Hiring Female Coaches for Your Teams is Important

March 9, 2019

By Meg Seng

Consider for a moment your approach to hiring a head coach. You probably post the position through your human resources office, as required by school policies. However, this channel doesn’t often produce a bona fide pool of applicants. Sometimes it doesn’t produce any candidates at all!

So, as athletic administrators, most of us have learned to be proactive. We develop and use our own networks to find coaches. This is a tried and true solution with one big shortcoming—we tend to hire our own. And because most athletic directors are male, the problem that results is a decline in the number of female coaches.

This is not a new trend. Since the passage of Title IX more than 40 years ago, girls’ participation in sports has risen while the number of females coaching their teams has decreased, as several studies show. And you’ve likely heard the refrain (or said it yourself): “I’d hire more women if I could find qualified candidates.” Or “Women don’t apply for our coaching positions.”

We all know the difficulty in finding qualified candidates for interscholastic coaching positions. The positions are often low paying with long hours, and the time slot does not work for many. Female applicants are especially few and far between. But there is something special about being a coach and we need to continually promote the benefits of the profession. Coaching is noble work, especially at the interscholastic level, and it is rewarding for both men and women.

WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT

With so much else on our plates, and given that finding female candidates can be challenging, does it really matter whether both men and women are represented on our coaching staffs? I believe it matters very much. Recruiting and retaining female coaches is a worthwhile endeavor for athletic administrators because it affects the student-athletes we are working so hard to influence. It can also improve the culture of our athletic department.

One big reason to have female coaches on staff is that they set leadership examples for both boys and girls, which will better prepare them for the workplace. Having strong, visible female role models empowers young female athletes to aspire to leadership positions and allows young men to see women in positions of authority.

Gender stereotypes in leadership persist, and challenging our biases around them teaches young people important lessons. Student-athletes need to experience women in positions of authority in those activities they are most passionate about. They need to be comfortable with the dynamic and, for females, know it is a possibility for their futures.

In addition, women tend to adopt a leadership style that differs from the hierarchical or military model, and this also allows young people to see and consider leadership differently. It enables our student-athletes to expand their understanding of how a team or group can thrive.

Female head coaches also tend to embrace a philosophy based more on connections than conquest. We know that girls’ self-esteem decreases as they reach adolescence and that the gap between self-esteem of boys and girls increases with age. Boys are often socialized to focus on factors of justice while girls are socialized to focus on connectedness or relationships. The competitive sport culture usually values justice more than connections. Having coaches on our staff who embrace relationships over winning gets to the heart of furthering educational athletics—and perhaps to higher participation rates, as well.

Another reason for hiring female coaches is that it provides our girls with female role models. We need to continue to help girls increase or maintain their confidence throughout adolescence. Sport is one of the best avenues for helping young women find their voice and develop leadership skills. Self-talk, body image, emotional regulation, social comparison, fear of failure, conflict management and perfectionism are all issues in the development of young girls. Female role models are well suited to help in this regard because they have dealt with similar situations or issues. Role models are key for young people because what and who they see tells them who is relevant, valued, and important.

In 2016, the Women’s Sports Foundation published interesting findings from a nationwide survey about gender bias in intercollegiate athletics. It revealed that bias is associated with the gender of the coach and not the gender of the team—many female coaches perceive gender bias while few male coaches do. The findings also confirm that gender bias exists and that it is systemic at colleges. Finally, it was clear that respondents felt that for change to occur, it must come from the top. Given that most athletic administrators at the intercollegiate or interscholastic level are men, we must consider our own biases and processes for hiring and mentoring female coaches. We need to stretch ourselves and our networks. 

 

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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