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 states “For 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.
Last night Notre Dame faced Maryland for a berth into the Final Four. The game was anticipated to be close and contested. It wasn’t. Notre Dame dominated the game, controlled the pace of play for the entire game and earned their second consecutive trip to the Final Four with a score of 80-49.
More specifically, Diggins dominated the game and earned her first triple-double in her career by scoring 22 points, 11 assists, 10 rebounds and five steals. Coach Muffet McGraw stated it was the best game she played all season. Diggins looked focused, had on her game face, her swagger was back, and she was running the floor and leading the offense. She looked like she was on a mission. ESPN color commentator Rebecca Lobo kept remarking that Diggins “came to play tonight.” Maryland All-American Alyssa Thomas stated, “She went off on us tonight and we really didn’t have an answer.”
Diggins started the game with the headband, and it never came off. This was the first time all season on televised games that the headband stayed on the whole game. Best game of the year. Triple Double. Dominating Play. Headband on. Coincidence?
I’m not suggesting Diggins read my blog or took my advice to heart, but what I am pointing out is that for Diggins the headband appears to be symbolic of playing well. Mentally tough athletes focus on what they can control and regardless of the situation or how they are playing, they figure out how to compete, persevere in the face of adversity, and give their best effort. In past games, if she wasn’t playing well, she took off the headband. Maybe taking it off was an easy out instead of bearing down, figuring it out and fighting.
Last night she didn’t and played consistently well and never looked back as her team punched their ticket to the Final Four in Denver.
I love March Madness. Normally I write a blog to critique sport media in terms of TV coverage amount and quality of between the men and women’s NCAA basketball tournaments. This year I am happy to report the ESPN coverage of the women’s games includes all rounds, full game coverage of all Sweet 16 games, great production quality, highly talented color and in studio commentators, all games in HD, cross brand promotion of espnW, and coverage that looks and feels nearly the same as coverage for the men. YAY.
In the absence of critiquing sport media, I want to discuss “the headband” of University of Notre Dame junior hoop star Skylar Diggins (@SkyDigg4) from a sport psychology perspective.
I’ve watched Notre Dame play on TV 6-8 times this season and have heard “the headband” discussed in every game by commentators. It is also the source of many fan tweets. At the start of the game, Diggins wears a wide white Adidas headband. If she is happy with her play, it stays on. If she is unhappy with her play, she takes it off. Usually it comes off at halftime, but recently she has taken it off as early as the 5th minute. As a fan of Notre Dame, when I see her take off the headband I groan. As someone trained in sport psychology I find it an interesting case study. Here is my analysis of “the headband” ritual using sport psychology research.(note: I have not talked directly to Diggins, about how and why she uses this ritual, nor have a talked to her coaches or teammates about how they perceive her ritual).
Having a competitive ritual helps increase the likelihood of optimal performance in many ways: Athlete’s who have developed and practice detailed. consistent, and controllable competitive rituals are more likely to optimally perform on command regardless of the situation.
THE GOOD: Doing the same thing in the same way helps reduce uncertainty which can lead to less anxiety, provides control for the athlete, focuses attention, focuses emotion, and focuses energy. Diggins has discussed her headband ritual with the public, therefore her opponents likely know of the practice, so it signals to the opponent that she is refocused and coming at them. It also tells her teammates and the public that she isn’t happy with her play, and she can do better. It might help her teammates feel confident (“We know when Diggins takes off the headband, she means business). From reading tweets, it seems that a majority of fans believe she gets more focused, serious and competitive when the head band comes off.
THE NOT SO GOOD: The problem with this competitive ritual is she is not consistent about WHEN the head band comes off. Her subjective assessment and mood state dictate when/if it comes off. A good competitive ritual is done the same way at the same time. (For example a free throw ritual, wearing the same socks, tapping your racket on the ground before returning a serve, addressing a golf ball). The downside of this ritual is that she is telegraphing to her opponent and teammates that she isn’t feeling confident and isn’t happy with her play. Taking off the headband may undermine her teammates’ confidence (“Diggins took off the headband, she isn’t feeling it. Here we go again. I better play well now”).
The second downside is she is spending energy with the headband that she could be using to focus on what she needs to do to play better. If starting the game WITH the headband gives her confidence, but it quickly dissipates and results in whipping it off whenever she can during play or at a whistle, I might advise her to rethink “the headband”. If it is her signature but she can’t keep it on the whole game, then maybe she should start the game without it. Just leave it off. Then if she is playing poorly, her teammates and opponents don’t have the benefit of knowing she is vulnerable. She would look the same regardless of how she is playing, and that gives her and her team the advantage. If I were a coach, I’d tell my team when they see Diggins take off the headband to go right at her and to feel confident that we have her rattled. She shouldn’t be giving her opponent so much information that can be used against she and her team.
Mentally tough athletes and those that perform consistently at the upper range of their competitive talent, use positive emotion, feel challenged by equally matched opponents/teams, and see competition as a fun and enjoyable opportunity. “The Headband” appears to be linked to negative emotion such as anger at herself and her play, and this is not a facilitative competitive ritual. Again, I don’t know what is going through her head, but I can see her body language at the times she takes it off and she appears irritated, angry, flustered, frustrated, and not confident. Often it shows in her play. If an athlete is mad at herself, then she is mad at the one person she NEEDS to compete well and is wasting energy. VERY FEW athletes can use anger effectively as a competitive ritual and tool.
Lastly, in all sports, some days competing and playing seems effortless and easy. All your shots drop, your legs feel lively, the hoop seems very large, you see plays unfold, and time seems to slow down. Other days it doesn’t. This cannot be controlled, it just is. What can be controlled is how an athlete reacts to this phenomenon. Athletes that start a game feeling they HAVE to or SHOULD play perfectly all the time, or at a certain level, are setting themselves up for frustration. Instead athletes should focus on what they can control-effort, mental focus (i.e., sticking with the game plan, taking the right shots), sportsmanship, emotion and behaviors.
When Diggins has her swagger going, she looks confident, her body language and facial expressions are very different, she takes control of the floor and leads her team. The Irish are much stronger as a team when she is in this mental frame. The team is good enough to compensate for Diggins when she isn’t, but to win a national championship the Irish need Diggins to play with confidence for the entire game, and I feel that is more possible if she leaves the headband in the locker room. When she takes the headband off, for her it signals she is playing poorly…which could also be a self-fulfilling prophecy and focus her attention on the fact she is playing poorly, rather than focusing on what she can do to play well.
However, at this point in the season it is probably unwise for her to start a new ritual but for her senior year, it may be worth reconsidering “the headband”.
Regardless of this analysis, Diggins is an amazing athlete. I have used “the headband” as an interesting case study to help illustrate how competitive rituals can be facilitative or not of optimal performance.
This past weekend I traveled back to Notre Dame (ND) for the Michigan State football game. I go back every other year to catch a game and see former colleagues. While I was there I observed a few things I had to share related to how females are marginalized and gender is (re)produced in subtle and not to subtle ways. Here are the Top 5:
1. On Friday morning I played golf at the beautiful links style ND Warren Golf Course. When I worked at ND I would decide to golf after work and show up at the course and be assigned a tee time with a group that had room for one more. Mostly I played with all men. As we stood on the tee box, I would invariable get “advice” from one or more of the men on how to play, how to hit a drive etc….They would tee off first, and then we’d go up to the “Ladies Tees” where I would hit. When I play frequnetly I can hit a 200 yard drive which often surpasses some of the mens’ drives. After that I didn’t get any more advice. I wondered, do men give other men advice on the first tee? Why do men feel compelled to give females paternalistic advice on how to play golf when they have no idea how skilled she may or may not be?
2. One of the traditions of ND football is the Friday night pep rally. While at the pep rally, a distinguished alum and former NFL player was challenging the crowd to cheer loudly for the Irish. He said he was told to keep it “PC”. He told the crowd they should stand the whole game to show support. He then told the players to be tough and not let Michigan State control the game in “their house.” He said if the players wanted to be weak and soft he told them, “You should go to school across the street” (meaning attend the all-women’s sister school St. Mary’s College). To my surprise, a few people in the crowd booed him.
3. While wandering around campus I came across the 2008-09 ND men’s & women’s basketball schedule posters (see picture). Given the research on portrayals of female athletes we have conducted in the Tucker Center, I noticed immediately that ALL the male athletes were in uniform, in action, and on the court. Some of the female athletes were in uniform, in action, and on the court but the dominant image was the “team shot.” These two posters convey very different messages about athletic competence.
4. On my way home I was checking Facebook and email on my phone when I saw a Facebook post that read: “Eagirls v. New Orleans“…meaning the Eagles were playing the New Orleans Saints. This person felt the Eagles were not playing well, which meant they were playing like girls.
5. Last but not least and related to #1 above…I wandered into an airport book store to find a new book to read on the way home. I came across a book written by man titled, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man. I was curious so I picked it up. I’d encourage you to take a look at the table of contents, depending on your perspective you’ll find it infuriating, entertaining or informative.
I think these example speak for themselves. Comments?