To my Female Colleagues leaving Coaching;
I saw your social media announcement today in my feed. I read that you are leaving your institution after so many years. I took note of your plans that you were “moving on”, and while I was happy for your next steps, I was also saddened. The title of the athletic press release was gracious, yet anyone who truly knows you recognizes that your high-road mentality will outweigh your desire to speak out. To clarify, we know this departure was not entirely cordial.
With recognition that your budget was never quite appropriate, please commend yourself on the many accomplishments you secured with scarce resources and part-time staff. You brought prominence to your conference and recruited model student-athletes within your sport.
To be able to take a program the way you did – and build it up while simultaneously enriching the experience of your student-athletes – is no easy task. However, we could all detect the change in your voice over the years as you have gone from excited and energized to fearful and exhausted.
Despite your attempts to sound upbeat in your decision to leave college athletics, I read no joy in your words. What I did read was the hurt and disappointment in between the lines of your press release as this feeling is quite familiar.
As the hiring stats and support for our female coaches continue to dwindle at institutions across the NCAA, we are saddened to add you to the list, but as you depart from your office one last time, please know this:
From the day you accepted the position, you were set up to fail. No matter how many games you won, how well you balanced the budget or how many consecutive months you left the office at 10 p.m., you were blithely unaware that work would go unnoticed and be grossly under appreciated.
Despite the fact that every female coach salary in your department averages 20-30k less than the male coaches, no one faults you for always being more focused on your team rather than taking the time to combat the egregious existing pay disparity. As you suffered in silence through each season, you evolved from being a young spirited coach who was grateful to have a job, to an experienced leader who was unable to fathom how your hard work never resulted in a raise.
You know that nagging feeling you have always had that something was not right in your professional soul? Well, that feeling is your intuition and your intuition has always been spot on. Unfortunately, each time you are told by administration and leadership that this is “just the way things are”, part of you began to question your reality long enough for doubt to take hold of you. This doubt is ultimately what has led to the depreciation of your spirit in this line of work – and this doubt has produced fear – which ultimately gives life to your silence.
This cycle does not mean you are weak. It means you are one of many who are lulled into complacency within your departments because each year you are forced to do more with less. This same fear is embedded in your expressions, your tone and your body language as your athletes witness your struggle to make ends meet while accepting your place at the end of the line.
Unfortunately, these messages we are sending them by remaining silent are far more detrimental than we as professional coaches can even understand.
However, there is a change occurring in athletics. As more female coaches speak up you will see an increase in these notorious social media announcements of your colleagues and friends leaving or being erased out of athletics. You will read about claims of “athlete abuse”, “unhappy players”, “investigations into treatment”, etc. These are the current soldier headlines waging war on women coaches.
How has this happened? As more leadership from the corporate world arrives with no coaching experience on their resumes, your athletes are now your customers. Twenty years ago your job was to make them stronger people. Today, your job is now to make them happy. You were told to keep the players content, to loosen your standards and be gentler with consequences to avoid litigation. This has become an everyday task in trading what is right for what is easy.
As you ponder these details, you may have wondered if parents back their athletes and administrators back their institutions, who really ever had your back?
If you are also wondering where your allies have been, the number of women in administrative leadership roles is alarming as well.
Unfortunately, women helping women in this setting is becoming increasingly scarce. The higher the pay becomes for these top positions, the more coveted and protective these admins become of their jobs. Voicing strong opinions to help you or your program internally now becomes problematic or risky.
As you leave your job and your athletes behind, I ask that you think back on all of the ways in which you positively impacted your program. Remember your high graduation rate, the wins decided in the final round, minute, set or game, and the valuable lessons in losing. Recall the team culture you worked to build and all of the lives you have touched. When you are finished reminiscing about the positives, please take a moment and remember the times where you felt marginalized, ignored or evaluated differently than the male coaches within your department. Let that sink and then make a choice as to what you truly believe is right and wrong.
Additionally, you must understand that after so many years in your sport, you will most likely be replaced with a leader with less experience. While this may potentially jeopardize the legacy you felt held so much value and prestige at one time, you must realize that it is not because administrators are proactively seeking to develop and nurture young coaching talent. On the contrary, they are hoping to pay less for less experience, which will ultimately purchase them another decade of silent submission.
These moments are felt every day, everywhere, like clockwork all over women’s athletics. This is why your decision to quit has made it even simpler for your administration to replace you with someone who will not fight back.
Understanding of the law known as Title IX that demands fair treatment amongst our young women and men continues to be crucial, but you are exhausted and knew far too little about this law, until it was too late.
Today, we did not lose a great female coach, we simply lost a great coach. While journalists can continue to write about this very epidemic, little seems to be catching the attention of the public. Perhaps the time is long gone that you felt strong enough to tell your story, but at some point, for the sake of all of your coaching colleagues, past, present and future, I hope you do. This is the only way we remedy this issue and bring to light all that you have dealt with and all that your colleagues will continue to face if we remain silent.
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Bio: Becky Carlson: I am passionate about being a leader in Women’s NCAA Rugby. But I am far more passionate about the health an welfare of our coaching population and connecting with other coaches who are challenged daily through this profession with today’s generation.
More important than than coaching is my mission of commitment to equity in college athletics. Athletics remains a staple in a long line of vehicles used to create social change. I am a firm believer that if we have truthful conversations with the next generation, both male and female about equity and treatment, we can solve unfair hiring and ethical practices in athletics. Ultimately this will lead us to a healthier society with both women and men having equal representation in law making, policy development and in the workforce. If you are having trouble as a coach finding your voice and asking for more, please connect with me. We can all learn from one another.
Our coaches at all divisions in all sports have remained silent as we have watched our population since Title IX in 1972, plummet from 90% women coaching women’s sports, to 40% in 2015. It’s time for a second wave of change because our work is not yet complete. I am a graduate and proud member of Class 36 of the NCAA Coaches Academy and the Alliance of Women Coaches. #StrongerTogether