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 possiblethat 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?
I am a long time advocate of late specialization-early diversification in youth sport, and this research report by the American Academy of Pediatrics“Sports Specialization and Intensive Training in Young Athletes”in the September 2016 issue of Pediatrics hits the mark and provides concrete evidence that early specialization in NOT the optimal pathway to either elite performance or health and well being.
The AAP report along with the Aspen Institute’s Project Play, I “hope” will begin to shift the discussion and beliefs about youth sport participation and structure 180 degrees away from winning/performance to fun and enjoyment and development. In January 2015, the Aspen Institute released “Sport for All, Play for Life: A Playbook to Get Every Kid in the Game,” a 48-page report that offers a new model for youth sports in America, with eight strategies for the eight sectors that touch the lives of children.
The cultural shift has to start with sport parent and coach education.
Much of what I have done athletically and now do professionally would not look the same without Pat Summitt.We have lost a pioneer for women’s sports and a legacy coach. While she holds the record for most wins in college basketball, her legacy is about so much more than winning and National Championships. While I only met Pat once very briefly, I feel compelled to honor and thank her. Pat, I and so many others, are grateful for how you made a difference, particularly for girls and women in sport. RIP
I feel compelled to write yet ANOTHER blog about how the sport media shamefully covers women’s sports in general and the Minnesota Lynx specifically. Currently, the Lynx are the reigning WNBA Champions and until yesterday (June 24, 2016) were undefeated, notching a record-breaking 13-0 start, the best start in the history of the 20 year old WBNA league.
For the last 10 years, and more specifically the last 5 years, I and many others–including Lynx Head Coach Cheryl Reeve, have educated, implored, asked, cajoled and tried to shame the sport media into respectfully and fairly covering the Lynx.
Why cover the Lynx? I’ll give you 5 reasons.
1. Because they are amazing athletes that deserve the coverage of their males counterparts.
2. The Media constantly states they cover teams that win. People like to read about winners!…yet despite being the MOST winning team in Minnesota (maybe except for the Gopher Women’s Hockey Team who get nearly NO coverage as 2016 and 7 time NCAA D-I National Champions) the Lynx get less coverage than the Twins, who currently are having a miserable season and started their season 0-9 or the MN Vikings and MN Wild who are currently NOT in season. The Lynx are the most winning pro team in Minnesota. They have been in the WNBA finals 4 of the last 5 years, and have won it 3 times (2013, ’15, ’16).
Despite this amazing and dominant franchise, The Media continue to ignore and marginalize the Lynx accomplishments (see the New York Times piece “Cleveland Finally Won a Title. What’s the Most Cursed Sports City Now?”) which ranks Minneapolis as the 5th most cursed city without a pro championship, which erases and dismisses the accomplishments of the Lynx (see screen shot below).
3. The Media states they cover teams people are interested in, but take no responsibility in CREATING that interest. People ARE interested in the Lynx, despite the fact The Media doesn’t give them fair or equal coverage. If you have attended a Lynx game, you can’t deny the energy or interest in the Lynx that is palpable in the Target Center where the Lynx play their home games.
Shame on MPR, you should know better! If I don’t know or follow the Lynx, this title does not make me want to tune in or attend. It does not increase my interest in the team. And the truth is, the arena is full! (see picture below from the June 24, 2016 Lynx v. Sparks game).
4. The Lynx are positive role models for girls, but also for boys…as good people AND as great athletes. They are good people, care about each other, play unselfishly, are engaged in the community, always give full effort, are gritty & tough competitors, have good sportsmanship, and are the epitome of what champions look and act like.
5. The amount of coverage the Lynx get is disproportionate to their talent and reflects a false reality of participation trends in the US. Female athletes make up 43% of all sport participants, but get < 4% of all sport media coverage (if you want more info, watch “Media Coverage & Female Athletes” an Emmy-winning documentary on this topic).
If you agree, share, tweet, and/or post this. Your voice matters. Join the #HERESPROOF campaign to prove the the media that people ARE interested in women’s sport.
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.
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.
the ESPN coverage of the NCAA D-I women’s basketball tournament is well produced so that we can actually SEE these amazing female athletes and their coaches
a majority of the head coaches of women’s basketball are women. In the Women in College Coaching Research Series, 62.8% of head coaches of women’s basketball in the 86 “big time” NCAA D-I schools (many of which are in the tournament) are women.
Based on the 2014-15 data in the Women in College Coaching Research Series, I took the remaining 2015 Sweet 16 teams and filled out the bracket based on the percent of women’s teams at that institution which had a female head coach (see Figure 1). With that data, Maryland and Florida State would be Co-National NCAA D-I Champions (coached by Brenda Frese and Sue Semrau respectively), due to the fact 54.5% of all their women’s teams at both institutions are coached by a woman head coach. Madness!
Madness! Of note, 13 of the Sweet 16 women’s teams(81.3%)have a female head coach–that is an over-representation of women head coaches for the best teams in the nation, than are found in women’s D-I basketball in general, given the stat I stated before (62.8%). The Sweet 16 stat is a really interestingstat in that 29 of 64 teams (45.3%) in the full bracket are coached by a female head coach. Based on the data, it appears the female head coaches are proportionately outperforming their male coaching colleagues and are represented in a larger percentage in the Sweet 16, than the initial pool of women coaches in the bracket. More Madness!
To break the tie and declare a national champion, we (thanks Marnie Kinnaird!) looked at the gender composition of the coaching staffs for the Sweet 16 women’s basketball teams (see Figure 2 below).
We weighted the score by position, if a woman occupied the position a school earned the following points: Head Coach = 3pts, Associate (Head) Coach = 2pts, Assistant Coach = 1pt. Males in any position earned zero points. We counted only 4 coaching positions for each institution (except for UNC who had 5).
Based on the data in Figure 2, Notre Dame and Arizona State tied for the “win” with 8pts each (due to the fact both programs have 2 Associate Coaches, which are weighted more heavily than an Assistant Coach, therefore giving them the lead), and Stanford and Iowa tied for second place with 7pts each. Notwithstanding Notre Dame, Arizona State, Stanford and Iowa share an interesting stat–the coaching staff is comprised of all women.
Meaning 4 of the Sweet 16 teams (25%) are coached by all women–prime examples of women mentoring women. Madness!
This data did not break the Co-National Champs tie…both Maryland & Florida State had 5pts! (mini madness!)
Seeing powerful, successful female role models, athletes and coaches, on TV matters!
It provides proof that women can be successful at the highest levels in the coaching profession. It provides visibility to young girls and women who aspire to play college athletics and who may aspire to continue following their love and passion in sport by coaching. It provides evidence and gives boys and young men a picture that women can be, and are, leaders. So thanks to ESPN and espnW for providing excellent coverage, content and production value, so that these amazing women athletes and their coaches can be seen for the role models they are. So here’s to more Madness!
p.s.-If you have an idea on how to break the tie between Maryland and Florida State, tweet me @DrSportPsych
Here are the 2014-15 data I think are important and noteworthy.
The percentage of head coaches of women’s teams increased .6% from last year (net gain of +6 female coaches out of 969) to 40.2%
Two schools (Cincinnati & U Central Florida) out of 86 were awarded A’s (70-100% women head coaches = A)
An equal number of schools (n=11) got As and Bs as got Fs
The percentage of institutions receiving Fs has increased every year (0-24% = F)
2012-13: 10.5%, 2013-14: 11.8%, 2014-15: 12.9%
One school had zero female head coaches (Xavier)
Field hockey had 100% female head coaches, water polo and alpine skiing had 0%
None of the 7 “big time” conferences in our sample were awarded an A or B.
85 head coaching positions turned over from last year, 61% of the time a male was hired to replace the outgoing coach.
Take home messages.
Overall, in the three years we have done the report no remarkable gains or losses in the percentage of women head coaches of women’s teams in the biggest college athletics programs have been realized. In fact the percentage in this year’s report 2014-15 is the exact same as it was in the first year of the report in 2012-13. So depending on how one looks at the data, the glass can be half full or half empty. We aren’t gaining ground, but we also are not losing more ground. Based on the data, whether we look at conference, sport or institution, a great deal of room for improvement exists in terms of hiring women head coaches at the institutions that are most visible in the sport media landscape and culturally valued for their athletics.
This data is important given what some scholars are calling “college athletics’ war on women coaches” as it provides a mechanism of accountability at the institutional level, stimulates awareness, generates dialogue, and perhaps creates social change on the scarcity of women head coaches and why that matters for athletes, coaches, institutions and coaching organizations.
To read more about the historic decline of women in the coaching profession, why women coaches matter and why diversity in the workplace matters, read our past reports here and here. To read my other blogs about women in sport coaching, a topic a frequently write about, click here.