Tucker Center Newsletter - 2009 Spring
WANTED! Female Coaches at all Levels of Sport
Despite the explosion of female sport participants in the post-Title IX era, there has been a significant decline in the percentage of women who coach these athletes. The scarcity of female coaches at the professional, Olympic, intercollegiate, interscholastic, and youth levels is well documented. A brief summary of the "state of the playing field" is outlined below along with a number of reasons why the dramatic decline of female head coaches is of such concern.
With respect to Olympic sports, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) recognized the need for female representation at both the international and national level. In 2005, the IOC mandated that a minimum of 20% of all National Olympic Committee decision-making positions—including coaches—be held by women. Unfortunately, current data are not available to ascertain if the National Governing Bodies are in compliance with the IOC mandate.
We have better data at the intercollegiate level because for over three decades, Vivian Acosta and Linda Carpenter have documented the employment patterns of women in leadership positions. Their 2008 report indicates that nationwide, just 21% of all men’s and women’s teams are coached by females, and only 43% of head coaches for women’s teams are female. This latter figure reflects how dramatic the decline of female coaches has been: Prior to Title IX, over 90% of all head coaching positions in women’s sports were occupied by females.
Data from the Minnesota State High School Coaches Association 2007-08 season show similar trends at the interscholastic level—only 17% of all teams (boys’ and girls’) are coached by females. Broken down by gender, just 38% of all girls’ teams are coached by females and they are virtually absent as coaches of boys’ teams where they represent only 2.2% of all head coaching positions. Perhaps not surprisingly, the highest percentage of female head coaches represented in girls’ high school athletics was in sports historically deemed "appropriate" for girls: Synchronized swimming (100%), volleyball (70.1%), and gymnastics (69%).
Less is known about gendered patterns in coaches of youth sport. However, sport scholar Mike Messner, our Spring Distinguished Lecturer (see back panel for lecture details as well as Messner’s Guest Column on page 2), and Nicole LaVoi each completed separate studies examining youth soccer and discovered similar results. Messner’s data from a Southern California youth sport community revealed that a small but increasing number of females (13%) served as head coaches in the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO). LaVoi found a similar rate (15%) of female head coaches within the Minnesota Youth Soccer Association, although they were more likely to coach girls’ teams (24%) than boys’ (5%). LaVoi also found that as children mature and reach higher competitive levels—when sport "starts to get serious"—female coaches become less prevalent.
Finally, at the professional level, the WNBA is the only sport league to have any female head coaches, but even then they represent just 36% of all head coaches (5 of 14 teams).
The major pattern seen across all levels of sport is that females are severely under-represented at the head coach position—arguably the most visible position of power and prestige throughout the sports world. Numerous scholars have detailed the factors and barriers that influence the scarcity of female coaches—but why does it matter? First, research indicates that children and youth benefit when females hold positions of power. Without female coaches as role models, scholars have discovered that sportswomen may devalue their own abilities, report lower self-efficacy, accept negative stereotypes, fail to realize their own potential, and limit their sport career aspirations. Scholars have also found that female athletes who were coached by women are more likely to enter coaching.
Females in positions of leadership have the potential to be a mechanism for change: They provide evidence that women can be successful at the highest levels, and challenge outdated stereotypes about gender and power. Visible female role models who are important to children and youth can also provide a pathway toward a lifetime commitment to physical activity that in turn can lead to sustained health and well-being. The Tucker Center recognizes the importance of fostering women in leadership positions. This is one of the many reasons our research, education, and outreach explore ways to reduce barriers and thus increase the number of females in the coaching profession.