Women coaches losing out in hiring game to experienced males

Where have all the women coaches gone? Ten years ago, 95 percent of the high school girls' basketball teams in Indiana were coached by women. Today, with roughly the same number of teams, that percentage has dropped to less than 30 percent.

And a recent nationwide survey of women's college sports shows that, although the overall decrease is not quite that drastic, considerable erosion is also occurring among female coaches and sports administrators throughout the country.

Judith Jenkins George, an educator and author of a report on fading opportunities for women in coaching, talked of this problem in a recent interview with the Monitor.

``As women's sports have become more competitive, administrators try to get coaches who are more and more experienced,'' she explained. ``They've gone out and hired men, rather than looking for qualified women who have the background to lead.''

George, an associate professor of health, physical education, and recreation at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., said that the erosion ``has been increasing from year to year . . . and only people in the profession have seen that it's going on.''

``I think the problem is so acute that it's going to be hard to reverse it right now,'' she added. ``But awareness of the issue means the possibility of change in the future.''

Many see this as surprising -- especially in view of the huge strides made by women's sports since Title IX, the 1972 civil rights legislation that mandated equal opportunity for girls and women in education. But according to George, although Title IX was initially expected to include coaches and administrators as well as students, the legislation ended up applying only to participants.

George emphasizes that she's not against men coaching women, but that ``the percentages have become overwhelming, to the point where women have lost control of their own programs. There aren't the role models for young women on the teams.''

High school math teacher Mel Young, who coaches girls' volleyball, girls' basketball, and boys' track in Richmond, Ind., says he thinks that ``it's not necessarily harmful'' for men to be coaching women, but he's not sure that the men who are doing the coaching are adequately informed about female athletes.

``I think they [the male coaches] think they can handle the females as they can the males,'' he says. ``I don't think they have enough information about women in particular'' -- physiological considerations, counseling, and ``those kinds of social issues that we as coaches have an obligation to bring forth.''

But where have all the women coaches gone?

``A lot of women are dropping out,'' says Dr. Alpha Alexander, an educational researcher and former director of women's sports at Temple University in Philadelphia. She attributes the high dropout rate to ``lack of role models and mentors,'' plus the fact that many are ``burnt out'' from the battles over Title IX, equality, etc. Also, she says, men are becoming more interested in women's sports ``and are taking all the coaching positions.''

A continuing lack of women coaches could have serious repercussions as far as progress for women in athletics is concerned, she says, adding that ``a critical aspect in terms of women is the development of leadership.''

Some observers see what they call an ``old boys network'' among administrators at the heart of the problem.

``I think that the old boys club is a drawback to our progress in sports administration and coaching,'' says George. ``Men get used to thinking of other men doing it, and the jobs go to men and not to women.'' Young agrees that ``men are going to hire their buddies.''

Others, though, contend that women aren't getting hired because of reluctance to travel and recruit -- essential parts of athletics, especially at the college level. They also cite the high turnover in women's coaching ranks.

``Coaching is a very stressful job,'' counters Ann Lawver. ``There's a high burnout rate for both men and women.''

Lawver, associate director of admissions at Indiana University, speaks from experience. She coached at both the high school and college levels for 14 years before changing careers a few years ago.

``My most recent coaching experience was in the Big Ten,'' Lawver says. (She coached women's basketball at Indiana University.) ``Recruiting is the basic key to your success [at the college level]. . . . That's stressful, because your life is dependent on the decision of an 18-year-old. You can do your best . . . , [but] the student may not choose your school. You don't have any control over that part, and it's frustrating.''

Ironically, Lawver sees the influx of money that Title IX brought to women's sports as indirectly responsible for the gradual erosion of female coaches. ``Initially the women involved in sports and coaching . . . volunteered or were assigned sponsorship. When money became available, both men and women applied, and men were more qualified, at least on paper.''

A coach's win-loss record has become a lot more important in determining which applicant gets the job, she adds. ``Ten years ago, very few women were fired because of their win-loss record . . . . I think women have had to deal with that less than men . . . . But that [win-loss record] has become one of the priorities.''

Awareness is the first step needed to reverse the current trend, says George. ``Then secondly, making the `old girls network' work, to where we're trying to help ourselves,'' she adds. ``Women have to be more assertive in establishing their own network . . . so when we know of an opening, we bring people we know to the forefront.

``Thirdly, we have to be supportive of each other -- encouraging of others in it [the business of coaching and sports administration], being understanding of their problems, having that camaraderie that I see a lot in males but that I don't see as often in women.'' All of this will ``help more of us remain in the profession.''

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