Tag Archives: women’s basketball

March Madness! Visible Women Head Coaches

Here is a different twist on March Madness 2015.

It is pure Madness! (in a good way) that:

  1. 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
  2. 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!

2015 WBB sweet 16 bracket
Figure 1. 2015 Women’s NCAA D-I Winner by Percent of Women Head Coaches of Women’s Teams by Institution

 

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! 

2015 Gender Composition of Coaching Staff for Women's Sweet 16 Women's Basketball  Teams
Figure 2. 2015 Gender Composition of Coaching Staff for Women’s Sweet 16 Women’s Basketball Teams

 

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

 

Women’s Basketball Coaches By the Numbers

With March Madness and basketball on the minds of many, I thought I’d provide a “by the numbers” analysis of coaches of women’s basketball. In previous blogs I have outlined, in part, the many barriers female coaches face in entering and staying in coaching at all levels (to read click here and here). Two writers for espnW, Fagan and Cyphers, published an in depth story on this topic titled The Glass Wall: Women continue to shatter stereotypes as athletes. So how come they can’t catch a break as coaches?” that is worth a read.

The 20111 WNBA Champion Minnesota Lynx Head Coach Cheryl Reeve in an article by Fox Sport North, discussed her desire to see more female head coaches in the league. When the WNBA formed in 1997, seven of the eight head coaches were women. Today, the league boasts two all-female staffs, in Indiana and Los Angeles, and six of the 12 head coaches (50%) are women. Of the 33 total coaches, 21 are women, and there are no all-male staffs. The writer of this article makes an interesting point–successful female coaches in the WNBA have primarily been mentored by NBA experienced male coaches. Now female coaches like Reeve can provide visible role models and mentor other females who desire to coach at the professional level.

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 statesFor 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.

Is it all in the headband for Diggins?

In my last blog I wrote about Notre Dame’s Skylar Diggins, mental toughness and “the headband” from a sport psychology perspective. I argued, among other things, that taking her head band off during the game signals to the opponent, her team, and fans that she isn’t playing well and therefore telegraphs weakness and vulnerability. I suggested she either start with the headband off, or regardless of her level of play she leave it on.

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.

Skylar Diggins’ Headband: A Sport Psychology Perspective

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.

Diggins sans headband
Diggins' with headband

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.

Predictions on media coverage about UConn Women's Basketball winning streak

UConn player Maya Moore

I have a couple predictions about how the media will talk about the UConn women’s basketball team as they (hopefully) tie and break UCLA’s record of the most wins in a row in college D-I basketball. Given the scarce coverage of this exciting and historic event which Christine Brennan wrote about in USA Today, it will be interesting to see if my predictions come true. Read Geno Auriemma’s comments about the streak here, including this quote, “The reason everybody is having a heart attack the last four or five days is a bunch of women are threatening to break a men’s record, and everybody is all up in arms about it.”

If UConn breaks the UCLA record…

Prediction 1: The lack of parity in women’s basketball will be highlighted. UConn’s domination will be attributed to a lack of talent among the other teams. I wasn’t around for the UCLA streak, but I’m guessing no one said Wooden’s teams amassed their streak due to a weak field of opponents. The sanctity of the UCLA streak will remain intact.

Prediction 2: The women’s game will be constantly compared to the men’s game, in which the men’s game will be constructed as a better, faster, more exciting form of basketball….”real basketball”

Prediction 3: Some will argue that UConn Coach Geno Auriemma is “so good” that he should go and coach men’s basketball, because he is wasting his talent coaching females

Prediction 4: The UConn players will be called ruthless, robotron competitors who play unapologetically to win…and this will be constructed as not feminine or unladylike. In fact, some will say the UConn women play like men.

Prediction 5: The lack of interest in UConn’s streak will be blamed on women. It will go something like, “if women themselves don’t support women’s sport, than who will?”  The flaw in this argument is that the success of and support for men’s professional sport is attributed to only males. The fact is, nearly 40% of all fans of professional men’s sports are women. Therefore the lack of interest and coverage of UConn should be equally attributed to males and females, maybe even more so to males because they hold over 90% of all sport media positions and thus make the decisions about what is covered and what isn’t.

Prediction 6: More emphasis will be placed on the fact the streak is a women’s basketball streak, rather than the longest winning streak of any team regardless of the sex of the athlete.

Prediction 7: Some will say women’s basketball is lucky to get any coverage, streak or no streak.

I may think of a few more in the next couple days. Do you have some predictions to add?

Latest "Women in Intercollegiate Sport" Report Now Available

The most recent version of Acosta & Carpenter’s longitudinal (33 years!) research on Women in Intercollegiate Sport is now available on their website. Some good news highlights:

  • 42.6% of women’s teams are coached by a female head coach, a number that has remained stable over the last four years
  • HIGHEST EVER number of paid assistant coaches of women’s teams, 57.6% which are female
  • HIGHEST EVER number (n= 12,702) of females employed in intercollegiate athletics

Given that basketball is the most popular collegiate sport acording to Acosta & Carpenter, and it is March Madness, you can also download the most recent Academic Progress/Graduation Success Rate Study of Division I NCAA Women’s and Men’s Basketball Tournament Teams

Director of The Institute of Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES), Richard Lapchick states in the report, “Nineteen women’s tournament teams had a 100 percent graduation rate for their teams. Women do much better academically than men. Furthermore, the academic success gap between African‐American and white women’s basketball student‐athletes is smaller, although still significant, than between African‐American and white men’s basketball student‐athletes.”

Keeping it real with some data during March Madness…

Are Female Athletes Becoming More Aggressive?

With the start of the March Madness and stories of “aggressive female athletes” making national headlines (i.e., Elizabeth Lambert, Brittney Griner), a question I have heard asked and debated a lot lately is–“Are females athletes becoming more aggressive?”

I don’t have the answer. The best I can say is a cautious–“maybe?” I don’t think there are any data to prove or disprove this question, but the fact the incidents are caught on video and replayed makes it seem like it is more frequent.  I am hesitant to say overly aggressive acts of female athletes is on the rise at the risk of reifying outdated gendered stereotypes and double standards. The New York Times journalist Jere Longman, wrote a balanced piece which contained perspectives of some of the best critical thinkers and brightest sport sociologists. The story titled “Pushing Back Stereotypes” featured a particular quote from colleague and director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport at the University of Minnesota Mary Jo Kane, which I thought was spot on.  She stated,

“Only time will tell if this is an aberration, but what I think is a clear trend, as the stakes get higher in women’s sports, you see more pressure to win….This could be a natural progression to women entering into big-time college sports. You take the bad with the good; you take sold-out arenas with academic scandals. For us to think that women would enter the big time and have it be pristine and without controversy is naïve.”

What do you think about this issue? I wonder if the NCAA Women’s Tourney will conclude without any such incidents and ensuing media coverage.

(Women's) ESPN Basketball Bracket Shows

It’s time for March Madness! I love this time of year! I just watched the ESPN selection and the ESPN-U follow up show for the women. Here is the bracket in case you want to download it. I have some cheers and jeers.

Cheers!

  • I was excited the online ESPN bracket didn’t have the qualifying “Women’s” in front of  NCAA Tournament Bracket 2010.
  • ESPN did a great feature on Baylor’s Brittney Griner, that focused primarily on her SKILLS, numerous ways she can dunk, and how her ability and talent are setting a new standards of excellence for women’s basketball.
  • I loved the fact there were four very qualified women–Doris Burke, Rebecca Lobo, Kara Lawson, and Carolyn Peck--hosting the shows, along with Trey Wingo.

Jeers!

  • The .pdf version of the ESPN bracket however, was labeled as the “Women’s”. I will bet my 2010-11 pay cut that when the men’s bracket is complete, there will be no “Men’s” label on any bracket. Why? Because the men’s bracket is the real bracket, and the women’s bracket must be defined and qualified as the lesser bracket by labeling it the “women’s”. This is a common pattern of marginalizing women’s sports documented over time by sport media scholars. Another example is the NBA and WNBA.
  • The presence of the female sport commentators was undermined both at the very beginning and end of the ESPN-U show by the following comments:

a. At the opening of the follow-up show on ESPN U, after Trey Wingo (seated in the middle, with 2 women on each side) introduced each of his four co-hosts, Carolyn Peck made a comment that the ensemble was like Charlie’s Angels. To that end Wingo asked if that made him “Charlie”, and the banter went on for another 20 seconds with the women confirming that his wan indeed Charlie and they were the Angels.

b. At the end of the follow-up show on ESPN U, as Trey Wingo was signing off and repeated all the names of his female co-hosts, his very last comment was “Look at Doris’ shoes, she went shopping!” and then the camera cut out.

Why is this problematic? Because both comments undermine the credibility of highly qualified and experienced female sport media journalists by focusing on highly feminine roles and symbols of femininity.  Given these four women are clear statistical minorities in their field, they are under a constant barrage of scrutiny their male colleagues do not have to endure. They also have to look feminine enough so they do not feed the flame of enduring homophobia in women’s basketball.

Stay tuned for more March Madness!