The Decline of Women Coaches and the Barriers They Face
The world of sport has historically been a place that does not prioritize women. It wasn’t until 1972 that the United States passed Title IX which, among other things, provides girls and women with the equal opportunity to play sports. Counterintuitively, since the passage of Title IX, the number of women sport coaches has declined by over 40% (LaVoi, 2016). This decline in women coaches is not due to a lack of women applying, lack of qualified woman candidates, or lack of commitment. This decline in female coaches can be attributed to multiple barriers that are most easily understood by looking at the Ecological-Intersectional Model of Barriers and Supports for Women Coaches (LaVoi, 2016).
The Individual Level
This individual level of the model is broadly classified as intersectional identities (LaVoi, 2016). Gender, age, class, sexual identity, (dis)ability, race, parental status, and other backgrounds and identities contribute to the barriers in this level (LaVoi, 2016). Intersectional identities represent aspects of identities that are deeply intertwined. We can better support women coaches by having a better understanding of intersectionality, its place in the model, and how it directly impacts woman coaches.
This interpersonal level of the model is represented by the relationships that coaches have with coworkers, athletes, parents of athletes, and other relationships that impact their day to day lives (LaVoi, 2016). As members of the athletic community, we play a role in supporting all levels of coaches, especially underrepresented coaches that are deeply impacted by this systemic level.
The organizational level includes the teams, clubs, departments, and other organizations that employ coaches and other athletic administrators (LaVoi, 2016). Organizations can work to implement proposals and policies that promote gender equity throughout their institution’s hiring methods, wages, and other resources such as creating more family friendly policies (LaVoi, 2019). For example, institutions can have clear parent-coach policies in place, provide funding for partners and nannies to travel with teams, and provide a clearly marked and accessible lactation room (Lavoi & Wasend, 2018).
The societal level is the broadest level of the Ecological-Intersectional Model of Barriers and Supports for Women Coaches. This level of the model represents the influence that policies and environment have not only on the coaching environment, but a woman’s decision to hold a career in coaching (LaVoi, 2016). More specifically this level includes homonegativity, maternal bias, stereotypes, sexism, and gender bias (LaVoi, 2019). This level is the largest and can feel the most intimidating to people. However, we all play a role in advocating for and making changes. Research shows that women coaches are important assets to athletic success at all levels and it is imperative that we recognize women coaches for their crucial role in athletic success.
Moving Forward as Coaches and Athletic Administrators
The positive influence and groundbreaking results that follow from the work of women coaches is undeniable. Women coaches create a sense of belonging, empower girls and women on a path to leadership, improve organizational health, bring diverse perspectives into the workplace, and reduce the likelihood that athletes will be sexually abused (LaVoi, 2016). Role models to look up to include Adia Barnes, Dawn Staley, Pat Summit, Muffet McGraw, Jill Ellis and many more women coaches who are not only showing young women that coaching is a viable career option- they are breaking school and sport specific records while doing so. Current, former, and future coaches and athletic administrators all play a role in the recruitment, hiring, and retainment of women coaches. Below are some ways to break down the barriers and bring more women into coaching.
- Promote female leadership and look for “targets of opportunity” to hire women coaches.
- “Targets of opportunity” occur when a new coach needs to be hired. Specifically, when a man or woman coach retires or is fired, a new sport is added to your department, or when there is leadership change in your department. These changes leave space for women coaches to be hired. Simply put, when there is turnover in your department, recruit and hire women (Lavoi & Wasend, 2018).
- Create a culture that supports women.
- Be a vocal ally and create a space that not only celebrates the work of women, but also directly advocates for women and speaks out against inequalities. If you are hiring candidates, do not accept a homogenous candidate pool, be unapologetic in stating that women should coach, take a chance on rising female talent, and take advantage of the targets of opportunity that are discussed above (Lavoi & Wasend, 2018; Tucker Center, 2019).
- Learn more about the barriers that women coaches face and how your own biases may influence these barriers.
- Make an investment in recognizing and learning about your own biases by learning more about the different barriers that women coaches face and the narratives that have been created around them (Tucker Center, 2019).
- It sounds simple and that is because it is! If you are going to hire and retain women in leadership positions, the easiest way to do so is to ask them to apply. If you are directly asking women to apply and still find yourself struggling to hire women coaches, ask yourself these questions: “Why aren’t women applying to work at my company/school etc?”, “Why aren’t women accepting the job offer?”, and “How can we change the environment to make it supportive and inclusive for all?” (Leberman & LaVoi, 2011).
LaVoi, N. M. (2016). Women in Sports Coaching. Routledge. © 2019 N. M. LaVoi
LaVoi, N.M. (2016). Why Women Sport Coaches Matter: The Evidence. [Infographic]. The
Tucker Center for Research on Women and Girls in Sport. https://www.cehd.umn.edu/tuckercenter/library/docs/media/GameOnToolkit/Why-Women-Sport-Coaches-Matter-2016.pdf
LaVoi, N.M., & Wasend, M.K. (2018, July). Athletic Administration Best Practices of Recruitment, Hiring and Retention of Female Collegiate Coaches. Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport, University of Minnesota.
Leberman, Sarah & LaVoi, Nicole. (2011). Juggling Balls and Roles, Working Mother-Coaches in Youth Sport: Beyond the Dualistic Worker-Mother Identity. Journal of Sport Management. 25. 474-488. 10.1123/jsm.25.5.474.
Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport. Be an ally of girls and women in sport [infographic]. https://www.cehd.umn.edu/tuckercenter/library/docs/media/GameOnToolkit/Be-an-Ally-of-Girls-and-Women-in-Sport-2019.pdf