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Women in Coaching

Female coaching talking to a kids team of 6

My name is Colin Finkle, and I am writing a guest article as Coach Tom Sauder is in Germany this week. I am taking this opportunity to learn about and share about something that is near and dear to my heart: female representation in soccer coaching. I didn’t know what I would find and what I researched wasn’t good.

It’s hard to find women in professional soccer coaching. In the last women’s world cup, only 8 of the 24 group stage teams had female coaches. On the for male professional teams, there are no female coaches in MLS at any level, head or assistant coaches. I can’t find a national mens team that has a woman on their coaching staff.

It’s just hard to find women in professional coaching in any sport. The NFL just tied the NBA for the lead in women coaching. Jen Welter became the first female assistant coaching intern in the NFL. And recently, the Buffalo Bills hired Kathryn Smith as the league’s first full-time female coach. Yes that is 2, count-em, 2 professional female coaches, and that is enough to tie them for gender diversity for mens professional sports leagues in the USA.

But that is the tip of the iceberg, what about the college and university level?

The number and percentage of female coaches in collegiate athletics has been dropping. Soccer is one of the sports where female coaches are least represented. A 2013 study found that only 25.3% of head coaches of soccer teams are women in big colleges in the United States.

Fourty-three years ago in the US, 90 percent of all women’s teams in all sports were coached by women, according to Acosta and Carpenter’s Women in Intercollegiate Sport study. The NCAA puts that number at 40% today. There are less than 2% women coaching men’s teams at the collegiate level… basically a rounding error.

Where did it go wrong?

In 1972 and earlier, women’s sports teams were unfunded. The US equality law, Title IX, forced colleges to fund women’s teams if they were going to fund the equivalent mens team. The number of women’s athletic teams more than doubled — from an average of about 2.5 teams to 5.6 teams per post secondary school. The coaching of women’s teams became paying, high paying in some cases with salaries between $100,000 and $2,000,000. Men started competing for these jobs.

Title IX is a US law, but similar laws and societal changes have been happening throughout the world. Women’s amateur, college level, semi-pro and pro teams are getting more attention and funding. This is a great thing for female athletes. A 2008 study found that there were more female athletes than male athletes in 6 of the 10 most popular collegiate sports in Canada, soccer being one of them.

This attention and funding has a negative effect for women in coaching roles. The higher salaries and visibility of coaching positions for female teams seems to attract male applicants and discourage female applicants.

This is unfortunate, because having women in coaching roles has benefits to society. One, female coaches help assuage the societal belief that men should be in leadership roles. Two, young women seeing female coaches will more likely go into coaching themselves: a virtuous cycle. And three, the presence of female coaches reduces the chances of sexism, sexual harassment and sexual assault against female athletes. There are many more benefits I could go into.

So how do we solve it? Some say we should focus on getting women back into coaching positions on female teams, but that is just trying to reinstitute the sexist past. The real problem is that female coaches do not consider and are not considered for coaching male teams.

To find an example of hiring female head coach, you have to look to tennis. Amelie Mauresmo coaches Andy Murry, the only top 50 tennis player with a female coach. And this is because Murray actively supports women in sports.

“I’ve actually become very passionate about getting more women in sport, giving women more opportunities. When I was younger, I wasn’t thinking about stuff like that. But now I’ve seen it with my own eyes, it’s quite amazing how few female coaches there are across any sport.” -Andy Murray

Do we need such an active approach to have women coaching men?

Yes. And the often cited reasons for this (lack of talent, lack of success stories, and inability of women to command respect from male athletes) are simply sexists. Gender of the coach and / or athlete does not matter for any of the strategies and tactics for a coach to make a winning team that Coach Tom Sauder has talked about on this blog. A female coach can perform as well as a male coach in preparing, growing players and running effective practices. The only way of combating this stereotype and societal norm is through active finding, grooming and hiring of female coaches by soccer team management.

Youth football should provide the breeding ground for future coaches. No wonder, then, that Moya Dodd, a Fifa executive committee member and chair of the women’s football taskforce, has initiated a stipulation that all teams at next year’s Under-17s World Cup in Jordan must include at least one woman on the bench, and on the medical staff. (Anna Kessel, The Guardian)

Change is not going to happens overnight. It is going to have to start with the lower levels and work it’s way up. It works on two levels: 1) young, up and coming athletes will see women in coaching roles and it will be the norm for them, and 2) it will grow the pool of female candidates.

The other place it is going to have to start is in the minds and wills of women out there. They are going to have to actively push against prejudice both in society and in themselves. Women are clearly feeling that it is hopeless to pursue careers in coaching: the glass ceiling is clearly defined, and very low. But every woman who gives up on coaching is one less opportunity for it to get better for every female coach, and that is tragic.

Be part of the solution. Whether you are a man or a woman, an athlete, a coach and especially if you are in team management, you need to be an active part of the solution. Encourage and support female coaches when you see them.

The Cost of Not Hiring Women Coaches

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