It Is Time To Take Women Seriously As Men’s Coaches

May 10th, 2017 | by Dan Matheson
It Is Time To Take Women Seriously As Men’s Coaches
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Top 5 Women

According to the NCAA Sport Sponsorship, Participation and Demographics database, men occupy more than 60 percent of Division I head coaching positions on women’s teams, but women only hold about 3.5 percent of head coaching positions on men’s teams.  Most women who coach men’s teams are doing so in individual sports – 74 percent are with cross country and indoor/outdoor track and field teams.  There are no female head coaches in men’s team sports like basketball, football, baseball or ice hockey.  45 years after Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 banned discrimination based on sex in education programs and activities, it is still evidently unrealistic for a young woman to aspire to become the next Nick Saban or Mike Krzyzewski because she is the wrong gender.  It is time to break those gender barriers and for coaches and athletics administrators to do a better job of developing women for coaching opportunities in all sports, including men’s team sports.

Role Models Needed

As director of a sports management program, I interact with dozens of female students who are passionate about football, baseball, and other sports with no female coaching role models for them to emulate.  Carol Hutchins, University of Michigan head softball coach, was once asked if she would have thought about coaching without having had two female coaches as role models in school, and her response was, “You can’t want to be something there isn’t.”  Any young woman interested in coaching men’s team sports would have to, in the words of Hutchins, want to be something there isn’t, which prevents most from ever seriously considering the idea.

Ask Young Women to Consider Coaching Men’s Sports

How can coaches and administrators do a better job of identifying and developing female coaching talent for men’s team sports?  It might require initiating a conversation about the possibility.  Coaches and administrators should identify female student-athletes and student-managers in their programs who have personality traits, a work ethic, and a passion for sports that fit the coaching profile and ask if they would like to coach a men’s team as a career if there was a way for them to get on that path.  Rather than assuming, for example, that any women’s basketball student-athlete who wants to coach will coach women’s basketball, coaches and administrators should open the minds of female student-athletes to the possibility of coaching on the men’s side.  It is considered normal that some former men’s basketball student-athletes will seek to become coaches of women’s teams, so a similar transition for former women’s basketball student-athletes should also be considered normal.

Help Build a Network

After identifying young coaching talent, coaches and administrators should help them build a network of mentors.  Every young coach needs a support system of coaches and administrators who recognize their potential and want to help them achieve it.  An example of this is Will Wade, the new Louisiana State University head men’s basketball coach.  Wade never played college or high school basketball.  Instead, he followed a common career path for non-players who get into coaching:  student-manager, graduate assistant, director of operations, and finally assistant coach.  Wade was at Clemson University during his early years as a student-manager/graduate assistant/director of operations when Shaka Smart was an assistant coach there.  After becoming the head coach at Virginia Commonwealth University, Smart hired Wade as an assistant.  Smart once said about Wade, “No one in the country will outwork Will.  He will do whatever it takes to get the job done.”  Smart became an influential advocate for Wade based on their brief time working together at Clemson.  Young women seeking to coach men’s team sports need similar advocates who can see what they are capable of, will be vocal about their qualifications and will help them navigate the coaching profession.

Give Women the Same Opportunities to Develop as Men

Coaches and administrators must look for opportunities to put young women in student-manager, graduate assistant, and assistant coaching positions with men’s team sports to help them start acquiring the experience and contacts needed to launch coaching careers.  This may require educating some people who are unwilling to accept the idea of women coaching men’s team sports, but there is ample evidence to cite of men who have followed the same coaching journeys that I am proposing for women.  

For example, many male coaches did not play the sport in college that they now successfully coach, such as Wade at LSU and Mike Leach, Washington State University head football coach.  Many men have become successful coaches of women’s sports that they never played, such as Mike Candrea, University of Arizona head softball coach, and Kelly Sheffield, University of Wisconsin head women’s volleyball coach.  Sheffield has admitted, “I can’t play the game.  I’m not any good.  What I got into was the teaching element.”  

If men can learn to coach a sport they did not play, and men can learn to coach women, nothing should prevent a woman with the appropriate skillset from pursuing a coaching career in a traditionally male-dominated sport.  Women serve on the United States Supreme Court and they perform surgery after having faced gender bias in the legal and medical communities for generations.  Women could certainly become qualified to coach football if they put in the same early career commitment as men to gain the necessary experience and move up the coaching career ladder, and it is time for the college athletics community to make more of an effort to support young women on that journey.

Dan Matheson About Dan Matheson
Dan Matheson, J.D., is director of the University of Iowa Sport & Recreation Management program. Prior to joining the Iowa faculty, Matheson was an associate director of enforcement for the NCAA and the baseball operations director for the New York Yankees. He currently serves on Iowa’s Presidential Committee on Athletics and is a dynamic keynote speaker and panelist who has received multiple teaching honors at Iowa. https://danmatheson.wixsite.com/sportbusiness

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