WCW's Women Change Worlds Blog

Women Are Playing Sports, But Not Coaching Them

Male coach speaks to girls softball teamNo one looks for a job in a newspaper’s “Help Wanted” section anymore. But some 50 years after the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commissions in 1968 said that listing jobs under “male” and “female” headings was illegal, the psychological divide lingers – in sports.

Women remain underrepresented in Fortune 500 C-suites, and despite the wave of women elected to public office last November (including seven Wellesley alumnae), in Congress. Still, no one doubts that females can lead companies – or government.

In these areas – and others, including the military – we are past believing women’s biological differences disqualify them. It turns out that periods and hormones are not what cause dangerous and impulsive leadership. (Note: figured out pre-Trump.)

But scan the athletic landscape – following decades of girls and women playing sports at all levels in growing numbers – and you see a dearth of female coaches.

It’s long been a well-documented problem in women’s college sports in the post-Title IX era, dropping from over 90 percent to under 50 percent now. Some of this is obvious: Pre-Title IX women physical education teachers and coaches were the only ones organizing sports for women. When money and the NCAA arrived on the scene, so did more men.

What’s concerning is the recent history. Since the low point in 2006 when just 42.2 percent of women’s teams were coached by women, it has ticked up just slightly. Nearly every NCAA men’s team has a male head coach.

Research has tried to identify barriers faced by female coaches. Commonly cited: juggling a demanding schedule with raising a family.

But how can this be such a pervasive dampener when in fields from surgery to military leadership (with deployment!) women and their partners are figuring it out? More likely, one study observed, “these negative experiences could be indicators that something is lacking in the system.” You think?

Long after women started leading in other fields, sports is struggling to slip the straightjacket of masculinity. Coaching is still perceived as a “man’s job.”

Yet, coaching is not about brawn so much as brainy leadership abilities (think Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots who never played a day of pro football), knowledge of the game, strategic insights, team dynamics and management, player and group motivation.

If men who never played a sport can coach it, why can’t women who did? If women can run companies and countries, why not teams? The idea is finally gaining traction – of all places, in the NBA.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has predicted that the NBA will be the first male pro sports league to hire a female head coach – and has said there was no reason that a woman could not coach male pro athletes. In 2017, he told an ESPN reporter that, “When it comes to coaching… there is absolutely no physical requirement” and that “there is absolutely no reason why a woman will not ascend to be a head coach in this league."

LeBron James agrees: "I mean, listen, at the end of the day, basketball ... it's not about male or female. You know the game, you know the game," he told ESPN last spring.

But in a November story for SB Nation, “The Glass Sideline,” Tim Struby, quoted a veteran NBA coach who said that, “In our society there are men uncomfortable working under women and a handful of our players would have a problem with it.”

Which is, when you get right down to it, not so different from the 1960s when “Help Wanted” was sorted by gender, not by your qualifications.

If the NBA can make strides – last spring the Milwaukee Bucks interviewed Becky Hammon, a former WNBA star and assistant coach of the San Antonio Spurs, for the head coaching job – the first time a woman was considered for the top post of a men’s pro sport.

She didn’t get it, but it got people talking. Other NBA teams – Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Clippers, Washington Wizards and Greensboro Swarm (affiliate of the Charlotte Hornets) – all have women working in assistant coaching jobs.

It’s not very many, of course. But it begs the question: Shouldn’t NCAA teams – women’s and men’s – work harder to level the coaching field given that they are educational institutions whose core mission is to prepare students – of both sexes – for future careers?

Laura Pappano is writer-in-residence at the Wellesley Centers for Women and was a leader of the Women’s Sports Leadership Project. She is an award-winning journalist, co-author of Playing with the Boys (2008), and for seven years, she edited the FairGameNews blog, now an archive.

 

Comments 6

Guest - Eniola on Tuesday, 19 February 2019 04:30

So true.

So true.
Guest - Anandita Mehra on Wednesday, 20 February 2019 12:45

[i]Totally agreed... In India, this kind of partiality and mentality can be easily seen.. as you can predict the Scene by just looking at the Fan Followers of INDIAN MEN'S CRICKET TEAM AND INDIAN WOMEN'S CRICKET TEAM, The Support and the sympathy can be determined just by that.. Support is with Men team and Sympathy is with women's team.

[i]Totally agreed... In India, this kind of partiality and mentality can be easily seen.. as you can predict the Scene by just looking at the Fan Followers of INDIAN MEN'S CRICKET TEAM AND INDIAN WOMEN'S CRICKET TEAM, The Support and the sympathy can be determined just by that.. Support is with Men team and Sympathy is with women's team. :(
Guest - Marina de Jongh on Monday, 25 February 2019 01:57

I think it is selfish of people to support a men's team and not a women's team,eventhough they play for the same country.Both teams are building the name of the country,not just one team.

I think it is selfish of people to support a men's team and not a women's team,eventhough they play for the same country.Both teams are building the name of the country,not just one team.
Guest - Marina de Jongh on Monday, 25 February 2019 01:54

If a woman can't do a job because she has a family,then a man can also not do a job seeing as he also has a family.There are households where the men stay at home while the woman works.And they get through life easily.Why should woman be independent of their husbands when they can easily do the job by themselves?

If a man doesn't want to be coached by a woman,he can leave the team if he feels that way.And by leaving some other player,who would gladly have a female coach,can be a part of the team.

If racism is a big deal now,why isn't gender discrimination also a big deal?Why support organizations who are trying to stop racism and not organizations who are trying to stop gender discrimination?

By supporting woman who want to do a "man's job",there can be astronomical changes in these different fields.Teams can be better,companies can be more successful and things will get finalized once and for all.

If a woman can't do a job because she has a family,then a man can also not do a job seeing as he also has a family.There are households where the men stay at home while the woman works.And they get through life easily.Why should woman be independent of their husbands when they can easily do the job by themselves? If a man doesn't want to be coached by a woman,he can leave the team if he feels that way.And by leaving some other player,who would gladly have a female coach,can be a part of the team. If racism is a big deal now,why isn't gender discrimination also a big deal?Why support organizations who are trying to stop racism and not organizations who are trying to stop gender discrimination? By supporting woman who want to do a "man's job",there can be astronomical changes in these different fields.Teams can be better,companies can be more successful and things will get finalized once and for all.
Guest - Carie Pinheiro on Tuesday, 26 February 2019 11:14

I coached Female girls softball at a high school level along with my best friend about 20 years ago. The politics were a problem back then and they still are. This article is more than true. I love to coach
I'm good at it. I'm a natural born leader and I just happen to intimidate men I can't help that. Its who I am and I'm proud of her. Theschool system made it so uncomfortable to coach. Every turn there was a problem from equipment to buses to where we practiced but there was never an issue for the boys. How sad is that.

I coached Female girls softball at a high school level along with my best friend about 20 years ago. The politics were a problem back then and they still are. This article is more than true. I love to coach I'm good at it. I'm a natural born leader and I just happen to intimidate men I can't help that. Its who I am and I'm proud of her. Theschool system made it so uncomfortable to coach. Every turn there was a problem from equipment to buses to where we practiced but there was never an issue for the boys. How sad is that.
Guest - Rajarshi Saha on Sunday, 03 March 2019 14:14

I totally agree....if men can coach a sports team,then why can't women !!... there's nothing a woman can't do

I totally agree....if men can coach a sports team,then why can't women !!... there's nothing a woman can't do
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