Youth sport depends upon volunteer coaching usually by the parents of participating children. Before you pass by the “Head Coach” slot and write in your name next to “Team Mom” consider these sobering stats. In 1972 women coached 90% of women’s intercollegiate sports teams. Forty-three years later, that number has plummeted to just 40% according to NCAA research.
“WHAT?!?,” you say, “DROPPED? I thought we were making great progress!” Women have made significant jumps in the professional coaching ranks. This year female assistants were hired in both the NBA and NFL. That is indisputably a milestone worth celebrating, as it is a huge step forward. But how did the number drop so precipitously in the college head coaching ranks? It is a complicated issue but clearly while college athletics has grown, the pool of qualified female candidates has not kept pace. That kind of void signals a lack of role models. We may have taught our daughters to stop putting “Princess” on the line next to “What do you want to be when you grow up?” (Which is, by the way, a position you can only marry into for which the competition is supremely fierce) but it appears not enough girls are putting “Coach” on their dream list.
It starts at the elementary level. There are endless benefits when Mom signs up to coach. Take in the scene from an eight year old girl’s perspective. There is Mom using STEM skills that many girls by fourth grade have convinced themselves are “for boys”. Watch Mom using math to crunch numbers and create meaningful statistics, employing technology and smart boards to break down video and create scouting reports and organizing the economics of efficient team travel. Our daughters need to see Mom under pressure from a fourth down situation, facing conflict (even initiating it!) disputing a call with a referee, negotiating a playoff schedule that will benefit her team.
How do our daughters know what is possible for them if they don’t witness women lead in their most impressionable years? They need to see Mom lead. Lead in the classroom, lead on the field, lead in scientific research, lead the country … it starts with teaching our daughters to lead in every opportunity they see. Coaching our children in their formative years will help break a gender barrier 20 years from now when they begin their professional lives.
Note that I’m not talking only about mothers coaching their daughter’s team; mothers need to coach their boys as well. In what some neurologists call the “wet clay” brain years (5-10 years old) boys form many of their lifelong perceptions of gender roles. Men have done an incredible job over the last 50 years morphing their roles into providers AND caregivers. Men now participate in childrearing including meal preparation and academic help far more than they did in the 1960’s. Women did not have to step aside as caregivers in order for men to make that change. I am certainly not suggesting that any of the talented and inspiring male coaches we have in college athletics step aside to “make room” for women. Far from it. I learn more about the sports I cover with every game I call in large part because the coaches (male and female) are generous enough to spend time talking with me about their approach to the sport. Those jobs go to the most qualified candidates and until we show our girls EARLY in life that “Head Coach” is a title worth working for we will continue to limit our daughter’s ambition and opportunities.
So if your schedule allows you to do more than make the team banner and bring orange slices for snack, grab a whiteboard and let young girls everywhere see you handle strategy, conflict and contact. It is the best way to inspire the next generation of women to coach at the highest levels.
Guest Blogger Bio: Anne Marie Anderson is a veteran sports broadcaster who has worked in a wide variety of roles both behind and in front of the camera. Over the course of her career she has covered six Olympic games, NBA Playoffs, the Superbowl, Golf’s majors, MLB Playoffs, heavyweight title fights and big games in almost every collegiate sport. With three Emmy awards under her belt for her behind the scenes contributions to ESPN’s SportsCenter, AMA set out for a new challenge in front of the camera in 2000. Since then she has done features and live shots for ESPN’s Outside the Lines, NBA Today and SportsCenter and enjoyed years on the college football sidelines. An avid sports fan and participant, and mother of three, Anne Marie enjoys playing beach volleyball, running, hiking, swimming … and any game in which you keep score!