The steady decline of female college coaches over the last 30 years is not an opinion, it is a fact. Among the most detrimental results of female coaches leaving or being forced out of the profession, here is one that many probably haven’t considered:
Athletics may never allow another Pat Summitt.
We can all read about leadership and post as many inspirational John Wooden memes as as we see fit. However, actually practicing, living and re-teaching their lessons comes with its own set of challenges, especially for female coaches. I have read my share of Pat Summitt books and have much admiration for the late fearless leader of the Lady Vols. I’ve even met a few former Tennessee players who would walk through fire for Coach Summitt today without a second thought.
A few years ago, I met one of Coach Summitt’s former players who is currently a successful high school athletic director. She spoke about a particular game the team lost during her tenure at Tennessee and more notably, the return trip home. She talked about how Coach Summitt told them that UT paid for the team to eat but only if the team gave their best effort. She shared that the team knew they had not played up to their own standards and had accepted missing dinner that night.
When I asked the former player what kind of personal feelings she had over this particular memory, she was overwhelmed with nostalgic respect for Coach Summitt and agreed as a leader that she had “every right to teach a hard lesson at that time”. The more we chatted the more we chuckled at the prospect of this method being employed in high school or college today. Both of us agreed we would lose our jobs if we ever chose this lesson to be the one we borrowed from Coach Summitt.
I then asked her directly, “Do you believe if Coach Summitt was reincarnated today and lived her legacy all over again as another female coach, would she ever be able to do it her way with this generation?”
She replied with an immediate “no”.
While I was fascinated by this former player’s story it left me wondering about the athletes of today and how different that scenario would play out in present time under a tough female coach of far less prominence than Coach Summitt.
I’ve heard many stories about other female college coaches such as Vivian Stringer, Dawn Staley and Tara VanDerveer. All of whom are accredited with successfully dishing out tough and notable lessons. These are some of the top names in the business of women’s college basketball where very few fans would bat an eye at some of the most rumored practices in toughness. Male coaches like Geno Auriemma write openly in their books about their direct methods and no-apologies attitude while they are revered for their honesty and passion. So where does that leave the rest of us?
Outside of the big names in women’s college basketball, what about the other 99% of female college coaches who work to have positive coach-athlete relationships but are tough on their players when it comes to the core values? The Summitt mentality is valuable and indeed a proven system but is the average athletic administration outside of D-I women’s NCAA powerhouse basketball prepared or interested in carving out space for new strong, direct and passionate female coaches?
For me, the answer is absolutely not.