I frequently am asked, “Why do women coaches matter?”
[yes, I do seriously get this question…. a lot!]
And I made this graphic (see below)
I recently got that chance to talk with John O’Sullivan, Founder and CEO of Changing the Game Project which is an organization dedicated to ensuring that we return youth sports to our children, and put the ‘play’ back in ‘play ball.’ John and I talked about a variety of topics that are of interest to those who care about youth sports and gender equity.
Listen at the link below.
5:00 When she became interested in issues for Women in Sport Leadership?
8:00 Why is there a decline in women in sport leadership?
15:00 What would it take to get more women coaching sports?
21:00 Why does Nicole think kids are quitting sport?
28:00 Nicole explains “background anger” and how it affects children
35:00 What is Kid Speak?
48:00 Winning and Character Development are not mutually exclusive
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 possible that 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?
3. What can we do about it?
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.
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.
I comment this in this piece titled “As competition rises, team sports decline, but traveling teams soar WCCO-TV”.
Project Play focuses on access to quality sport opportunities for children ages 12 and under. “Sport for All, Play for Life: A Playbook to Get Every Kid in the Game (2015),” is 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.
Even if Dave Zirin doesn’t want to keep defending women’s sport in the wake of the Women’s World Cup that smashed ratings (although I know he will!), we at the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport decided to write a piece that will help change the narrative and dispel false narratives about women’s sport.
Read our exclusive on espnW titled “Even in the Wake of a Record-Setting Women’s World Cup, Myths Still Surround Women’s Sports” where we refute the four most common myths about women’s sport.
The statistics surrounding the 2015 Women’s World Cup (WWC) make it abundantly clear that people are interested in women’s sport. In sum, the WWC final:
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.
Here is a different twist on March Madness 2015.
It is pure Madness! (in a good way) that:
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 interesting stat 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!
And there are many other competent women head coaches represented in earlier rounds, such as Princeton coach Courtney Banghart, whose undefeated 31-0 team lost to Maryland in a hard fought game which was written about by USA Today columnist Christine Brennan.
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
To honor National Girls and Women in Sport Day, I decided to release the annual Women in College Coaching Report Card. This research series is a collaboration between the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport at the University of Minnesota, and the Alliance of Women Coaches.
We gave espnW’s Kate Fagan the exclusive first-run story in which she summarizes some of the key findings-Women Coaching Women? Big-Time Schools Grade Out Terribly.
Here are the 2014-15 data I think are important and noteworthy.
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.