When Girls Grow Up; why do so few young female soccer players in the US make it to the coaching ranks?

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When Girls Grow Up

With record numbers of girls playing competitive sport in the U.S their low representation in the coaching ranks cannot be ignored.

girls playing soccer

Soccer is my career. The sport I love has taken me across the U.S. and has provided me the opportunity to travel and experience life and sport in a variety of countries.

When speaking with women from outside the U.S. there is usually some discussion about how lucky American women are to have the opportunities we do. It sounds good, right? Given the access to play, and the success of our women’s national team, from the outside the U.S. can appear to promote and have attained equality of opportunity. However, it is an image that simply does not show the whole picture. The stark reality is that opportunity to play does not mean equality of opportunity to a career coaching. As girls’ participation across the country has increased, so has the money involved. Girls soccer has become a big business.  And it is men who run the business. Shockingly few girls make the transition from girl/player to woman/coach and those that do often do not stay long.

Born in 1973, I am a “Title IX Baby”. I am part of the first generation of American women who could legally fight for their access to both education and educationally-based programs (i.e. sports). Enacted in 1972, Title IX is a Federal law that grants females equal access to any federally funded educational program. This was a game changer. When I was young there were few teams and opportunities to play. To be considered an athlete you had to be ‘boy like,’ so when I could I played with the boys. I embraced the label ‘tomboy’. Much has changed and soccer programs for girls have grown exponentially with some states now registering more girls for youth soccer than  boys.   Awonderful and amazing shift in 40 years that should be celebrated.

No place is this opportunity to play more evident than at the collegiate level. In 1977, fewer than 3 percent of colleges offered intercollegiate soccer for women. By 2014, 93 percent of all NCAA institutions sponsored women’s soccer programs. On the coaching side it is quite a bit different. In 1972, there were fewer intercollegiate teams but over 90 percent of them were coached by women. By 2014, the number dropped to 43 percent. When soccer is considered alone only 31 percent of today’s NCAA women’s soccer teams have a female head coach (Acosta/Carpenter 2014). Because almost no men’s teams are coached by women, realistically women are only considered for half the number of NCAA soccer head coaching jobs and receive on 31 percent of those. With such a low percentage of the jobs going to women, fewer women are able to stay in the profession. After more than 10 years coaching in college athletics, I can count on one hand the number of women who I entered the profession with that are still in it.

At the youth level, where programs do not receive federal funding and are not subject to Title IX compliance and the same hiring regulations, the reality is shocking. At a youth club tournament it is not unusual for me to go the entire weekend without coaching against another woman. Of the several hundred soccer clubs in New York State alone, some for girls only, I know of only two with a woman serving in the top position – Director of Coaching.

Sadly, often the current U.S. celebration and acceptance of the adorable, strong precocious soccer playing little girl does not continue into womanhood. Competitive team sport is still seen as something girls are expected to grow from and out of, not into. It is here that efforts need to be made to ensure that the girls playing anywhere in the world today not only have the opportunity to participate in sports but are able to pursue careers as players, coaches, mangers and in whatever capacity they choose.


Author: Sarah played soccer and lacrosse in college. A passionate supporter of sport-for-all, she relishes the opportunities soccer has provided her to travel and experience sport across the U.S. and in different countries. She is always looking for the next adventure that will expand the reach of sport, particularly for girls and women. With experience coaching at all three NCAA Divisions, and two trips to the NCAA tournament, Sarah is currently the Assistant Men’s Coach at Dutchess County Community College (NJCAA). She worked with US Youth Soccer’s Olympic Development Program in Eastern N.Y. for 8 years and served as director of the Girls North program from 2011-2015. Her current focus is on youth development and she works with clubs in New York and is the owner of SJI Training.

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