The Scarcity of Female Coaches-Part III

This week marks the 40th anniversary of Title IX. Currently I’m out in Denver for the NCAA Women Coaches Academy (run by the Alliance of Women Coaches) and in the next room is the NCAA/NACWAA Institute for Administrative Advancement where in both rooms the current and future generation of coaches and athletic administrators are being empowered. Seeing this group of women is inspiring and motivates me to continue the work I do to help them in part to succeed and stay in sport careers. Unfortunately they need a lot of support to do so.

As I was getting ready this morning I caught part of the ESPN Outside the Lines piece on “Coaching Conundrum” as to why there is a scarcity of female coaches. The ESPN crew had been out in Atlanta filming at the Alliance of Women Coaches annual Huddle in last May. While the ESPN piece is great for raising awareness about the scarcity of female coaches, it only scratched the surface of this complex question. An espnW piece on “The Glass Wall” is a much more in depth treatment female coaches.

I have written previously about this issue (Part 2  here and Part 1 here), but I want to elaborate a bit more on the eve of the Title IX anniversary.

The barriers for female coaches reside at four levels.

1. Individual (perception of lack of competence or confidence, choose not to coach, perception of time commitment to fulfill role)

2. Interpersonal (family & domestic commitments, lack of support from administration, negative recruiting from colleagues)

3. Organizational (lack of opportunity for professional development, lack of family-friendly policies, limited opportunities for advancement, lack of female role models in positions of power)

4. Societal-Cultural. This is the level that rarely gets discussed, is the hardest to change, and has to do with stereotypes of women, gender and leadership. The traits of effective leadership we mostly highly value in US society align with a male/masculine leadership style. If women don’t adopt or conform to this style (firm, authoritarian, assertive, loud, in control, competitive) they are perceived to be incompetent and weak. If they do adopt this style, the are often labeled a bitch because she is not conforming to a stereotypical female leadership style (caring, quiet, nurturing, passive, collaborative). The key here is that the association with gender and leadership is constructed and arbitrary, but has a dramatic effect on the careers of female coaches. If those in positions of power are mostly men (and they are!) and they are not aware of their own uncritical acceptance of leadership beliefs, and largely believe that male coaches are more competent than females…this will result in most likely a male being hired into the position. The result?–The current structure of sport and male power does not get challenged and females remain marginalized and in the minority, and because men continue to dominant the sport landscape and occupy the most important positions, society at large continues to believe that men are inherently more competent to coach.

Effective leadership is not gendered. Being competent, knowledgeable, facilitating optimal performance, treating people with care and respect, being organized, communicating well, are not inherent to males or females.

Female coaches need a voice in the sport landscape that is dominated by men. Be part of the critical mass and join the Alliance of Women Coaches.

Look for a full length article I wrote with a graduate student on this topic coming out in July 2012 in the inaugural issue of Sports Coaching Review titled “Barriers and support for female coaches: An ecological model.”

Gender Differences in Coaching

Good coaching is good coaching, regardless of athlete gender.

Male and female athletes are much more similar than they are different. There is just as much variability within females and within males, than between males and females. Despite the popular Mars/Venus perspective that females and males are vastly and inherently different, psychological research has not proven this true (see APA keynote from Janet Hyde titled “The Gender Similarity Hypothesis”).  Similarly, despite widespread opinions, anecdotes, quotes from famous coaches (i.e. Anson Dorrance), and popular press “coaching girls” books that are not evidence-based, research in coaching science and sport psychology does not support the idea that coaching males and females is different.

The only statistically significant difference, but has a very small effect size, is that female athletes prefer more democratic leadership styles from their coaches.

The Self Determination Theory states ALL human beings have 3 inherent needs-belongingness, competence and autonomy (I call them The 3C’s = care, competence and choice). Similarity.

Here are some common stereotypes I hear about coaching girls: more emotional, take criticism personally, too sensitive, hold grudges, need to talk and socialize, value relationships more, less competitive, need a cohesive team, lack killer instinct, and are better listeners. I would argue, yes this is true for SOME girls, but it is also true for SOME boys.

A Mars/Venus “difference” approach to coaching exaggerates, promotes, and reinforces outdated and dangerous gender stereotypes that are potentially harmful to BOTH males and females.

For example, if a coach believes or uncritically accepts that boys are inherently more aggressive and competitive, the coach may have different expectations and ways of structuring practices, interacting, communicating, motivating and leading girls. Similarly, if coaches believe boys don’t value connections and friendships, this too erases boys’ need for feeling a sense of belongingness. Coaching based on opinions, beliefs and popular press coaching books of inherent difference is dangerous and can limit the experiences of athletes, regardless of gender.

Coaching science researchers have demonstrated that good coaching is good coaching.

NOTE: If you would like to read a more in depth critique of this topic, please consult: LaVoi, N.M., Becker, E., & Maxwell, H.D. (2007). “Coaching Girls”: A content analysis of best-selling popular press books. Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal, 15(4), 8-20.

Women’s Basketball Coaches By the Numbers

With March Madness and basketball on the minds of many, I thought I’d provide a “by the numbers” analysis of coaches of women’s basketball. In previous blogs I have outlined, in part, the many barriers female coaches face in entering and staying in coaching at all levels (to read click here and here). Two writers for espnW, Fagan and Cyphers, published an in depth story on this topic titled The Glass Wall: Women continue to shatter stereotypes as athletes. So how come they can’t catch a break as coaches?” that is worth a read.

The 20111 WNBA Champion Minnesota Lynx Head Coach Cheryl Reeve in an article by Fox Sport North, discussed her desire to see more female head coaches in the league. When the WNBA formed in 1997, seven of the eight head coaches were women. Today, the league boasts two all-female staffs, in Indiana and Los Angeles, and six of the 12 head coaches (50%) are women. Of the 33 total coaches, 21 are women, and there are no all-male staffs. The writer of this article makes an interesting point–successful female coaches in the WNBA have primarily been mentored by NBA experienced male coaches. Now female coaches like Reeve can provide visible role models and mentor other females who desire to coach at the professional level.

At the collegiate level some interesting patterns also arise. According to Acosta & Carpenter’s 2012 Women in Intercollegiate Sport Report, basketball is the sport most commonly offered on college campuses and 6 of 10 (60%) of women’s basketball teams are coached by females. This is interesting because only 42.9% of female college athletes in all sports are coached by a female. At the most elite level, the percentage of female head basketball coaches is even higher.

In the Women’s NCAA I basketball tournament, in the Elite 6 of 8 (75%) teams were coached by a female head coach. In the Final Four 3 of 4 (75%) teams were coached by a female head coach. In the championship game both teams (100%) will be coached by a female head coach-Muffet McGraw of Notre Dame, and Kim Mulkey of Baylor.

Is this proof that females are ultimately more successful coaching females when given the opportunity? Is this a sign of the times that the percentage of female head coaches in women’s sport is on the rise? Or is it just a unusual year that makes it seem like the glass ceiling/wall is cracking when it really hasn’t?

Regardless of how you may answer these questions, having McGraw and Mulkey coaching against each other in the NCAA Championship game provides visible role models for young girls and women who aspire to coach, communicates that females can be successful at the highest levels of women’s sport, and helps change gender stereotypes that females are not as competent as their male counterparts.

NOTE: Read a NYT article about pay disparity between head coaches of men’s and women’s basketball. It statesFor Division I basketball, the median salary for coaches of a men’s team in 2010 was $329,300, nearly twice that of coaches for women’s teams, who had a median of $171,600. Over the past four years, the median pay of men’s head coaches increased by 40 percent compared with 28 percent for women’s coaches.” To read full story click here.

Mother-Coaches in Youth Sport

A colleague and I, Dr. Sarah Leberman from Massey University in New Zealand, now have an article in press in the Journal of Sport Management titled “Juggling Balls and Roles, Working Mother-Coaches in Youth Sport: Beyond the Dualistic Worker-Mother Identity.”

Focusing on the mother-worker duality is limiting and provides an incomplete picture of women‘s social roles, therefore we used a role triad framework of the worker-mother-coach which draws attention to the existence of a “third shift” for some women.

The abstract for this piece is below:

ABSTRACT: Despite the ubiquitous presence of mothers in sport contexts, mothers‘ voices are often absent in the sport literature, particularly at the youth sport level. A phenomenological approach was used to explore the experiences of working mother volunteer youth sport coaches. A role-triad model based on the work-family enrichment and role enhancement literature provided the theoretical framework. The purpose was to understand how and why working mother-coaches mange this role triad and to identify mother-worker skills which may transfer to youth coaching and vice versa. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with eight working mother-coaches and analyzed for themes. Findings suggest that notions of being a good mother and reasons for coaching are very similar, including spending time together, developing life skills and role modeling. Participants negotiated multiple roles using cognitive tools, such as reframing and separation of roles. The reciprocal benefits of motherhood, working and coaching for themselves and others were highlighted.

Dr. Leberman and I completed this research when she was a visiting Fulbright Senior Scholar in the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport.