Effective Behaviors for Coaches Regardless of Athlete Gender

Is coaching boys and girls different?

I’m putting together a presentation on “Differences Coaching Boys and Girls: The Facts and the Myths”. Given my position as the Associate Director in The Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport, without fail every time I give a coach or parent workshop, this question is raised– “What are the differences in coaching girls?”

I can’t summarize an entire hour presentation here, but I will tell you there are a set of evidence-based coaching behaviors every coach should employ regardless of the gender of the athlete.   Here are a few of those strategies:

•Develop skills
•Provide rationale for tasks & limits
•Inquire about & acknowledge feelings
•Allow as much choice as possible within limits

To learn more about this workshop or to schedule one for your organization, contact me via email at nmlavoi@gmail.com

On Champagne, Cigars, Celebrating, and Chicks (i.e., female athletes)

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Canadian women’s hockey team post gold medal controversial celebrations in the last 24 hrs.

My initial reaction was “What?, this is not good for women’s sports“. I have some new thoughts after taking a step back.

1. I realize my reaction was very US-centric and most Canadians feel this is not newsworthy (as Michelle posted in my previous blog) or a big deal. Is my reaction, and of those who share this viewpoint a result that Canada won the game and put a dent in American chauvinism?


2. This issue has definitely brought to light the double standards for behavior that exist for men and women, and athletes are no exception. On one hand I thought, “Why not? Celebrate, you won the gold medal!…the men do it all the time!” But on the other hand, is following the men’s lead or reproducing male celebratory traditions a good thing?  I keep thinking back to the 1999 World Cup when Brandi Chastain whipped off her shirt to expose her Nike sports bra after the USA secured the win in penalty kicks. Chastain’s behavior was both roundly criticized (that isn’t appropriate for women to do! She is sexualizing herself!) and applauded (finally we get to see a strong, athletic female body!). In an attempt to justify the post-bra incident, Chastain and others stated “the guys do this all the time”. Why is it that women have to justify their (inappropriate) celebratory actions following amazing athletic achievements with the disclaimer “the men do it!”?  This complicates the issue because it at once normalizes the behavior (see the men do it, so we can too) but makes it seem unladylike precisely because the men do it.

3. Many people I talked and listened to stated, “I’d have the same reaction if the men’s team did the same thing”. I’m not sure this is entirely true. What this statement does is erase the gendered component inherent in this event. Sports are not gender neutral or gender blind activities, so the reaction is inextricably linked to the fact the athletes were female and we have expectations for how men and women are supposed to behave.

4. I think one of the issues at play here is we just don’t get to SEE strong, powerful, female athletes celebrating in such a public way because women’s sports are so rarely covered in sport media. This type of celebration might be commonplace, but we don’t see it. When the Yankees win the World Series or the Lakers win the NBA Championships we see their celebrations–in fact an extra half hour is usually devoted to covering the celebrations both on the field and in the locker room.

I might have more thoughts about this, but for now…what do you think?

update 2/28/10: a Canadian colleague passed this article from The Winnipeg Free Press, that has an interesting and new point…happy athletes…oh my!

2010 Olympic Sport Media Gaffes…So Far

During the first week of media coverage of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, a few interesting things emerged in terms of sport media coverage and sport commentators.

1. It has been noted elsewhere by colleagues at the John Curley Center for Sport Media and Pat Griffin that commentators (and female athletes themselves!) continually call the adult female athletes “girls”, rather than women. I have yet to hear male athletes referred to as “boys”. They outline why this is problematic in a very clear and concise way, and is worth a read.

2. Despite the fact the first-ever Pride House for LGBT athletes and friends at the Vancouver Winter Olympics (which does not have any official affiliation with International Olympic Committee or the Canadian Olympic organization), sport media commentators continue to make derogatory remarks about certain athletes masculinity and femininity (or more accurately, the lack thereof). This is particularly true when it comes to US men’s figure skater Johnny Weir, the target of many stereotypical jokes. I watch The Today Show on NBC most mornings and it never fails that Matt Lauer, Meridith Vieira and Al Roker will make a joke or imply something about an athlete’s sexual orientation–listen for it!

3. If you’re watching ski jumping, you probably won’t hear a word from sport commentators about female ski jumpers, as the IOC voted last year to not allow them to compete.  Much of the general public has no idea about this issue, as evidenced by the Huffington Post article a friend sent me last week. She thought I’d “want to know” and she was  surprised and a bit outraged these women were denied the opportunity to compete. I had to laugh, as I (and many others) have been following this story for some time it seemed like old news.

Vonn Watch: Part II

Ok, so if you didn’t agree with my critique (and many didn’t!) of the February 8, 2010 Sports Illustrated cover of Olympian Lindsey Vonn that can be interpreted as sexualized, the photographs of Vonn and other female athletes in the 2010 SI Swimsuit Issue being released today (shown here below) might help illustrate some of my original points.

Sports Illustrated 2010 Swimsuit Issue

I became aware of these pictures, from a news story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune that ran today which stated, “Minnesota skiing sensation Lindsey Vonn is among a quartet of Olympic athletes featured in this year’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue that is out today in print and online.”  The online version of the SI Swimsuit Issue includes video clips of the Olympic Stars doing their photo shoots.

The critique here is the same, when we DO see female athletes (some of the best in the world at their respective sports!) which happens in only 6-8% of all sport media, they are more often than not in poses that highlight physical attractiveness, femininity, and can be interpreted as sexualized. Is it coincidental that the four female Olympians portrayed here are all blond, attractive, feminine looking, and sexy according to societal norms?Arguably, the Vonn SI cover can be interpreted (or not) as sexualized, but these images are clearly sexualizing in nature and tone.

The obvious target market for the Swimsuit Issue is men.  Therefore, the idea that “sex sells” is viable and research does support that sex sells. What I want to argue however, and some emerging research is supporting, that sex sells sex…but sex does not sell women’s sport.

The point being, by seeing Vonn on the cover of SI, these images of female Olympians, or any other female athlete… does it make the male demographic more likely to attend and pay for a ticket to an event where these women are competing, buy merchandise, or read a story about them? Researchers say it is unlikely. So yes, sex sells sex but it likely does not promote women’s sport or female athletes in a way that helps to grow women’s sport in a meaningful and sustainable way.

The last point I want to highlight is these type of images also reinforce to consumers what is most important and valued in terms of female athletes and females in general, and meaning is constructed from what is chosen to be included and not included. If you want to read more about  how the sexualization of females affects everyone, particularly young girls, go to the American Psychological Foundation’s Task Force Report on the Sexualization of Girls. The report can be downloaded for free, and in short states, “The proliferation of sexualized images of girls and young women in advertising, merchandising, and media is harming girls’ self-image and healthy development. This report explores the cognitive and emotional consequences, consequences for mental and physical health, and impact on development of a healthy sexual self-image.”

Therefore,  I hope to see many more images like the one below in the weeks to follow, as Vonn (who I really hope is healthy enough to race given her shin injury) and other female Olympians have great potential to be positive role models, not only for girls, but for us all.

To see a video segment of me talking with KARE11 reporter Jana Shortal about why sexualized images of female athletes are problematic,  click here.

Lindsey Vonn, Great Athlete..in action, in uniform, on the slope.

Vonn Watch: Sports Illustrated Cover is Predictable

Sports Illustrated February 8, 2010 Cover

I’ve thought to myself and predicted out loud that leading up to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics that we would see a LOT of Lindsey Vonn in the media.

Vonn is first a GREAT athlete, but she also represents the norm of feminine attractiveness. The combination of athleticism and attractiveness make Vonn the likely poster girl of the US Olympic Team, and the media hasn’t disappointed in constructing her as such.

Not to be left out, Sports Illustrated is featuring Vonn on their February 8,2010 cover (pictured here). For those of you who follow SI Covers, know that female athletes are RARELY featured on the cover.

2007 Sports Illustrated Covers Featuring Women

Over the last 60 years researchers have shown that about 4% of all SI covers have portrayed women.

When females are featured on the cover of SI, they are more likely than not to be in sexualized poses and not in action–and the most recent Vonn cover is no exception.

NOTE: Please read my follow up post below in the comments section, in response to blog readers differing opinions about this post.

Follow up response:

I’ve been getting a lot of comments in this particular blog. It seems I’ve touched a nerve and many disagree with my interpretation of Vonn on the cover of SI. And many of the comments provide alternative perspectives, which is good for discussion. First, let me say I am a fan of Vonn. I have nothing against her and am proud she is a Minnesotan. I am also not saying that Vonn thrives on the attention of the sport media, or seeks it out. I believe she is being covered so frequently because of the combination of the skill, accomplishment, AND her appearance. I have to disagree that this pose is “in action”. In sport media research, we would code this Vonn cover as a passive shot. She is not actually ON the slope skiing, with her helmet on. She IS in a posed tuck position in an attempt to simulate what actually skiing would look like. Yes she is “in uniform” but not her complete uniform and she appears to be on the slope. Picture this as a way to frame what I’m trying to get at: Picture a male ski racer in a similar pose on the cover of SI, smiling at the camera. Would we see that? How would you react to that picture, verses the picture of Vonn? As one blog commenter seemed to hint at, this pose is “ok” because she is hot and sexy, so she is nice to look at. How would “we” feel if the female skier did not meet normative standards of feminine attractiveness (i.e., she was “ugly”) and was in the same pose? I appreciate everyone’s willingness to share their opinions.

Some have brought up a good point that male athletes have been photographed in similar poses, and I do not deny this fact. However, the argument is that because female athletes only receive 6-8% of all sport media coverage regardless of the medium, that when we DO see them it is MORE LIKELY in poses that highlight traditional gender norms, femininity and framed in a way that can be interpreted as sexualized. So yes, Ohno or Kitt have been on the cover in similar ways but we will more likely see male athletes in action, on the court/ice/mat, and in their uniform that we will female athletes, this is a proven fact over the last 25 years of sport media research. -nml

Follow up Part 2 (2/6/10): Thank you to everyone who has submitted a comment. I have approved a sampling of the hundreds of comments that are representative of the varying opinions about this cover and issue. As you can read in the “About This Blog” tab, my goal with this blog is “help readers see the issues I write about with a different perspective (not necessarily one that you agree with)”. It is clear not everyone agreed with the critique of the Vonn SI cover and that is the point, to stimulate dialogue about an issue.  If you are interested in one explanation as to why this post generated so much discussion and attacks on me personally , click here.

Follow up Part 3 (2/8/10): This blog got so much exposure due to the fact it was picked up by USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and more recently CoCo Perez, among other media outlets.

Sexism Alive & Well, Even in Paintball

This will be short post, as you’ve come to learn, sometimes at One Sport Voice pictures tell the story better than I could blog. One of my graduate students (Thanks AN!) found this picture while she was playing paintball this weekend. (Does one “play” paintball? What is the proper terminology?… because that sounds wrong.) This reminded me of a calendar that one might find hanging in car repair shop break room.

Picture found at paintball locale "Easy to love, Hard to leave"

And We Wonder Why Some Girls Aren’t Physically Active?

This morning a colleague sent me this article from ESPN.com about another ban on head scarves for Muslim female athletes. When I see this and other  stories, it makes me recommit to the work I do at The Tucker Center.

It its well documented that females are less physically active than their male peers at all ages, and that girls of color are less physically active than their White counterparts. There are two great reports that summarize the plethora of research on girls, physical activity and health and developmental outcomes–The Tucker Center Research Report: Developing Physically Active Girls (2007), and The Women’s Sport Foundation’s Her Life Depends On It (2009).

Some of the work I do with my graduate student Chelsey Thul, examines the barriers to physical activity of East African girls here in the Twin Cities. We have the largest East African diaspora in the US, and the East African girls in our community find in very challenging to be as physically active as they’d like to be.  They talk about wanting to be physically active but also desire to remain true to religious and cultural norms. If you want to see a great film that documents the challenges Iranian Muslim women face who desire to compete in an international soccer match with a German team, be sure to watch Football Under Cover.

The ESPN.com story illustrates exactly how challenging it can be for Muslim girls and women to be physically active. When are leagues and sport organizations going to enact inclusive policies that encourage and facilitate physical activity and sport participation for EVERYONE?

What Do Fans of Women’s Sport Want to See?

Leading up to the Winter Olympics in Vancouver the US Women’s National Hockey Team has been training here in Blaine, MN and going on tour to play exhibition games to prepare. I had the opportunity to support the team and watch two games over the winter break. While at the game I saw the program (Thanks to The Good Dr.!) and immediately felt my blood pressure rising. This program, which was being sold at both the games I attended, looks nothing like the team’s online media guide. The program starts out appropriately as you can see with the Team Roster picture. As you flip through the program, you see pictures of the team in “street clothes” and get a synopsis about “The Player” and “The Person” in the “Get To Know ‘Em” centerfold section (scroll down to see pictures of program pages). Why is this problematic?

For decades sport media researchers have demonstrated that female athletes (compared to their male counterparts) are much more likely to be pictured out of uniform, off the ice/court, and in poses that depict femininity and/or sexiness. Where are the pictures of the team IN THEIR UNIFORMS and IN ACTION? These women are some of the best female hockey players in the world!

Marketing the athlete-person duality of female athletes has become the default strategy for a majority of sport marketers in the last five years. Where did this strategy come from? Who decided this was the status quo? Is it based on research pertaining to what is effective in marketing female athletes and women’s sport? Is this what fans of women’s sport want to  see? I want to to see the evidence! Some of the evidence that I and colleagues have collected indicates that fans of women’s sports and female athletes attend because of the athleticism, not because the athletes are cute “girls next door” or look good in a sundress.

So here is my question: Are the “Get To Know ‘Em” pictures, what fans want to see or have fans been sold these images so they do not know any different?

My logic: If marketers continually pitch the athlete-person duality, this is what fans see and expect, and it becomes the norm, so fans think they like this approach. But what if consumers only saw images of female athletes IN ACTION, IN UNIFORM, DOING WHAT THEY DO BEST? Would that become the expected and the norm? I really want to know when and who decided that to successfully market elite female athletes that a “personal”/ human interest component has to be included. It is also not coincidental that a good portion of the “Team Tidbits” in the bottom picture below reinforce very feminine, traditional roles for women.

NOTE: In the Qwest Tour program, in which these 3 images were taken from,  I counted only 4 action shots in the entire 37 pages program.

RELATED NOTE: Do fans really want to see pictures of tennis player Venus Williams’ flesh-colored underwear? I would argue they do not, but when the media covers and makes it “newsworthy” then fans and general sport consumers are told this is important and begin to pay attention. I am wagering that more people know about V. Williams’ underwear than how she is playing in the Australian Open. Newsflash: female tennis players have been wearing “flesh colored” underwear for years. However, when the “flesh” color matches that of an African American skin tone it becomes international news.

US Women's National Hockey Team Roster page
US Women's National Hockey Team "Get to Know 'Em"
US National Women's Hockey Team Tidbits

Vonn isn’t “heavy” she’s a great athlete!

In the last week Austrian coaches claimed downhill skier and USA Olympian (and fellow Minnesotan!) Lindsay Vonn was heavy, which they said gives her a competitive advantage. Really? Are you sure she isn’t one of the best skiers because she is an amazing athlete who trains hard?

I was called by local WCCO TV reporter Heather Brown to comment on this issue. I didn’t know where to start, there were just so many angles of this story. Here are my thoughts:

1. From a sport psychology perspective, the Austrian coaches could of purposely leaked the comment to the media to distract Vonn’s attention away from optimal performance. That appears to have backfired, as Vonn responded as a mentally tough athlete would by choosing not to comment much and use it for fuel to further motivate her. Vonn’s response was that of a champion. She couldn’t control what was said, but the did control how she responded. Point Vonn!

2. From a sport media perspective, the comment about Vonn’s weight is yet another example of how the focus on female athlete’s appearance seems to be more important than her performance. Serena Williams is constantly being criticized for being “too big and muscular” and people seem confused as to how a woman so “big” can be so good. Yes we do hear comments about male athlete’s bodies, but it is rarely about appearance…it is about strength, power, speed. I doubt we will hear an Austrian coach discuss Bode Miller’s weight. When a female athlete dominates her sport and her body doesn’t conform to the traditional feminine norm,  she comes under surveillance. Think of South African sprinter Caster Semenya from this summer.

The Vonn comment is a bit unique because the coach said her “extra weight” gives her a competitive advantage. It reminded me of similar comments made about Danica Patrick, when opponents claimed she had a unfair competitive advantage because she weighed less than the males drivers.  The point is, comments about a female athlete’s weight is a way to minimize her performances, and “explain” why she excels rather than attributing winning to athleticism.

3. Lastly, the weight comment conveys to young girls and female athletes that emphasis is placed on what the body looks like, than what it can do. Constant media messages like the Vonn comment socializes girls and women into becoming obsessed on physical appearance, rather than on health, well-being, and optimal performance.

As head into the Vancouver Olympics keep a close eye on how the media constructs Lindsey Vonn as the poster girl for the team.

Note: to read the transcript from Brown’s piece click here