The puzzling gender disparity in coaches of youth sports teams
Anyone who has spent a Saturday morning at the soccer fields has seen it: dads coaching their hearts out as their young players run down the field. My own dad was one of these fathers and, like many of them, he was terrific. These men are actively involved in their children's lives and are often a role model for their young teams. While it is important for these fathers to coach, I can't help but wonder: Where are the mothers, the former girls of Title IX? Where are the women who came of age with the benefit of the 1972 law that said all education programs, including sports, must be equally available to both genders?
Before Title IX, fewer than 300,000 American girls played high school sports. Last year over 3 million did. Title IX, despite some flaws and continuing challenges in the 40 years since its inception, was transformative. And yet today, according to an eight-year study of youth sports by sociologist Michael Messner, fewer than 14 percent of youth soccer coaches and 6 percent of baseball and softball coaches in his study group were women. Where have all those girl athletes gone, and why aren't they coaching their own children?
I am one of those "lost girls". While in 1972 there were only 16,000 female intercollegiate athletes, in 2012 there were some 200,000 women playing college sports. Thanks to Title IX and lucky timing, I was fortunate enough to play NCAA Division I soccer. I was far from a star, but I was a smart player and while still in school I earned a national coaching license. I coached a high school team during my time in college, and for a few years after graduation I coached a youth team and helped run some coaching clinics with my local league. And yet now, years later with a seven-year-old of my own who plays soccer, I do not coach.
Messner and others have argued that the lead position of head coach reflects the leadership position of men in the family and in society. Nearly all "team parents," the support positions, are, in reality, "team moms." A "soccer mom," that coveted political animal, isn't an athlete or a coach. She's the one who organizes the treat schedule and cheers from the sidelines each week. Whatever the image of the moms, the social image of a soccer coach is an enthusiastic dad. Scholars argue that this perception is a powerful, unintentional force that is keeping women out of coaching.
As anyone who's ever taught or coached can tell you, coaching takes a lot of focused time. It's not just the time on the field, it's planning the practice, analyzing the games, and reorganizing plans when a player gets sick. It's volunteering for the league when they need you. Much of this cannot be easily interrupted by care for younger children, making dinner, or the hundred other things that are part of daily life for many mothers. Yet many women find time for other volunteer activities. How many women do you know who have spent hours and hours organizing the selling of cookies or putting together a fall festival or book sale for their child's school? How many of those women played sports as a girl and could spend that time coaching instead?
Here's my challenge to myself and my fellow Title IX girls: Let's figure out some ways to get back out there. Let's watch each other's younger children on the sideline during practice so mom can be coach. Let's show our kids who we were, who we still are deep in our hearts. Let them know that we are more than workers and housecleaners and chauffeurs: We are athletes, and we know a thing or two about our sports. Let's show our daughters that being a mom doesn't have to mean giving up the sports they love. Let's show our sons (and their fathers) that women can lead in all environments, even athletics. Let's not let the opportunities we gained from Title IX stop with us. Let's finish the revolution, put on the whistle, and have some fun with our kids.