9 actions to take to support women who coach

written by Erica Quam

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On the eve of what may be one of the largest gatherings of women ever marching in Washington DC, in more than 300 cities across the US, and at least 57 countries - I find it only fitting to get really intentional on what actions can be taken after the march to help more women step up as leaders.

Sometimes it can be hard to know what you specifically can do - within your own sphere of influence - to make a difference in this crazy world of ours. I can tell you one thing for sure...if you're a coach...you can make a huge difference everyday. 

No matter what your race, religion, or politics are...women who coach are facing a paradox in the world of athletics today: The number of girls playing sports is at an all-time high. Yet the number of women who coach collegiately has declined from over 90% in 1974 down to 40% today. Here's the link to the research to prove it done by the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport in collaboration with the Alliance of Women Coaches.

What typically happens when the issue of decline is brought up? If you read the comments under the headline stories written about the decline of women in collegiate coaching, you'll read a lot of denial, dismissal, and plenty of lame excuses. That's our world today. We live in a society where anyone can anonymously splatter judgements and untruths...without any accountability. Rarely do people mention any solutions. Instead, there are comments like: "men are just better coaches." You may even see, "women actually prefer to be coached by men." Or, "if you want to hire someone who will win, you're gonna hire a man." I'm not exaggerating! Rather than go point-counterpoint with the chat-boards I'm putting my energy elsewhere. I'm taking action!

I believe now is the time for women who coach to stand together and make our voices heard. We need to work even harder to support and connect with one another. We need to advocate and promote one another. We need women in coaching to make a positive impact on the lives of the young women and men they coach - so they can go out into the world and also make a difference.

Nothing will change if we do nothing to change it. The small steps we each take can make a big difference! Here's how:

First, Focus on the INCREASE: in awareness, interest, & numbers

An INCREASE in awareness is the first step in any challenge. The fact is, the number of girls participating in sports is increasing. The number of women in coaching - especially at the highest levels - is decreasing. This needs to be part of our conversation.

ACTION 1: Keep talking about the decline!

Talk about it with friends, family, and peers. Let your athletes know about it. Find out what your institution is doing about it. (Oh, and be sure to look at the report cards to see where your school stands!)

INCREASE the interest in coaching at the grass root level. Ask as many moms to help coach little league as dads. Girls who have women coaches as role models at a younger age will value what they see. When they see it and value it, maybe they will start to believe it as an option for them too.

ACTION 2: Keep asking more women to coach!

INCREASE the number of girls who coach. Encourage the athletes you work with - who you think would be a good coach - to look at coaching opportunities with summer league, youth league, & sports camps. Tell them you see a talent in them and encourage them to use it. 

ACTION 3: Keep telling your female athletes they would be a great coach!

Next, Women who coach can reach out more

ACTION 4: REACH OUT to more experienced coaches. Ask if you can buy them coffee and learn some of their best practices. Utilize their knowledge and don’t reinvent the wheel. You just may learn that they've gone through similar struggles as you.

ACTION 5: REACH OUT for support when challenges come up. Don’t think you have to have all of the answers and all of the solutions and do this all by yourself. Asking for help when you need it is a strength. Women sometimes compare other people’s outsides to their insides. Most people look strong on the outside. On the inside, everyone has struggled and have been there themselves.

ACTION 6: REACH OUT to other women when a coaching job opens up. Reach out to the qualified women you know and encourage them to apply. Then follow up and recommend them for the job: actually make a call on their behalf. (Pssst...this is what guys do!) If you are applying for a job, let other people know and have them call on your behalf!  

Finally, Women who coach need to INVITE IN

We know that women make unique and critical contributions. They often see problems that others overlook. They are able to reach populations that others either cannot reach or do not care to. And even when it seems that no opportunity exists, they still find a way.
— Hillary Clinton in Vital Voices

ACTION 7: INVITE a younger coach to coffee and ask them how they're doing. Find out the challenges they may be going through, what questions they have, and see if you can help - be a support, be a resource, be a connector.

ACTION 8: INVITE other women coaches to gather and share ideas. Women are natural relationship builders. But they don't always initiate - for many reasons. People are busy, they have their own challenges going on, who am I to organize anything? When women can connect, collaborate, & create community (even online or over the phone) amazing things will happen. Any time and effort spent to get a group together - large or small - is well worth it. 

ACTION 9: INVITE IN opportunities to learn, grow, & get the support that you need. A lot of women coaches leave the profession early because of burnout. There are steps coaches can take - when they begin to see signs of burnout. Seek out learning opportunities for yourself, work with a coach, and build up your support network.

Do you have a comment you'd like to share or a question you'd like to ask? What will YOU do? Share your action in the comments below.