The decline of women coaches

In light of watching a very enjoyable women’s volleyball match between the world’s two best teams– Brazil and USA– this afternoon, I was reminded of this interesting piece about how women coaches have declined since the advent of Title IX (both Brazil and US have male coaches):

Female college athletes have never been less likely to have a female coach. The same trend holds in this summer’s Olympics: Of the five sports in which the United States is fielding a women’s team under a single head coach — basketball, field hockey, soccer, volleyball and water polo — only the soccer coach is a woman…

And there’s the dirty little secret of Title IX: Female coaches have become a casualty of the same law that provided such huge benefits to female athletes. In 1972, more than 90 percent of the people coaching women’s teams were women. Today, that number is 43 percent, according to data compiled by two retired Brooklyn College professors who have tracked the number of female college athletes and coaches in the United States since Title IX became law.

The explanation for the downward trend is as simple as it is discouraging. By legitimizing women’s sports, Title IX bestowed a new level of respect — and significantly higher salaries — on college coaching jobs, transforming them from passion projects for the most dedicated women’s sports advocates to serious career paths…

As soon as salaries began to rise, more men became interested in jobs coaching women, says Judy Sweet, a longtime athletics administrator who became the NCAA’s first-ever female athletic director of a combined men’s and women’s program at the University of California at San Diego in 1975. Assistant coaches of men’s teams saw a chance to be promoted faster by applying to head-coach jobs on the women’s side. Job opportunities doubled for graduating male athletes who weren’t going pro but wanted to stay in the game. Athletic directors, whose ranks have always been overwhelmingly male, increasingly hired other men for open positions.

I strongly suspect it’s more about perceived social/sports legitimacy for these men, than the money.  Nobody’s going to knock a man in any way for coaching a womens/girls team, but I’m sure that was standard fare back in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  The article further suggests that what’s going on is discriminatory men just preferring to hire men, but I really don’t think that’s the main cause.  Quite simply, the pool of humans who want to completely devote their life to a sport for low pay (the situation for the vast majority of coaches) strikes me as a pool that has many, many more men than women in it.  Maybe I’m wrong, but it’s not like there’s gender parity in sports interest in this country.  Chalk that up to culture, biology, or whatever, but it certainly is very real and one would have to think would affect the gender balance of coaching.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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