3 Ways To Keep Females In Coaching and Athletics Administration


This is the third of three posts that I’ve put together for a myth busters series about women and athletics. Read Part One here and Part Two here.

Check out these numbers from the Acosta/Carpenter report*:

At the collegiate level, 43% of women’s teams have a female head coach, while 97% of men’s teams are led by a male coach.  Only 19% of collegiate athletic directors are females…and studies show that when the athletics director is a female, more female coaches are likely.  28% of athletic trainers are female.  12% of head sports information directors are female.

There are lots of percentages and information there, but the moral of the story is: where are all of the females in athletics going and how can we keep them around?

If 58% of assistant coaches of women’s teams are female, why the dramatic drop off from assistant to head coach?  And if we’d agree that most athletic directors transitioned out of coaching and into administration, I suppose it’s not surprising that of the 1051 AD’s out there…only 201 of them are female.

So what’s going on here?  I think that part of the problem is that we, as coaches (male and female), have accepted myths about women in athletics to be true.  Let’s take a look at a few of them.

Things that people believe deter females in athletics (and how we can prevent them from happening)

  • Marriage and family. Women are able to lead Fortune 500 companies, but it’s still a commonly held belief in athletics that once a female coach gets married and has kids, that that’ll be the death of her career.  In the great article, Women and the Uneasy Embrace of Power, on the Harvard Business Review’s website, author Jeffrey Pfeffer asserts that women must choose “a partner in part on the basis of whether that individual will be supportive of their power quest.”  In this case, the power quest is being successful in athletics…which is possible for the woman who has a supportive home base.
  • Female athletes prefer male coaches. Here’s a quotation taken from a popular volleyball forum:  In my opinion, I think girls would rather play for a guy because men don’t let their feelings or emotions dictate how they coach. Women coaches let their emotions control how they coach too much.  Honestly though, I think the biggest factor in that is they have probably played for men most of their volleyball lives. While we can say those are just the crazy folks on a discussion board, I think that’d be the easy way out and it’s our jobs to make sure that we’re coaching from a logical and fair place.  Emotions don’t have gender…both sexes display emotion.  Female athletes don’t mind emotions (anger, excitement, whatever), but it’s got to make sense for the situation…and it’s got to be fair.  Saying that, I believe that the last sentence of that quotation says it all. Most people prefer what they know…and most athletes know male coaches.
  • Gender dynamics baffle them. Going off of the previous point, the typical female athlete has had male coaches and is used to coach/player interaction from that standpoint.  Check out what Kathy DeBoer has to say about this gender conundrum.  DeBoer is the author of Gender and Competition: How Men and Women Approach Work and Play Differently and the current Executive Director of the American Volleyball Coaches Association and former Senior Associate Athletic Director at the University of Kentucky.  She says that girls and women “highly value attachment as a defining element of femaleness” and that a “web of relationships characterizes the female culture.”  So the things that a female athlete looks for in a male coach are dramatically different than what she looks for in a female coach.  As female coaches, we have to know how to manage our female athletes in order to be successful.  We can be tough and we demand great things, but we’ve got to understand what’s different about our female to female interaction.

Those were three solid answers to common myths out there about women in athletics…hopefully you’ll pass this along to your female athletes and to female coaches that you know.  We’ve got a great chance here to show that women can, in fact, be quality coaches and administrators!

*Click here to view the full Acosta/Carpenter report.