I woke up this morning to Facebook notification – a former player of mine when I coached at Yale a few years ago, Adele Jackson-Gibson, had tagged me in an article she had written about Title IX, female coaches and female role models in a fantastic women’s sports publication I’ve been following as of late, called Excelle Sports. This is the article: Click Here
In my half groggy state I started reading the article and saw my name in the first couple of lines which piqued my curiosity. A few lines later, I read the best part of the article. She referred to a time as a player that she looked up towards me, her coach and thought I was cool, because I had what she referred to as “soccer swagger”- for wearing a toque and low riding sweatpants in cold weather. For someone whose soccer style hasn’t really evolved past an iconic childhood photo holding a ball with my shorts hiked up to my armpits, this truly was a touching label to give me and one that I will show every person that continues to make fun of my lack of style on the soccer field.
Ok so I’m kidding; the public announcement of my soccer swagger wasn’t the best part of the article (although a very important part), but she did hit a sensitive topic: the low numbers of females in coaching and touching on hypothesis’ of why that is.
That being said, I got a couple of messages from male friends that are coaches that disagreed with the article and the concept that women should get more opportunities for coaching positions. In particular, one pointed out, the article left out an important point when it was quoting head coach percentages based on gender; there are many schools that mandate a female on staff in an assistant coach position. It is these AC positions that lead to sought after head coach positions. He mentioned that many female players straight out of college expect paid assistant positions without grinding in volunteer positions first, which is frustrating for some male coaches that have to slowly work and earn their way up the ladder. All very valid points.
After exchanging a couple of texts on the subject before I headed out for a swim in choppy waters, while dodging salty waves, I had a good think about the topic.
Here are a few of my random thoughts on the topic while I tried to swim, dodge some waves and stay afloat (an ugly watch)….
Random Thought Number One: I hate any kind of program that hands people opportunity on anything other than merit. I say this because I think it immediately makes people dismiss the ability of these people and chalk up any accomplishment they have to something that they have gotten because of gender, race or whatever marker gave them the opportunity. If there is two people of equal ability, that is where I think if you want to give one an advantage over the other to up quota numbers in some way, then fine, but I think to hand people opportunity based on anything besides merit is damaging. It cheapens the accomplishments for those that truly earn it.
Give me a job because I’m the best candidate, not because I’m a woman or have brown hair, or have an Irish mother or have been identified in print as having soccer swagger (PSA: I’ll keep finding a way to sneak this fact in) or any other reason besides I am the best person for the job.
Random Thought Number Two: I think it needs to be recognized to those that don’t agree with a concerted effort to give women opportunities in coaching that females have far less opportunities then men in the coaching realm. While it is universally accepted and common for men to coach women, for some reason our society hasn’t evolved enough for it to be anything other than newspaper-headline-worthy, when women are coaching high level men. This limits incredibly the opportunity that is out there for women by essentially cutting out 50% of the market for us before we even start.
Random Thought Number Three: Environment matters in retaining females in coaching. I’ve taken coaching courses both in Canada and in Europe. From my experience in Canada, I felt I was treated differently and condescendingly at coaching licenses in Canada by the older male instructors as a young female, and because of this, I was put off taking anything past my Provincial B course which I did in my early 20’s. I have other female friends that I have spoken to who have had similar experiences and many have been put off coaching altogether.
On the other hand, once I got past being slightly intimidated in the fact that I was the only female in a UEFA B course with 40 men in Dublin Ireland in 2013, it was one of the best soccer experiences of my life. Not only did I feel treated as an equal by my peers, my instructors were incredible and most importantly, I was incredibly inspired at the end of the course to want to continue to grow and learn and take other coaching courses because of a supportive environment where I was treated based on my ability with no special consideration of my gender.
The environment that we exist in plays a role, and I think I speak for all women when I say that we just want to be judged based on our ability and treated with the respect of an equal.
Random Thought Number Four: I have a friend (in Canada) that told me that a mother recommended her to someone on the board of a club for a coaching position. She had a male coach in the same club, thinking that she had put her own name forward, say to her to watch her back because there was no way that he and other male coaches would be supportive of that when it could cost him his job because they would “obviously take her over them because she’s a woman.”
She had to tell him to relax, that she had a child and not the time, nor the desire to be a full time coach and didn’t know what job he was even talking about until the mother mentioned to her that she had approached the board a few days later.
That being said, the bully in the sandbox psychology goes far into adulthood and territorialism is rampant in many workplaces; women need to know and be strong in their value and know what they bring to the table. Bullies don’t tend to chase people that they know will stand up to them and that have the qualifications and confidence to back it up.
Random Thought Number Five: I think controversial articles like what Adele wrote are good for our evolvement as a soccer community. Anything that provokes conversation, information, new thoughts, and accountability are all productive and makes us as a community be better. The above are just my random thoughts as of now based on my own experiences, open at all times to evolve, grow and change.
I think as a final thought, all of us, male or female, just need to continue to strive to learn and be better on and off the field.
The game and the players win, the more people that have high level qualifications and experiences, and when players have coaches that show up every day with a mandate of excellence on their agenda regardless of gender.
I also think that every coach should realize the gift that they have to truly change people’s lives, even through the smallest of gestures (I am still blown away that something I thought was so small, giving Adele a book when I could see she was down about her ACL would be remembered and written about years later). Although Adele identified gender as playing a role, which perhaps it did in showing her what could be done as a player, I had many life changing coaches growing up who made an impact on me who were male, which I think is worth mentioning. Every coach regardless of their gender and the gender they are coaching should strive to see past the wins and losses and realize the gift and ability they have to impact lives every time they step on the field.
At the end of the day, in terms of getting opportunity, all of us, male and female should do what many of us tell our players: put your focus on what you can control and by just being so good and at such another level, that they have no choice but to pick you regardless of your gender.
Thanks to Adele for continuing an important conversation.