Are there differences between coaching men and women?

UI field hockey firing caused some to wonder if there's a double standard

Then-UI field hockey head coach Tracey Griesbaum shouts instructions during a game against Stanford in this Sept. 15, 20
Then-UI field hockey head coach Tracey Griesbaum shouts instructions during a game against Stanford in this Sept. 15, 2013, photo. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette-KCRG-TV9 TV9)

IOWA CITY — We’ve been told men are from Mars and women are from Venus, but when it comes to college sports, both genders want to win.

There’s debate, though, about whether female student-athletes differ from their male counterparts and if male coaches are allowed to get away with more aggressive behavior toward players.

“When women act like a coach — when they’re loud, assertive and authoritative — they get sanctioned and called out because that’s not what it looks like to ‘act like a woman,’” said Nicole LaVoi, associate director of the University of Minnesota Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport.

University of Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta fired Head Field Hockey Coach Tracey Griesbaum Aug. 4 after several student athletes complained Griesbaum had been verbally abusive and pressured them to compete while injured.

Mistreatment reported by some student athletes includes Griesbaum allegedly calling a student athlete stupid; telling a student athlete, “If I were you, I would kill myself”; having a student athlete practice alone; and allowing “call out” meetings that hurt team morale, according to a five-page summary of a UI investigation that preceded Griesbaum’s firing.

Griesbaum has denied these accusations and other student athletes could not substantiate them to investigators. Hundreds of former players and coaches have written letters to the UI and posted messages online in support of Griesbaum, describing her coaching style as tough but fair.

“If what she did was abuse, then all the men should be fired,” said Tom Newkirk, Griesbaum’s attorney.

Team cohesion important

Several coaches told The Gazette there’s a difference between coaching men and women.

“Girls at that age are more willing to share, willing to learn,” said Tom Keating, Xavier High School principal who coached girls’ volleyball for Dubuque Wahlert for 24 years. “There’s a little more buy-in to the concept of connecting as a team.”

Andrea Wieland, a UI field hockey player from 1987-1992 and a 1996 Olympian, said female student athletes can see value in competition beyond a win-loss record.

“Women can have a great nonwinning season if the friendships are great,” she said. But “some female athletes can get distracted and almost destroy the team if the chemistry is off.”

Shelly Morris, who has been a head women’s field hockey for 15 years — first at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, and now at Stonehill College in North Easton, Mass. — has learned to weigh her words. Rather than shouting at players, she’ll let team captains talk with their peers.

Morris uses game videotapes to let student athletes see for themselves how they might improve.

“I’m trying to be creative to keep them accountable,” she said.

Weight and fitness

Whereas Iowa State University basketball player Georges Niang posted before and after photos of his 25-pound weight loss last summer, many female student athletes are more self-conscious about their weight, coaches said.

“You have to be extremely sensitive,” Morris said. “Use the word ‘fitter’ and they think ‘they think I’m fat.’”

ISU Head Softball Coach Stacy Gemeinhardt-Cesler leaves trainers and nutritionists to help players work on weight goals, such as eating more or less to improve performance.

“As a coach, I don’t know what their numbers are,” she said. “I want people to be a healthy weight and be the best player they can be.”

Millennials — people born roughly between 1980 and 1995 — have a different outlook when it comes to playing college sports, coaches said. Many millennials aren’t used to criticism and are quick to involve parents in team conflicts.

Sarah Pedrick, 23, is a millennial, but doesn’t understand some of her generation’s quirks. She learned strict discipline while playing for Griesbaum from 2009-2013.

When the team did sprints, players’ feet were behind the starting line, not on the line, Pedrick said. Field hockey players knew that to be on time — Tracey Time — was to be five minutes early.

Pedrick enforces many of the same rules at William Penn High School in New Castle, Del., where she is now head field hockey coach.

“I’ll find myself saying something and laugh because I realize Tracey said that to me so many times,” Pedrick said.

Abuse not effective

Take one look at the video of former Rutgers University Men’s Basketball Coach Mike Rice hurling basketballs and screaming epithets at his players from 2010-2012, and you know that is abusive behavior. Rice initially was suspended for three games and fined, but when the video went public, he was fired.

Athletic Director Tim Pernetti resigned under pressure.

While at least one former Rutgers basketball player has sued the school over Rice’s treatment of student athletes, others told ESPN they had no problem with the coaching techniques.

“No, I’m not personally offended by it,” Tyree Graham told in April 2013. “I was brought up like that. Coming from Durham, N.C., you have to have that chip on your shoulder. If you don’t, you’re not going anywhere.

“I backed what Coach Rice did, for the most part.”

Boys are often socialized to hide weakness or fear, said Keating, who has three sons. But while boys might not complain about harsh treatment from a coach, they aren’t likely to play better because of it.

“When you get upset about a mistake and yell, what are you accomplishing?” Keating said.

Women lose coaching jobs

Gender bias, whether intentional or not, is one factor at play in the hiring of coaches, the University of Minnesota’s LaVoi said.

The percentage of women coaching women’s sports declined from 90 percent in 1972 to 40 percent in 2013, according to a longitudinal study by Vivian Acosta and Linda Carpenter.

The Tucker Center and the Alliance of Women Coaches gave letter grades to 76 Division 1 institutions for the share of female head coaches coaching women’s sports. More than half the schools received Ds or Fs for having less than 40 percent of women’s sports coached by women in 2013-2014. The UI got a C grade with 53.8 percent, while ISU got a D with only 36.4 percent.

LaVoi and her colleagues recommend universities interview at least one woman for each head coaching position for a women’s sport. A similar rule for minorities in the NFL has resulted in more minority coaches, the study reports.

When LaVoi’s team started giving letter grades to institutions, athletic directors — most of whom are men — started calling her.

“They’re starting to pay attention to this,” she said. “We need diversity in the workplace, and it would be nice to have a majority of younger women coached by women.”

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