SBJ/Aug. 28-Sept. 3, 2017/Opinion

Leadership on the sidelines should not be defined by gender

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In June we marked the 45th anniversary of the passage of Title IX, a landmark federal civil rights law that illegalized gender discrimination in educational contexts. Since the passage of Title IX in 1972, which dramatically increased sport opportunities for girls and women, female sports participation is at an all-time high. However, the percentage of women coaching women at the college level has declined from more than 90 percent in 1974 to near an all-time low today of 40 percent — a percentage the Alliance of Women Coaches is working to increase.

Why does a lower percentage of women coaches matter, you may ask? Women coaches matter for a variety of reasons. Research shows that same sex role models positively influence self-perceptions. They challenge stereotypes about gender and leadership and offer diverse perspectives, insight and advice to their athletes. One hundred percent of male athletes have had a male coaching role model during their athletic careers, to their benefit. Young women likewise need and deserve more same sex role models.

Diversity in the workforce is a talent imperative for sports organizations and athletic departments, and this includes opening leadership positions to women. Dr. M. Dianne Murphy, Alliance board of directors member, former Division I head basketball coach, NACDA Hall of Famer and Women Leaders in College Sport Lifetime Achievement Award winner, contends, “It is vitally important that young girls and boys see women in top leadership positions. We have women serving as top executives in a variety of professions, and college athletics should be no different. Competition in sport teaches so many valuable life lessons, and having more women in the coaching profession will only add to the quality and depth of the student-athlete experience.”

Audra Smith, Clemson University women’s basketball head coach
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES


Qualified, competent and successful women coaches exist and have always existed, contrary to popular misconceptions. The common narratives blame women for their own underrepresentation in coaching, contending that there is a scarcity of women coaches, that women don’t apply or that women don’t want to coach. These oft-repeated refrains ignore the fact that women’s “choices” are made within a societal, cultural and organizational context. This occupational sports landscape and context for women coaches — led and run primarily by men — is well documented and fraught with numerous and complex barriers including racial bias, sexism, wage inequality, discrimination, double standards and homophobia. These factors influence and impede women’s choices and decisions to enter coaching, and their career trajectories and professional experiences.

Fortunately, there are organizations, individuals and institutions working in collaboration to help reduce or eliminate barriers for women coaches, and to support women in their pursuit of a coaching career. The Alliance of Women Coaches, founded in 2011, is the leading national organization supporting, providing resources, and conducting unparalleled events and programs for women coaches. The Alliance of Women Coaches is a nonprofit membership organization similar in structure to Women Leaders in College Sports (formerly NACWAA) and boasts over 1,000 members. “I grew up as an athlete with great female coaches and knew immediately that coaching was something I wanted to do,” says Alliance President Dr. Cecile Reynaud. “I was fortunate to be encouraged and mentored by highly successful women. We want to continue to put our young female athletes in a position to see coaching as an exciting and rewarding career and we want to make sure they are thoroughly prepared to be successful.”

One of the Alliance’s most in-demand events is the NCAA Women Coaches Academy (WCA), a four-day educational training held three times annually. It is open to all NCAA women coaches. The WCA offers non-sport-specific program management strategies, with a special focus on philosophy development and building skills and knowledge about planning, communication, legal issues, ethics, hiring, supervising staff, conflict resolution, raising a family while coaching, and learning styles and achieving success. In addition to the WCA, the Alliance hosts numerous networking events at national coaching conventions and one-day regional workshops, including the fifth annual Women Coaches Symposium to be held in April 2018 at the University of Minnesota, which attracts 350-plus women coaches of all levels and all sports.

The Alliance’s expert-laden board of directors, coaches council and collaborative partnerships help amplify its mission. Alliance Executive Director Megan Kahn states: “We are fortunate to have so many who are passionate about and give to the important work and cause of the Alliance. Together we are working to better the landscape for current and future female coaches and women in sport. With the help of administrators and those making hiring decisions, we can show that leadership, passion or strategy on the sideline should not be defined by gender.”

To help draw national attention to this topic, I help to produce the annual Women in College Coaching Report Card. Institutions, conferences and sports are given a grade A through F, for the percentage of women head coaches for women’s teams. The Report Card provides an accountability mechanism, creates awareness and helps stimulate a national dialogue on women in the coaching profession. The feedback from coaches and administrators reaffirms the Report Card and the Alliance are making a real and lasting impact in the lives of women coaches, which catalyzes momentum to recruit, retain and advance women in the coaching profession.

This column is an invitation to leaders in athletics and business who are passionate about increasing the percentage of women in coaching to get involved and work in partnership with the Alliance of Women Coaches to provide educational programming, support and resources for women at all levels of sports including club, high school, NAIA, NJCAA, NCAA and professional leagues.

To get involved and for more information visit www.gocoaches.org and/or contact the Alliance of Women Coaches at megan@gocoaches.org.

Nicole M. LaVoi is co-director of The Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport; and University of Minnesota board of director member, Alliance of Women Coaches.

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