The Final Step: Retaining Your Female Coaches

March 21, 2019

Note: This is the third part of a series on Hiring Female Coaches within your athletic department.  The first article focused on the importance of having women well-represented on your coaching staff.  The second article focused on revamping the hiring process to attract female coaching candidates.

by Meg Seng

Remember your own first coaching position? Odds are, you were mentored by someone you respected and this person made a difference in your decision to continue coaching. Once you’ve found a quality female coach, your work is not finished—make sure she has a mentor to turn to.

It’s nice for all coaches to have this type of support, but it is especially important for females. There are several reasons why. First, women face cultural stereotypes in sport positions. Female coaches are often held to the double standard of needing to be seen as competent while at the same time maintaining likeability. Assertive women can come off as too aggressive or domineering, yet competence and assertiveness are precisely what we expect in the coaching profession. Mary Sue Coleman, former president of the University of Michigan, described her leadership approach to this paradox as having to be relentlessly pleasant.

Second, females have a lack of role models and mentors in athletics. Women’s networks tend to be more social than professional. Further, transactional relationships are foreign to many women as they may be uncomfortable asking for “favors” in the workplace.

Athletic administrators must find ways to support women who are dealing with these barriers through timely and open communication. Ask them what they need and touch base often and sooner, rather than later.

In addition, establish an inclusive and welcoming environment in your department and empower women to participate in staff discussions. Seek out their views and include them in important decisions.

Encourage your female coaches to find one or more active mentors, or better yet, help them find a mentor. They need to know that this is an acceptable professional expectation that you support. Share stories about your career pathway and influential people in your network. Start a female coaches’ discussion group in your school or community. This is the type of support that helps women thrive.

A HARD LOOK/STEP BACK

I’d like you to reflect on your current coaching staff. How many head coaches are women? Is there diversity within your coaching staff? Is there representation on your staff that reflects the makeup of your student body? Can you add more diversity by broadening your network? What type of opportunities and support have you provided to new coaches? What is the current culture of your coaching staff and athletic program overall?

Participating in school sports will be one of the most memorable experiences of your student-athletes’ lives. Our legacy as administrators should include hiring quality coaches who invest in the lives of students. Implementing some of these initiatives will help build a positive culture for your program and provide benefits for all of your coaches. Further, having more women coaches in your program will show your student-athletes that there are many different yet viable leadership styles. Finally, women who are coached by women are more likely to become a coaches themselves, thus sustaining your coaching pipeline.

Know that there are qualified female coaching candidates out there. It may take more work or effort to find them, but it will be worth it—especially for the girls at your school.


Culture Change


Restructuring your hiring process is an important step to boost the number of female head coaches. But it is also worthwhile to think about some outside-the-norm ideas to attract more females to the profession. Here are some thoughts to get you started:

• Can you provide child care or cover a portion of these costs?

• Will you allow/encourage mothers to bring their children to practices and contests?

• Can you hire an assistant to help with some coaching duties?

• How about job-sharing or co-head coaches?

• Would you consider hiring a woman to coach a boys’ team? This could go a long way towards demonstrating your commitment to female coaches.

• Can you start a support group for your females coaches?

• Can you ask a veteran female coach in your area to speak (or simply participate in a Q&A) at your next coaches meeting?

 

Meg Seng, CMAA, is Athletic Director at Greenhills School in Ann Arbor, Mich. She served as President of the Michigan Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (MIAAA) in 2013-14 and was honored with the Michigan High School Athletic Association Women in Sports Leadership Award in 2018 and the MIAAA’s Jack Johnson Distinguished Service Award in 2012. In 2001, she co-founded the Academy of Sports Leadership, which provides education and training for young women interested in becoming coaches. She can be reached at: mseng@greenhillsschool.org.

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