How female coaches become isolated

written by Erica Quam

I was on a coaching call recently with a head  soccer coach who was in her third season at a new school. Things were "going well" for her and her team.

"I'm starting to hit my stride," she said proudly.

"My athletes are working hard, the captains haven't report any complaints...things are rolling along."

Her biggest challenge was feeling disconnected from coaches within her athletic department...especially from other female coaches. She had made a few attempts to get to know them and just felt shut down. She didn't know what else to try.

In her experience, there was no camaraderie, collaboration, or even small talk amongst the women in the department. She was really wanting more.

This coach's experience isn't unique. I'm curious if you can relate?

Have you ever wished you had more female coaches around who you could talk with and relate to...especially when challenges come up?

A FEW OBSTACLES (AND QUESTIONS) TO CONSIDER

When I've asked, female coaches have shared with me the hurdles they feel keep them from having more meaningful connections with other women who coach.

I'd be curious to hear about your experience!

1. I'm too busy.

All coaches are busy. Female coaches often spend more time than male coaches on the same staff dealing with the relationship side of teams. Some athletes tend to feel more comfortable talking to women. Plus...women who are the primary caretaker of their families have even more on their plate. 

Yet are there times when you've used busy as an excuse to avoid connection? 

I've had female coaches tell me that's exactly what they've done. Rather than reach out and initiate a relationship, or call someone to ask for help or support...it's seemed easier to stay busy.

What small action step could you take to create more of a community of support for yourself? 

2. I'm competitive.

Competition is the culture of collegiate athletics. Coaches compete for:

  • more money and resources from your athletic department
  • better facilities
  • higher salaries, better contracts, and bonuses
  • more attention from your athletic administrators 
  • more recognition from the media
  • the best recruits
  • the highest team gpa

This list could go on and on. (What did I miss?)

Does competition ever get in the way of you forming relationships with other coaches in your department? 

You may not even been aware of this. The coaches I talked to weren't.

Yet, when I asked them directly about competition getting in the way of forming relationships many admitted there was an element of jealousy that existed.

"It's hard not to compare yourself to coaches in your department who have higher salaries, more resources, bigger budgets...and seem to get everything they ask for from their AD."  

Do coaches who have "more" have fewer challenges? Not always.

Acknowledging jealousy or the tendency to compare may open the door to a different perspective and a valuable new relationship.

Can you find a good time to invite another coach to coffee? Share one thing you've noticed and appreciate about watching them coach their team.

3. I'm afraid.

Coaches have told me they are scared to open up and share what's really going on for them. They have said they don't know who to trust and they're worried that if they share their challenges they'll be seen as weak, incompetent, or not good enough to handle things. 

Have you ever felt like this? 

It is important to find people who you can trust. Coaches have told me when they have one or two go-to people they can reach out to it's made a huge difference for them.


TIMEOUT...FOR A QUICK LOOK AT GENDER:

Did you know there are differences between men and women at the neurological level? Women and men actually use language differently. It's been observed in children as young as three years of age - as kids begin to talk (Tanen).

"Girls speak more indirectly and use more words. Boys speak more directly, use fewer words and more actions. Girls like to be liked, tend to make requests, and create harmony. Boys like to boast and tend to make demands."

Male - Female Communication Characteristics

READ WITH CAUTION: Your experience may be different.

  1. Men focus on power/rank/status. Women focus on relationships.
  2. Men talk to give and report information. Women talk to collect information and gain rapport.
  3. Men talk about things. Women talk about people or relationships.
  4. Men focus on facts, reason, and logic. Women focus on feelings, senses, and meaning.
  5. Men thrive on competing and achieving. Women thrive on harmony and relating.
  6. Men "know" by analyzing and figuring out. Women "know" by intuiting.
  7. Men tend to be more assertive. Women tend to be more cooperative.
  8. Men want to think. Women want to feel.

(Moir, Jessel)

Do any of these surprise you?

If you've grown up in a competitive culture that's male dominated you may not relate to these generalizations at all. And yet, aren't some of these worth noting?


HOW TO GET CONNECTED

Okay, so stay with me...

What happens to women who don't have outlets to talk about difficult relationships, to get strategies about building rapport, and to talk about what they are feeling with someone they really trust?

What happens to women when they are the ONLY female around other male coaches?

What happens if they AREN'T reaching out to other female coaches?

Then, I think there's a pretty good chance they feel isolated and misunderstood - at least during the more stressful times of the season.

Women who coach do need relationships where you feel connected, validated, and supported. Even if you consider yourself a loner. Even if you're an introvert. Even if you'd rather just hang out with the guys. Even if you don't think you need this.

There's as much value in listening to other female coaches as there is sharing what's going on for you.

Here's why...

You can sometimes hear yourself within another coach's story. Someone may describe a challenge you haven't yet named or articulated.  

I've seen a lot of female coaches leave the profession. Not because they weren't talented, working hard enough, or doing a good job.

These women were lonely. When the big challenges came up for them...they weren't connected enough. They didn't have enough validation for the hard things they had to manage and deal with. They didn't get the support when they really needed it. And as a result, they lost hope that things could be different or better.

So, come to a women's coaching summit. Join the Alliance of Women's Coaches. Go to the Women's Coaches Academy. Connect with other coaches within your athletic department. Go to your coaching convention and make it a point to introduce yourself to at least three women you don't know.

Make time and create more space in your life where you can reach out instead of hide out. Tell your head coach and/or administrator that these are the things you want and need. Make THIS a non-negotiable. The more of these things you can do the better you'll set yourself up for a long and fulfilling coaching career!

SHOULDN'T MEN BE INCLUDED IN THESE CONVERSATIONS?

Yes, of course! This isn't about excluding men.

Many women need to do a little work on their own to figure out what they need first...so they can communicate that to men. (If YOU don't know what you need...how on earth do you think a guy is gonna figure that out???)

I think it's healthy for women to gather with other women - without having to adjust or adapt for guys. Most women are more comfortable talking about their challenges in an environment where they can be open and feel supported. Women need the time and space to do some healthy venting about the challenges they face and be able to come up with solutions together.

Then, yes - I think it's important to bring men into this conversation - to educate the boys and men in your life about your differences and teach them what you need. 

Our world needs this now more than ever!

Want to come to a women's coaching summit and connect with other women who coach? Awesome! I'd love to have you join me in Bellingham, Washington this June!

Click here or contact me for more info. It will be the best thing you do for your coaching career.


References: 

  1. You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation by Deborah Tanen
  2. Brain Sex: The Real Difference Between Women and Men by Anne Moir and David Jessel