By: Olivia Baumhoer
Like most kids, my sports journey started with my parent’s signing me up for little league soccer. And like most little league soccer teams, they were coached by someones' dad. I just happened to be that someone who had to play soccer for their dad. So every weekend for years, I would go play soccer while my dad coached and all the moms cheered from the sideline. At the time, I grew up wanting to be like one of the moms who proudly watched their child from the sideline while her husband coached. It wasn’t until middle school that I encountered my first female coach. It was for our school’s volleyball team and it completed flipped my perspective on who could be a coach. I wanted to be on the field with the clipboard not on the sidelines watching the action. And all it took to ignite that spark in me was seeing someone who looked like me take on the role of a head coach.
To give some perspective, I’ve been playing sports since I was 5 and have played a total of 7 different sports throughout the years before sticking with volleyball. With all those sports combined over 16 years and multiple overlapping seasons, I could count the number of female coaches on my fingers.
Why? Why is it seen as normal for men to coach women’s sports, but when women coach men’s sports it's groundbreaking? Why have there been 64 NCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball tournaments and a female head coach has never won the title? This seems like a crazy fact, but Mary Wise, head coach for women’s volleyball at the University of Florida, is the only coach to make it to the National Championship match. And that was in 2003 and 2017.
During the 2019 NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Final Four press conference, Head Women’s Basketball Coach Muffet McGraw made a statement about how almost 100% of male sports have men as the head coach so why shouldn’t nearly 100% of female sports be led by female head coaches. This was considered to be a bold statement. But once again I ask the question why? With a record number of girls playing sports, it’s time for McGraw’s statement to become a fact.
In 1972 when Title IX was first put into action, 90% of female sports had a female head coach. Now, barely 40% of NCAA women’s sports are coached by a female head coach. There are many reasons as to why the number took such a drop. One is that before Title IX, women who coached sports did so in their free time and weren’t paid for it. After Title IX was enforced, women coaching positions became a paying job making it more desirable to male head coaches who now saw women’s sports as another gateway into the coaching business. When it comes to entry-level coaching positions such as assistant coaching, women hold about half of those jobs, but then dwindle down the higher up the position.
A lot of women don’t go after these higher coaching positions for fear of having to interfere with family life. The time commitment of having practice every single day for 2-3 hours, traveling to and from games that can last anywhere between 1-2 hours, plus the countless hours spent creating practice plans, watching film of previous matches, and recruiting is a lot to handle. If someone wants to start a family or already has children of their own, it may be extremely intimidating to anyone let alone someone who is also a mother or planning to be a mom. However, this reality of being a mother and coach is possible.
During my sophomore season of high school volleyball, my head coach Jess was pregnant with her first child and our assistant coach Annie already had two kids of her own running around the gym during practices. It just so happened that during our postseason run, Jess gave birth to Evan a few days before our district finals game. The whole team screamed out of excitement, but there was also an underlying fear in all of our minds. Would Jess be able to make it to the game? She was released the morning of gameday and sure enough, she arrived at the gym with a clipboard in hand ready to lead us to victory. That same year we made school history by becoming the first volleyball team to make it to the State Final Four. And now, Jess, a mother of 2, continues to coach both varsity high school and Junior Olympic volleyball teams while also maintaining a full-time job as a physical therapist.
The reality is I’ve had both great coaches who were male and female and bad coaches who were both male and female. But this only further proves the point that men aren’t always more qualified than women. If a woman has the same qualifications as a man for a women’s sport, hire the woman. Give young girls someone to see themselves in. Give them a coach who will demand respect and show them what it means to hold yourself to a higher standard than society typically holds girls. Women can be tough on athletes, but also a positive role model on what hard work and dedication look like. Women coaches not only help inspire girls to be coaches but show them what it means to stand your ground when the world is trying to push you back.
Just look at the legacy Pat Summitt left behind as head coach of women’s basketball at Tennesse. She paved the way not just for women’s basketball, but for women’s sports in general. She played college basketball before women could receive scholarships for sports and coached when NCAA women’s basketball was still brand new. She earned $250 monthly, washed the team’s uniforms herself, and drove the van. She could’ve easily given up, but she didn’t. Now, she has the most career wins in women’s basketball history and 63% of Division I women’s basketball coaches are female.
It’s time for women to lead women both on and off the court because so many women have taken steps to narrow the gap. Now, it’s time for that gap to close.
To Pat Summit, Muffet McGraw, Mary Wise, and every head women’s coach in the past and present, you are a beacon of inspiration to all female athletes who want to be coaches one day. With every young girl you inspire, women take one more small step towards making sure women’s sports are nearly 100% women coached.
To my coaches, thank you for lighting a flame in me that I didn’t think I had. I never thought I’d want to coach, but your examples brought out that desire in me. I only hope I can create a chain reaction that will help inspire girls just like you inspired me.
To female athletes striving to be coaches, let’s break the barrier. Let’s make it the standard for women to coach women’s sports and help foster a new age of empowered female athletes.