The Rise of Women Coaching Men (part 1)
Natalie Randolph sat inside Ben’s Next Door on U Street in Washington, D.C. Like most of the patrons at the bar, she was attentively watching the National Football League games on the TV screens. A conversation struck up between her and a man seated nearby.
Then the inquisition began.
“Wait, you played football? Did you wear pads? A helmet? Was it the Lingerie Football League? And you coached? So then, what’s a spread offense? Do you know the 3-technique?”
For Randolph, this is commonplace. Nearly four years since resigning after four seasons as varsity football head coach at Coolidge High School in the nation’s capital, Randolph still has to justify her knowledge and experience in the male-dominated sport — to strangers, nonetheless.
“In conversation, it always comes up,” Randolph says. “I always contemplate how to bring it up, if at all, or whether I want to omit it, but it was such a big part of my life. Most of the time, I just talk about it, then field questions for the next few minutes. It’s funny though. I take it in stride … I’m never angry or upset.”
Randolph is not alone. While the number of women coaching boys’ or men’s teams and programs is minimal — an estimated 2-3.5 percent of NCAA men’s teams are coached by women — these unique situations certainly come with their fair share of obstacles.
Julie Bell has been varsity boys’ soccer head coach at Little Falls Community High Schoolin Minnesota since 1999, the first year of the program following a trial run as a club team. She’s coached all four of her sons — Christopher, Eric, Grant and Thomas — through the program.
One day, Little Falls was playing a conference game at St. Cloud State University. Bell exited the bus with her team and began walking through the gate, but was stopped by a security guard. He told her she needed a ticket to enter the stadium. She politely explained she was the head coach.
“It’s an assumption,” says Bell, also a physician at CHI St. Gabriel’s Health: Family Medical Center.
Bell has cited other instances where opposing coaches would approach a male assistant coach of hers, thinking they were the head coach. They would be directed to Bell, usually responding with a naïve “Oh, sorry,” before shaking her hand. Obviously that has changed since she’s become a staple with the Flyers’ program.
While these examples are essentially harmless, they’re still a never-ending problem for female coaches — let alone those who coach the opposite sex. Women who coach boys’ and men’s programs are subject to sexual harassment, gender inequality and tokenism. They are forced to constantly justify their qualifications — “What does a woman know about football? How can a woman coach my son?” — while male coaches with little to no knowledge of or experience playing sports like softball or field hockey are handed jobs around the country without question.
“Women coaches at all levels face a complex set of barriers and bias, which often result in workplace inequities,” says Megan Kahn, executive director at the Alliance of Women Coaches. “They are often held to a different set of standards than their male counterparts, they are compensated less than their male counterparts, and the number of opportunities to enter and stay in the profession are less.”