Why are there not more women interested in coaching?
This is a question I am often asked, usually by male coaches or referees who are genuinely interested. In the U.S., where girls can outnumber boys in the playing ranks, they are glaringly absent from coaching and director positions. Many assume it is because women do not like the competitive environment that is an inherent part of coaching, both on and off the field. What is often not appreciated is that there are situations that female coaches face – and must navigate daily – that male coaches do not. Individually insignificant, but over time their continual and cumulative effect over a career can be a deterrent to either begin or stay in the field. Many of the situations are in part a result of societal norms and expectations, both overt and subtle. However, giving that as an answer in casual conversation does not help clarify or rectify the situation. So instead of looking at the big picture, I will simply share a few of my experiences this club season coaching GU10 and BU14 teams in New York.
- With one weekend left in the season and a total of 20 games played, I have seen 3 female coaches on the opposing team’s bench – It is hard to aspire to be what you cannot see.
- In a heated and physical game where the other coach is verbally criticizing the referee on almost every call with no repercussion, the first time I contest a call he stops the game, comes over and tells me that if I continue I will have to leave. – Just one of many double standards.
- One of the coaches I am working with is an intelligent and friendly young man. A recent college graduate, he is just beginning to get his coaching feet wet. At the beginning of the season an opposing coach approached him prior to the game while turning his back to, and not acknowledging, me. We were standing next to each other at the time! After he left my co-coach looked at me a bit surprised. What he saw as strange was something that is my norm. – The immediate assumption that a woman on the sideline must be the team manager or a parent and not worth his time.
- After a corner kick the parent linesman stops next to me to say “you probably know this, but if you have them do (X,Y and Z) it would work better” – Why do you both assume you know more than I do and feel the need to “educate” me?
- At a GU10 weekend tournament, I asked the field marshal about giving the players a two minute half time break. The temperature was 90 degrees at 9 a.m. and the other coach (male) was in agreement that this was needed for safety. The field marshal took my arm in a fatherly way, saying “Sweetheart I agree with you but that is not in the tournament rules.” – Needless to say he did not take the same approach with the other coach.
- Same tournament and our other club coaches are directed to the coaches parking lot, I am not even asked if I am a coach and am immediately directed to what I assumed was where all the general parking was. – Club polo & kid-free car were too subtle a clue to negate the assumption.
- Two players arrived late, well into the second half of a game. The father of one approached me after the game finger wagging in my face and generally behaving in a threatening way. His complaint, I did not put the girls into the game immediately when they arrived. I was later expected to answer for this decision, one that has been accepted when done by male coaches in the club. – Double standards can be systemic.
While it would be easy to dismiss these as isolated events, and the actions of a few, they are only a selection from those that took place in the three month spring season. They could easily have been from any other season.
If you include some of the other more cringe-worthy occurrences over a 20-year career – the continual assumptions, double standards, dismissal of opinions – begin to have a cumulative effect. I have been called “kiddo” by a GA position candidate during his interview. The candidate was my age. Received job offers because as a woman I was” better equipped to handle the ‘female issues’ than the male head coach.” I have heard this on more than a few occasions. The impossible situation of being judged both too feminine to be taken seriously and too masculine to be a real woman. In a country where choice is seen as a right, how many would choose to put themselves in an environment or career where these situations are considered OK?
To my face, and behind my back, I have been labeled “disruptive” and a “feminist bitch” for speaking upabout these things. I have no regrets about my decision to coach. It is something I love, have worked hard for and has provided me many amazing opportunities and experiences that I would not trade. But I will never say it has been easy. Or that I haven’t paid a price and sometimes wondered what it would be like to work in a profession where I was seen and judged first by my actions rather than my gender.
During the past 25 years in the U.S. it has become acceptable and even celebrated for girls to be seen as competitive and skilled players, I hope that one day the same can be said about women in coaching. Until then we must both encourage and support women in the field individually and not accept and allow gender-based assumptions, dismissals, double standards and expectations to continue as the acceptable norm.
FCN Ambassador: 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.