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Women Coaches and Administrators: Reversing The Decline in Numbers

... But Declining Number of Coaches & Administrators

Against the backdrop of this phenomenal rate of growth in female sport participation, a persistent decline in women coaches and athletic administrators is at once noteworthy and troubling. Compared to the early 1970s, when roughly 90% of the coaches and administrators of female teams were women, women in the year 2004 at the college level occupied:

  • Less than 45% of the head coaching positions for women's teams [update: according to Carpenter and Acosta, the percentage in 2012 was 42.9%];
  • Less than 20% of the head coaching positions at the college level overall [update: Carpenter & Acosta report that the percentage was about the same in 2012];
  • Less than 2% of the head coaches of men's teams [update: the percentage was 2% to 3% in 2012], and;
  • Less than 19% of athletic director positions [update: the percentage crept up to 20.3% in 2012, according to Carpenter and Acosta].

The representation of women coaches in the Olympics is equally sparse. For the 1996 and 2000 Summer Games in Atlanta and Sydney, "roughly 20 percent of the NGB [National Governing Body] designated head coaches and assistant coaches were women" while the representation of women in coaching in the Winter Games has been far less.

As researchers at Penn State point out, "the basic fact of the decline is surprising given that the pool of prospective women coaches - among women student-athletes - has expanded over 10 fold since the passage of Title IX in 1972"

Reasons for Decline

1. Discriminatory hiring practices ("old boy network")

In an era when girls and women in sport have never had it so good, what accounts for the disappearance of women from leadership roles in sport? The steady disappearance from the coaching and athletic director ranks is the result of a combination of forces. For full time coaches at the college level, there is general agreement that sex discriminatory hiring and personnel practices have contributed to the problem.

At one level, once coaching positions for female teams became more lucrative, male administrators sought to hire coaches and other administrators who fit in with their vision of what people in the athletic workplace should look and act like. In other words, in a system dominated by what has been called "the old boys network", male administrators have historically been inclined to hire other men.

Evidence of this expectation can be found in the adjustment women high school athletic directors have had to make in order to be successful in a male-dominated profession. As Washington Post writer, Eli Saslow reported in October 2005, "Women, it seems, can become high school athletic directors - so long as they sometimes act like men". Among the conscious choices female athletic directors made in altering their demeanor and mannerisms, one explained that she learned to speak loudly and forcefully "to be heard in male dominated meetings", another coached two boys sports and sought to become an expert in male sports culture, while a third worked to get into even better shape so that she was not perceived as a "weak female"

A 2005 study of women coaches and administrators also found that sex stereotyping of coaches, where males are perceived to be more competent and authoritative, does not just occur among male administrators but also among female athletes themselves. There is speculation that because female athletes rarely experience the presence of female coaches in the athletic environment, they have become accustomed to associating the coaching profession with men.

2. Excessive Hours

As powerful as sex discriminatory practices are in creating an environment where women coaches are in the minority, sex discrimination by itself does not account entirely for the downward spiral of women in coaching and administration. Workloads for coaches have been described as "excessive" because they work hours "far above the averages for women or men in other occupations." Further, the athletic workplace has been described as being family unfriendly, among the slowest to adopt polices that would assist coaches in balancing the demands of work and family.

3. Racism and Homophobia

These issues appear to be compounded by both race and sexual orientation. According to a 2005 study, "student athletes of color are being lost in the pipeline to coaching at about twice the rate of white student-athletes." Similarly, lesbian women report experiencing substantial discrimination in both hiring and in the treatment they receive if hired.

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