Coaching in a (wo)man’s world

Women’s sports are experiencing a surge in popularity. This summer, the women’s World Cup had a little under twice as many average viewers as the 2015 NBA Finals. In the NFL, Jen Welter interned with the Arizona Cardinals during training camp, making her the NFL’s first female coach. Sarah Thomas was also hired as the first female official in the history of the NFL. Even in the world of basketball, Becky Hammon was hired a few months ago as the first full-time female employee of an NBA coaching staff as an assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs.

Despite the rise in popularity of women’s, the amount of women collegiate coaches is plummeting. According to a study done by Acosta and Carpenter’s Women in Intercollegiate Sport, about nine out of 10 coaches for a women’s team were female in 1972. Forty years later, that number has dropped dramatically to about 40 percent as of 2013. But if women’s sports and women professional coaches are gaining so much traction, why has there been such a dramatic decrease in the amount of women head coaches for women’s collegiate sports teams?

Many explanations for this decrease can be tied back to a monumental decision in 1972 called Title IX. Enacted by Congress, this federal law says that no person can be excluded from participation, be denied benefits of or subject to discrimination based on gender.

“Title IX enabled coaching women’s sports to be profitable and made women’s coaching a profession that can support a family,” said Thunder volleyball head coach Brittany Smith. “This then made coaching female sports desirable (for male applicants).”

As Smith identified, this ironic effect of Title IX actually hurt some aspects of women’s sports since the increase in available money for women’s sports meant that more men began to flock towards women’s athletics.

“It’s not necessarily that less women want to coach, it’s that their access has been limited,” Smith said. “Up until now, those opportunities for women coaching on the men’s side haven’t been there and that hasn’t been the norm.”

Softball head coach Katie East also identified another potential pitfall.
“Christian females who want to pursue a career in sports feel certain stereotypes that go along with that,” East explained.

The assumption that women cannot coach and have a family is just one of the stereotypes that potential women candidates have to wrestle wzith.

“I don’t think it’s bad or wrong to have a male as a head coach,” East said, “but I do think that it benefits our student-athletes a percentage more for females to have female head coaches.”

She explained that this is due to the fact that they can relate more to their players in sports and everyday life. On the other hand, she stressed the importance of having the different perspectives and opinions of both male and female coaches on each team.

With a female assistant coach on his own coaching staff, the head coach of the women’s soccer team, Pete Felske, explained how he is able to perform as a male coach in a female sport.
“There may be a lack of understanding, so you might have to deal with those issues on a different level, but you still have to deal with them,” Felske said. “Not in a better or worse way, just differently. I tell my players that I coach them as athletes, not necessarily female athletes.”

“The issue here isn’t are women capable or not, they certainly are (capable),” Felske explained. “The question is whether or not they will be accepted by the egotistical male (athlete).”

With the recent hires of women assistant coaches by the NBA and NFL, the curiosity grows over the possibility of a woman assistant coach for Wheaton’s football or men’s basketball teams. In the 31 years that football head coach Mike Swider has been a part of the Thunder football program, he has never seen a woman apply for the position. Head coach of men’s basketball Mike Schauer agreed. He is more than happy to hire a woman assistant coach when that position becomes available, although sometimes the few resumes that he sees from women are not as strong as the male counterparts.

“That might be the problem perpetuating the problem: We don’t hire enough women, therefore there aren’t enough women with strong resumes,” Schauer said.

Swider agreed, “That’s how I hire my coaches — experience, competence, the ability to inspire, to motivate, to communicate and to teach.”

In the end, all five Thunder coaches were optimistic about Wheaton’s future hiring female coaches and the potential for the previously decreasing number of collegiate women’s coach to begin to increase toward the percentage that was reported in the 1970s.

East said, “A huge step for Wheaton was having Julie Davis as our athletic director … She has done a lot for our sports programs.”

“The rhetoric (surrounding women coaches) is changing from ability as opposed to gender, which is exactly where we need to go,” Smith concluded. “Quite frankly, that’s where Christians should be pushing the issues the most. How are we using God’s gifts? It has no call on gender — it’s gifting.”

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