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Women Coaches Declining in Record Numbers

5 Mar, 2015

By: Tracey Schelmetic
Experts Consider Reasons for Drop, Ways to Reverse Trend of Female Coaches Disappearing from Girls’ Sports

The need to encourage girls in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) interests has been a concern among educators. One additional equation that is overlooked, however, is the declining number of women in coaching positions.

According to the study "Women in Intercollegiate Sport 1977-2012” authored by R. Vivian Acosta and Linda Jean Carpenter, two professors emerita at Brooklyn College, the number of collegiate female coaches was at about 90 percent in 1972. After the virtual explosion of girl’s and women’s sport after the passage of Title IX in 1978, the number slipped to about 58 percent. Today, it’s at an all-time low today of about 40 percent.

Why does it matter? Some will say it shouldn’t, but there is evidence that female athletes benefit from the presence of strong female role models in sports.

“Coaching girls is different from coaching boys,” wrote Karen Coffin for Coaches Quarterly. “This claim could cause an argument at face value. It may not be politically correct, but it is necessary for coaches to understand this basic tenet if they are working with girls’ teams. The rules of sport may be universal, but the dynamics of how females respond to coaching techniques need to be taken into consideration to achieve success.”

For many, sports represent a growth opportunity and the lessons learned there will reverberate throughout life for girls at all socioeconomic levels.  A dearth of female coaches means a dearth of female role models.  While the reasons for the lack of female coaches are likely many, some experts believe that now that there is more money in women’s sports today than in past decades – coaching jobs for women’s teams were often volunteer work before Title IX--- the coaching jobs are prompting men to try for them. Male coaches who fail to win jobs in men's collegiate sports are taking the opportunity to add the title of head coach to their resumes by working with women's teams.

In addition, there are stereotypes to combat. In some cases, scholastic, travel and recreational sports programs are embracing men as girls’ and women’s coaches, believing they encourage the athletes to be stronger, more aggressive and more competitive than their female counterparts ever could.

"There are an absolute ton of heartbreaking stories that I hear day in and day out about females that are being forced out," Erika True, head coach of women's soccer at Indiana State University, told USA Today recently. "There is a stigma that females are not as good as or as strong of coaches as their male counterparts."

Some colleges are doing better than others. (The Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport’s annual report card is here, and gives top marks only a few schools, Cincinnati and Central Florida being the only two to earn an “A” grade for percentage of female coaches.) The vast majority of schools earn “C” grades or worse. 

The Tucker Center, in collaboration with the Alliance of Women Coaches, hopes to reverse the trend. The groups say they hope to start conversations that will increase the percentage of women in the coaching profession, provide an institutional accountability mechanism, create awareness, and start a national dialogue on the issue. One way or another, it’s apparent that schools will need to begin making deliberate efforts to attract more women back to coaching.

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