First, the numbers. Despite the country’s success in getting more girls involved in sports, the number of adult women participating as coaches remains stubbornly small. One study found that only 13.4% of youth soccer coaches are women, for example, and that number falls to 5.9% for baseball.
All of which is a shame because, as Scott Lancaster, former director of the NFL’s youth football development program and author of “Fair Play: Making Organized Sports a Great Experience for Your Kid,” says, women are “the greatest untapped resource in youth sports.”
So why are women, who so often are intimately involved in just about every other aspect of children’s lives, such rarities in the coaching ranks? To answer that question, let’s look at:
- The perceived obstacles keeping women away (let’s call this the illusion);
- Why those obstacles aren’t what they seem (we’ll call this the reality); and
- Why women are an ideal solution to that supposed problem (Why Women Coaches Rock)
Lack of Expertise
Illusion: For many women, the idea of coaching a sport can seem overwhelming, especially if it’s a sport with which they’ve had no direct experience. It’s important to remember that while we’ve got huge numbers of girls playing sports today, even a generation ago that wasn’t the case, so these adult women may not have had much if any opportunity to learn the sports their own children are playing. Hence the fear of how to teach the X’s and O’s to a sport you’ve never played or barely understand?
Reality: Anyone who has coached kids – especially those under the age of 9 – knows that at this stage the complexities of the sport are far less important than understanding how to be a good teammate, work well with others, be a good sport, etc. Furthermore, many men are just as unfamiliar with a sport but fake it in the same way they fake knowing directions to where they’re driving when they are clearly lost (and yes, this post is being written by a man). Lastly, most youth organizations (not to mention this resource called ‘the Internet’) offer support services and training materials for new coaches.
Why Women Coaches Rock: Women generally are more patient with younger children, are better at teaching skills like networking and teamwork, are less authoritarian, place more importance on teamwork cooperation, and are less likely to come into a sport with preconceived notions of how best to coach (translation: they’re more likely to listen, learn, and focus on the fundamentals). There’s more, but we’ve still got some other illusions to knock over.
Illusion: Coaching can be intense, especially with parents barking from the sidelines, the immature emotions of children at play, and potentially hostile coaches competing with you. A woman new to coaching or a sport can find the whole process deeply intimidating.
Reality: Most of us know stories about women who were cool as cucumbers when their kids were at risk, lifted cars off of their kids, and so on. The truth about youth sports is that everyone is a bit anxious or intimidated when they first get started – even those big, barking men who, you know, have a big-barking-man reputation to uphold. Many women coaches happily discover that their young charges do quite well on the field or in the gym precisely because they learned the fine art of teamwork, ball movement (aka sharing), and other fundamentals.
Why Women Coaches Rock: Because women tend to be more nurturing and patient than men, the youngsters who play for them are likely to feel more confident, less intimidated, more process-oriented, and as a result better able to focus on what they’re doing. Ironically, these kids quite often fare well on the fields of competition versus kids feeling inordinate pressure to succeed at all costs.
Illusion: Ok, this one isn’t so much an illusion, but as in so many other aspects of our culture (higher education, corporate C-suite, incomes, etc.) it definitely is starting to take some hits. While there certainly are a number of youth league commissioners and administrators who still see women best suited to serve as ‘team moms’ rather than coaches, what is more troubling is the number of women who still play along with that outdated notion.
Reality: Many youth clubs are desperate for volunteer coaches and are, in fact, happy to accept women as coaches. Meaning that it is up to women to take that first step and announce (or in some cases, insist on) their candidacy.
Why Women Coaches Rock: Women who coach are teaching girls and boys alike to accept women in such roles, helping to reverse and eventually eradicate those very same stereotypes. It’s difficult to think of a life lesson more important for young minds.
Illusion: Some women worry that players (and their parents) won’t respect them in the role of coach the same way they would a man.
Reality: Young kids are accustomed to seeing all adults as authority figures, not just men. A woman who steps onto the field or court with a clipboard, a whistle and a will to coach will quickly earn the respect of their players. Remember too that kids just want to play and have fun. As for any disrespectful parents? Treat them the way any coach should: tell ’em to butt out and let you do your job. (Your league also has rules for dealing with problem parents.)
Why Women Coaches Rock: Although still largely anecdotal, our own investigations into youth coaching find that women coaches end up being extremely popular with their players and parents alike, often being asked to return year after year to coach the same kids or sports. It is precisely because women are so adept as teachers, that they focus on positives like teamwork and sportsmanship and equitable playing time, that they often become more popular than their male counterparts.
The bottom line: Youth sports needs more women coaches for the same reasons that we need them in corporate boardrooms, classrooms, and every other area of life. Women bring unique talents that, for boys and girls alike, are ideal for creating outstanding athletes that can compete, be good sports, operate as a team, and more. So much more.
And as Motherlode writer and coach, KJ Dell’Antonia adds: “What moms who stay in the stands or even hold the clipboard of the inevitable ‘team mom’ may be missing is that coaching is fun.”
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