (else her future college athletic eligibility be nullified).
LOVE: I think it is really cool that Davis appears on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and is also the first Little Leaguer to appear on the cover. Groundbreaking! I like that she is portrayed in action, in her uniform and on the field…markers that communicate athleticism and competence. I love that the coverage of her has increased interest in (record TV ratings, long lines for tickets, merchandise sales, stories written about) and respect for young female athletes.
DISLIKE: ESPN rarely covers girls’ and women’s sport (See this study) and Sports Illustrated rarely puts females on the cover (Go to SI covers and count for yourself! or read one of numerous studies about it) and when they do females are sexualized rather than portrayed as serious athletes, but now that showing Davis will increase ratings and sales she is hyped and promoted. Seems like more exploitation. (Note: it would be really distasteful to sexualize a 13 year old on the SI cover!)
The popularity and hype around Mo’ne Davis is complicated. Images of her are both empowering and transformative, but can also be read as exploitative and regressive. This is what makes sport such an interesting context to examine. What do think?
Access free educational materials for espnW Nine for IX films
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.
Basketball & Brackets Matter: The Case for a Perfect Women’s Bracket Challenge
The 2014 March Madness NCAA D-I basketball brackets for the men and women are now set. Teams are anxiously awaiting play. I love March Madness, but I am awaiting something different….word from Warren Buffett. I have tweeted Mr. Buffett (@WarrenBuffett) and Quicken (@quickenloans) to inquire if they were going to also offer a “perfect women’s bracket” contest, as they are offering a $$BILLION dollars$$ for a perfect men’s bracket. No reply.
It isn’t that I want two chances of winning a BILLION dollars (No one is going to win, the odds are 1 in 9 quintillion), it is the message being communicated by offering only a men’s bracket and who benefits from this “perfect bracket” challenge that is the problem.
Women’s sport and female athletes are continuously striving against minimal media coverage to be taken seriously and lauded for their athleticism (to go more in depth on this topic, watch a new documentary on “Media Coverage and Female Athletes”). By offering only a perfect men’s bracket challenge, Buffett & Co. are reinforcing the idea that men’s sport and male athletes are more talented, important, valued, and worthy.
Offering a perfect women’s bracket could of been a win-win and is a missed opportunity:
1. Quicken could have potentially garnered more new home loan clients (which is their goal!), and Buffett could of possibly made more profit (no one is sure exactly what his deal is with Quicken, but it isn’t $0!).
2. It would communicate in equal ways that women’s sport is and female athletes are worthy, valued, exciting and deserving.
3.It might have also inadvertently or directly increased interest in women’s basketball—especially in a demographic that is typically deemed “uninterested” (18-35 year old males).
Why does interest matter? “Lack of interest” by males, who are coveted by sport marketers and sport editors, is used as proof and proxy that “everyone” is uninterested in women’s sport–a statement that is completely false (not all young men are uninterested in women’s sport, and outside that demographic women’s sport fans abound!). Lack of interest is often used as a reason for not promoting or covering women’s sport. Many people are very interested in women’s sport, and particularly women’s college basketball as evidenced by increasing attendance, steady ESPN viewership, and expansion of women’s game coverage. Creating hype around the women’s bracket by offering $1B is a perfect way to bring in new fans, generate interest, and communicate the value inherent in women’s sport, some of which would likely be sustained because “they” (i.e., new fans) would watch, monitor brackets, and see that women’s teams are also exciting and talented!
People love March Madness and love to fill out brackets. College basketball and brackets matter. Placing more value (literally) on the men’s bracket, communicates what and who is valued and worthy, as well as who and what is not.
Football Bowl Winners…A Slightly Different Approach
Now that the 2013-14 Football Bowl Series has come to a close and winners declared, I am posting bowl winners based on a slightly different approach.
The winners of 7 arguably most prestigious bowls in this graphic (click on it to make it larger) are based on the institution’s commitment to gender equity in its hiring of women head coaches for women’s teams for 2013-14.
So if you are a fan of Ohio State and Wisconsin…you have something to cheer about, even though your teams lost their bowl game, your institutions have a higher percentage of female head coaches (FHC) of women’s teams than did your opponents!
Sorry Florida State (54.5%)… yes you beat Auburn (33.3%) both on the field and by % of FHC and even though they didn’t play in the title game, University of Central Florida is the real National Champion as 8 of 9 (88.9%) of their women’s teams are coached by women head coaches! Well done UCF!
Oklahoma State, you lost to Missouri (33.3%) both on the field and in % of female head coaches, but you are the winner the Toilet Bowl as only ONE of 8 (12.5%) of your women’s teams are coached by a woman…you can do better, A LOT better! However OK State to be fair, in 2012-13 NONE (0%, ZERO) of your women’s teams were coached by women, so you are moving in the right direction!
This data is taken from 2014 Women in College Coaching Report Card. (note: UCF is not included in the sample, but data was calculated separately from the UCF Athletics Web site)