Since Title IX of 1972, the law that granted women equal rights in education, women have pulled up their shin guards, laced up their cleats, and tied up their hair with prewrap in college sports, but greater participation in sports has not led to equality: Few women serve as coaches, and their numbers are declining.
At Misericordia, which was founded in 1924 as a women’s school, 100% more men than women serve as coaches. Eighteen men and nine women coach the 21 sports teams within the athletic department. Four men coach women’s teams.
No women—zero—coach men’s teams.
Throughout the university’s athletic history, the coaching staff has been heavily male dominated. Women have coached only five out of ten female sports teams since 1990. In total, the university has had only 13 female coaches.
“There is obviously an issue within collegiate coaching,” said field hockey coach Robyn Stahovic, who was the only full time female coach in the athletic department in 2002.
As bad as the numbers are, Misericordia can take credit for making an effort toward athletic equality: The university’s neighboring schools, Wilkes University and King’s College, are doing much more poorly. Both schools have almost triple the number of male coaches to female coaches. Wilkes University employs 36 male coaches to 13 female coaches for 21 sports teams, while King’s College employs 39 men to 16 women for 22 teams. No women coach men’s teams, but plenty of men coach women’s teams: six at Wilkes and 11 at King’s. Note that Misericordia has one more women’s team than each of those schools do.
Nationally, the number of female collegiate coaches is dismal. Across all three divisions of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, women hold only 20% of coaching jobs. Women serve as head coaches for only 4% of men’s teams and 40% of women’s teams.
While it’s easy to dismiss the stark inequality in sports leadership by assuming that women are still climbing, slowly moving up the ladder much as they are in terms of employment and pay equality, that is a mistake. The number of female coaches in collegiate athletics is not going up; it’s going down, way down.
According to a study by Susan Welch of Pennsylvania State University and Lee Sigelman of Georgia State University, in 1972 –when Title IX was passed – approximately 90% of the coaching staffs for women’s teams nationwide were women, but by 2006 that figure had dropped all the way to 42%. The University of Minnesota’s Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport and the Alliance of Women Coaches found that in the 2012 to 2013 school year, only 40.2 % of head coaches of women’s teams in NCAA Division I conferences were female – 356 women coaches out of a total of 886 women’s teams. That percentage dropped to 39.6 % – 352 out of 888 teams the next year. The study surveyed 76 schools.
“Women leaders in collegiate sports are scarce and declining,” said Dr. Nicole LaVoi of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport.
But more women are playing sports than ever before. According to LaVoi’s research, in 1972 one in every 27 girls participated in sports – today that number is 1 in 3.
The lack of women leaders in collegiate sports presents a twofold problem: Young women are missing out on female mentoring, and that can result in a catch 22. The scarcity of female coaches may make it less likely that younger women will assume sports leadership roles in the future.
“Most girls throughout their athletic career never get the opportunity to have a female role model as their coach,” LaVoi said. “When girls are coached by other women, they are more likely to go into the coaching profession.”
Young men may be missing out, too. Senior basketball standout Jeffrey Puckett said he had only two female coaches during his entire sports career, and that was in eighth grade. But he said they were unforgettable.
“It made no difference to us that they were women. They were obviously qualified for the job.”
Puckett recalled a basketball tournament when the team was down by 10 points at half time. The team stood in a circle around the coaches whose first concern was that the boys were feeling all right about how they were playing. They did not discuss tactics right away.
“They yelled a lot less than my male coaches. That’s for sure.”
Puckett said his two coaches showed the boys what to do to get the win. They had mini white boards, the ones with the court lines on them, and each coach drew a play. The boys listened, comprehended and ran onto the court after the buzzer, confident in their coaches’ plan.
“Having a female coach would be beneficial in situations where you’re losing at the end of a quarter or half because of their nurturing nature,” Puckett said. “No one wants to hear how terrible they are playing when they are losing.”
His team took home the first place trophy that day.
“I would never doubt a female’s knowledge of the game,” Puckett said. “My female coaches had just as much to offer as my male coaches.”
Tina Colatriano, a senior occupational therapy major who played soccer since freshman year, said most of the female coaches she’s had meant business. She said they were encouraging, often saying things like “keep it up” or “great work, girls.” But overall, they wouldn’t take excuses.
“I think my female coaches were harder on me as an athlete,” Coltriano said. “In some ways I think they have more to prove.”
While reasons for the lack of female coaches are almost as scarce as female coaches are, Stahovic suspects the problem is that the sports culture, created and maintained by men, is simply more welcoming to men.
“Some athletic programs are supportive of their female coaches and some aren’t,” Stahovic said.
Athletic Director Charles Edkins said he supports women in sports leadership. “Having a diverse coaching staff and women coaches in collegiate athletics is very important,” Edkins said. “It’s necessary.” Edkins added, “I’m a Title IX guy.”
Edkins said he is angered by the thought of his daughters being denied any opportunity, let alone athletic opportunity. He said he thinks about how all student athletes – including females – are impacted with every decision that the athletics staff makes.
“Of course there are Title IX issues that come into play,” Edkins said. “Title IX isn’t just about sports participation; it’s all educational programs. There needs to be a balance in the number of sports, student athletes, number of coaches.”
So is the university doing anything to improve gender diversity in sports leadership? Most recently, when the university added the football program in 2012, it hired three male coaches for that sport. But that same year Edkins hired women’s lacrosse coach Chrissy Trescavage.
“I believe in hiring the best candidate for the job,” Edkins said. “Regardless of gender, the person applying needs to have the right qualifications.”
The Alliance of Women Coaches is taking action to aid women in the pursuit of coaching careers. Through educational programs, workshops, forums and learning platforms, the Alliance wants to be an important voice,
resource and community for women coaches.
“Reducing the barriers that some women face in the pursuit of a coaching career is a necessary goal for the alliance,” Executive Director Marlene Bjornsrud said.
One of the Alliance’s main programs is the NCAA Women Coaches Academy, a four-day educational training program for coaches of all levels that offers non-sport-program management strategies, which focus on philosophy development and building skills and knowledge.
Bjornsrud said women need to have the same chances as men to receive the same benefits and opportunities sports has to offer. The Alliance provides awareness for those who are in the dark about sports inequality.
“No one opens the door to make it easy for women,” Stahvoic said.
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