Explaining the scarcity of female coaches: Homophobia still pervasive

9 12 2010

This week I read two separate stories about female collegiate coaches who are no longer coaching due to homophobia. Scholars have been writing about the effects of homophobia on women’s sports for decades, yet it persists.

The first story is about University of Minnesota Associate Women’s Golf Coach Katie Brenny. All the facts are not in yet, but allegedly Brenny was relieved of many of her coaching duties when the Director of Golf, John Harris, learned that Brenny was a lesbian. You can read about this story in the MN Daily, here and here. It was announced this week that Brenny plans on suing the University of Minnesota for  “a violation of several Minnesota statutes, which would include discrimination based upon creating a hostile work environment; discrimination, retaliation and harassment; and discrimination concerning sexual preference.” Note: 12/10/10 Star Tribune story on Brenny.

The second story involves Lisa Howe, Belmont University’s Head Women’s Soccer Coach, “who resigned last week after she told school officials that she and her same-sex partner were expecting a child.” Howe felt she should resign in the “don’t ask, don’t tell,” climate at Belmont rather than be fired “due to her poor choices.”  To read more about this story click here and here and Pat Griffin has also written a number of blogs about Howe.

There are many troubling issues about these two stories, but in light of my research on the scarcity of female coaches, I find them particularly interesting. Females coaches are in the minority at all levelsyouth, high school and college (if you want to see the statistics, click on these links). The barriers and factors which influence this phenomenon are complex, but in these cases, I think it is safe to say homophobia and a climate of intolerance are contributing factors as to why we now have 2 fewer female college coaches.

Austin Calhoun, a graduate student, and I completed research on how gay and lesbian coaches are erased from online sport media. When we heard of Howe and Brenny, we looked at their online coaching biographies and were not shocked to learn neither mentioned their same-sex partners.

While Brenny seemed to be released from her duties because she was gay, Howe quit because she couldn’t stay in the closet (and resumably didn’t want to) once she and her same-sex partner were going to have a baby.  Interestingly,  having children dramatically affects both heterosexual and homosexual female coaches, in some similar, but also in some very different ways.

For gay women, having a child makes it harder to stay in the closet, and once you have a child with someone you love, one presumably would prefer to openly and freely share that love and joy with the world–including one’s team and colleagues. However, gay coaches are then faced with a dilemma: Come out and risk their career, or stay in the closet and alienate and erase their newly expanded family. Young gay female coaches in the early stages of their careers and families, may have very different thoughts and values about being openly gay in the workplace than their older generational counterparts.  Therefore, it is likely that the attrition rate of young gay female coaches may increase as they want to live openly, but bump up against institutional and societal homophobia. This group of young women may also choose not to enter the coaching profession to begin with (stay tuned for cutting edge research on this topic and more from my graduate student Alyssa Norris).

For heterosexual women, having a child makes it harder to balance the work-mother roles unless a supportive male partner is willing to take on some of the domestic labor in the home (I realize that same-sex couples have to also balance domestic labor issues). For this group of women, having a child does not directly threaten your job. In fact, it is celebrated (as it should be!). Researchers have documented that despite gains made by women in the workplace, women are still responsible for a majority of the domestic labor in the home. For many women (gay and straight alike), balancing the coach-mother roles proves to be too stressful and often results in quitting the coaching profession.  What may compound this issue for females coaches with male partners is that a gender pay gap still exists where females make on average .77 cents for every dollar a male earns. Thus, if a heterosexual couple is deciding who is going to stay home (if that is even an option) or how to lessen the workload, it often makes better financial sense for the male to remain in his career/job.

Of note, when a male coach and his female partner have a child it rarely affects the male coach’s career trajectory or job security. One key take home: in order to have a successful coaching career, a female must have a supportive and equal partner. Another key take home is that gay female coaches likely face more barriers than their heterosexual counterparts which makes staying or getting into coaching challenging.

I have more thinking to do about this complex issue, but these two stories illustrate a few key contributing factors in the ongoing scarcity of female coaches. I realize my logic on this is not fully developed, and I would love to hear your constructive thoughts.

Addition 12/10/10: A NYT piece about a wife-husband co-head coaching duo for Mizzou Volleyball is an example of how heterosexual coaches can be visible and celebrated, whereas I doubt you would ever see a similar story on same-sex co-head coaches. This story is also an example of how if a mother-coach is going to succeed she needs a supportive and equal partner.

Addition 12/17/10: A NYT piece on Howe and the reaction of her athletes and the community.





A Word About the Use of Punishment in Youth Sport

15 11 2010

I get many calls and questions from coaches about the use of punishment in youth sport. Punishment from a sport psychology perspective is adding something an athlete perceives as negative or aversive.

Examples of commonly used punishments yelling, exercise including push-ups & running, and sitting on the bench (adding bench time).

Punishing mistakes is not an effective way to shape behavior, teach life skills (i.e., being on time, listening, focusing attention when the coach is talking) or develop skill. Researchers have proven that positive approach to coaching involves strengthening desired behaviors by recognizing them when they occur and giving information about training and instructions that helps an athletes improve or do it differently is the most effective way to communicate.  A “negative approach” to coaching involves attempts to eliminate a behavior based on criticism and the use of punishment. While punishment can help eliminate an undesired behavior in the short term, it does little for teaching skills that develop over time.

Punishment also has a number of potential negative consequences including:

  • Fear of failure
  • Increases likelihood of choking because athlete is thinking more about mistakes than on what needs to happen to perform well
  • Creates stress and anxiety, especially because it is usually done in front of peer teammates
  • Creates an unpleasant social and learning environment
  • Cohesion is built on hatred of coach
  • Undermines coach-athlete relationship and erodes coach as a positive role model that young athletes look up to and admire
  • Inappropriate modeling (Do we want youngsters to yell and scream at others when mistakes are made?)
  • Embarrassment
  • Resentment
  • Hostility
  • Decreased enjoyment
  • Increased likelihood for drop out
  • Conveys the wrong message about exercise as an enjoyable activity
  • I hope this short piece helps coaches think about their use of punishment in their coaching praxis.





    How is the only high school female football coach doing?

    14 09 2010

    Last May there was a lot of media coverage about Natalie Randolph, who was hired as the Head Football Coach for Coolidge High School in Washington DC. This fall she and her team are back in the media as the team’s results are being scrutinized. Currently the team is 0-3. My point is not to highlight the team’s record, but to highlight that THIS team’s record is getting national media attention where the many other football teams across the country which are also 0-3 are not.

    Coach Natalie Randolph

    Randolph should be celebrated, not scrutinized. While her on field results in terms of W/L record is a losing one, there are other outcomes that should be considered, but are often overlooked:

    1. Her presence may allow females who love the game to consider playing and coaching football as a viable option. Many girls and women love football just as much as men, but given they 0ften are discouraged or aren’t allowed to play when they desire to, the pathway to playing and coaching the game they love contains many barriers.

    2. I’m certain seeing and experiencing a female football coach has provided the opportunity for the young men on her team (and community members) to challenge the stereotypes some likely have about women, leadership, coaching and football.

    3. From her interviews and feedback of those familiar with the program, it sounds like she is teaching her team both football and life skills simultaneously , and that is all that we can hope for and ask of any high school coach.

    Women coach boys must possess a high degree of athletic capital to coach football or male athletes in general. In fact only 2% of all coaches of male athletes are female, a statistic that has remained remarkably stable even 38 years after Title IX which drastically increased the number female sport participants and the sport expertise of females. Randolph possesses a great deal of athletic capital as a former D-I athlete, professional football player in the WPFL, and assistant high school football coach–experiences which afforded her the opportunity and consideration for the job.  While men are assumed to be competent coaches even if they have never really played the sport, female coaches must continually prove themselves competent above and beyond their male colleagues. It is unlikely a female who never played football would never be hired to coach, but there are many men who have been hired to coach a sport they never played or didn’t play at a high level.

    The interesting issue to me in the media coverage of Randolph’s coaching debut is the implicit assumption that effective football coaching resides on the Y-chromosome. No where in the coaching science literature have I read this, but it is a common belief nonetheless. If this assumption is true, then there must be quite a few male football coaches missing the Y-chromosome because their teams have losing records too! While I doubt the  floodgates for women to coach football are going to burst open wide, I hope Randolph’s presence will help challenge and change some outdated thinking patterns.





    espnW, cheerleading, violence, Nike, Title IX…so many things to share!

    22 07 2010

    Sorry if I’ve been blogging less lately, there are to many things going on to take the time to blog! That said, I wanted to share with you some information you might find interesting.

    1. A key Title IX ruling was recently passed down that has implications for girls and women in sport. In essence the judge ruled that cheerleading can not count towards compliance with Title IX.

    2. Look for more changes regarding the way in which the NCAA calculates and oversees their Academic Progress Rates (APR). New data analysis reveals that current standards may be weaker than originally intended.

    3. On the youth sport news front, The UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre commissioned and released a new report on PROTECTING CHILDREN FROM VIOLENCE IN SPORT: A review with a focus on industrialized countries. The report focuses on the fact that “it has become evident that sport is not always a safe space for children, and that the same types of violence and abuse sometimes found in families and communities can also occur in sport and play programmes. Child athletes are rarely consulted about their sporting experiences, and awareness of and education on child protection issues among sport teachers, coaches and other stakeholders is too often lacking. Overall, appropriate structures and policies need to be developed for preventing, reporting and responding appropriately to violence in children’s sport” (p.vii)

    New espnW logo

    4. I have two related bits I’ve recently been involved with regarding big sport brands wanting to create social change. What they also have in common is both initiatives have women in charge. You can imagine I’m a bit skeptical on both, but I’m currently cautiously optimistic on both fronts.

    The first is the new ESPN  initiative to capture more female consumers–it is called espnW. (the “W” stands for Women). Its launch has gotten a little media buzz. I will keep you posted as I’ve been in communication with the folks at ESPN who are spearheading this new initiative. They are lead by a very sharp woman and her small staff and I believe the resources ESPN has dedicated demonstrates a desire to get this right (unlike Sports Illustrated for Women, which was a miserable failure). So far the process seems on target as they are asking key stakeholders to join the conversation and provide insight.   Added NOTE (7/28/10): Read the MinnPost article titled “Media critic and women’s sports advocate Mary Jo Kane is about to step into the belly of the ESPN beast”

    The second initiative is a project of the Nike Social Innovation team, also lead by two sharp women. Nike wants to use current sport science research to help leverage their resources and brand to promote and sustain physical activity in the US and UK. I was asked to be part of a multidisciplinary think tank facilitated by ShiftN (a really cool company) earlier in the month where we examined a research-based systems model of the correlates, barriers and potential outcomes of physical activity.

    I am excited and honored to be a part of both these initiatives, however I am both happy and concerned that women are at the helm of these new, risky initiatives. I’ve written in an earlier post about the research on the glass cliff and I wonder if this is what is operating in the background in these instances where two big brands are taking risks.

    While the glass ceiling is metaphor commonly used to describe the often subtle and unseen social-structural gendered barriers that prevent women from reaching the highest echelons of corporate leadership.

    The glass cliff is a similar metaphor used to describe the phenomenon of women’s appointments to precarious leadership positions. The glass cliff illuminates the stress experienced by women who have made it through the glass ceiling (i.e., Head Coaches, CEOs, Presidents of WNBA teams) and find themselves in a more vulnerable and precarious position than their male counterparts. Women on the glass cliff often fight an uphill battle for success, without the support, information and resources needed to effectively execute the job.

    Researchers have recently uncovered that when organizations are in crisis and have a high risk for failure, women are more often appointed to positions of leadership. Two explanations are offered: 1) women are perceived as particularly well-suited to manage the crisis, or 2) women are appointed to glass cliff positions because those who appoint them want to protect men (or expose women).

    I hope I’m wrong, because the women I’ve met and talked to in charge of these initiatives are movers and shakers I want to see succeed in their visions.





    “Not Everything is Found on the Y-Chromosome”

    24 05 2010

    The 5th IWG World Conference on Women in Sport in Sydney has now drawn to a close. The 6th World Conference will be held in Helsinki, Finland in 2014. It was edifying and energizing to meet so many great women, and men, who care deeply about girls and women in sport and to learn about how they are all making a difference in their own ways. One person really can make a difference. The legacy of the conference is the Sydney Scoreboard, which will track the percentage of women in positions of power in sport leadership across the globe (national sport organizations, presidents, CEOs). One message was clear throughout the conference, women are under represented in all position of power in all sports in all countries–we have much work yet to do. This conference helped me to think more deeply and clearly about how the empowerment of women and striving for women in positions of power is a human rights issue. When women help lead a nation or organization, everyone benefits.

    Ms. Rachel Mayanja

    The International Working Group on Women in Sport (IWG) has begun to build a relationship with the United Nations (UN), to help forward the IWG mission and agenda. The United Nations has a number of groups, resources, and initiatives that have great synergy with the IWG including, The UN Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW), United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), United Nations International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW), and WomenWatch (information and resources about gender equality and the empowerment of women). The UN also has a Commission on the Status of Women which is a functional commission of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

    Rachel Mayanja (Uganda), UN Assistant Secretary-General and Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women (OSAGI), delivered the opening keynote of the IWG Congress. In her speech she stated: Women’s and girls’ access to and participation in sport is not a privilege. It is a right. The right to participate in sport and physical activity is enshrined in Article 1 of the UNESCO International Charter of Physical Education and Sport, for example, which states that ‘The practice of physical education and sport is a fundamental right for all’.

    From this picture, it is clear that MORE can potentially be found on the X-chromosome!

    The conference ended with a keynote by The Hon Michael Kirby, former Justice of the High Court of Australia, which was fantastic. He told of how as a boy in 1949 he’d read a the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which shaped his life trajectory. He told us that document existed due to the leadership of Eleanor Roosevelt who chaired the committee which drafted the original document that was later adopted by the UN. He stated this is an example that if you want important work to be done, a woman has to be in charge. Kirby also said his colleague Mary Gordon used to tell him, “that not all is found on the Y-chromosome”.

    This is a great statement, and until everyone believes and acts in ways that reflect this statement we have work to be done. I am re-energized and committed to continue my work on increasing the number of female coaches in youth sport so that children and youth see women in a position of power in a context they care deeply about. I believe if we are to change attitudes about gender stereotypes and women and leadership we need to have equal numbers (50%) of women as head coaches. To that end and taking up the idea of the Sydney Scoreboard, upon my return I will begin to work with youth sport boards and youth sport organizations to implement policy that requires/mandates that 50% of all coaches are female (currently according to data I have collected in youth soccer, only about 17% of all head coaches are female), and that at least 40% of all board positions are occupied by females.





    World Congress on Women in Sport

    14 05 2010

    I’m attending and presenting at the 5th World Conference on Women and Sport which will be held from May 20-23, 2010 in Sydney, Australia, so my blogs will be limited in the next two weeks. I’m sure I will have much to share once I return. I’m looking forward to seeing colleagues and friends, and learn about the issues women and girls face outside the U.S. So stay tuned for good stuff to come! If you are attending, please track me down. Best, NML





    Latest “Women in Intercollegiate Sport” Report Now Available

    23 03 2010

    The most recent version of Acosta & Carpenter’s longitudinal (33 years!) research on Women in Intercollegiate Sport is now available on their website. Some good news highlights:

    • 42.6% of women’s teams are coached by a female head coach, a number that has remained stable over the last four years
    • HIGHEST EVER number of paid assistant coaches of women’s teams, 57.6% which are female
    • HIGHEST EVER number (n= 12,702) of females employed in intercollegiate athletics

    Given that basketball is the most popular collegiate sport acording to Acosta & Carpenter, and it is March Madness, you can also download the most recent Academic Progress/Graduation Success Rate Study of Division I NCAA Women’s and Men’s Basketball Tournament Teams

    Director of The Institute of Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES), Richard Lapchick states in the report, “Nineteen women’s tournament teams had a 100 percent graduation rate for their teams. Women do much better academically than men. Furthermore, the academic success gap between African‐American and white women’s basketball student‐athletes is smaller, although still significant, than between African‐American and white men’s basketball student‐athletes.”

    Keeping it real with some data during March Madness…