Prep Sports

A pitch to get more women in youth sports coaching

Justis column: All levels lacking, but moms can make great coaches

Women coaches are rare in all levels of sport, even among youth teams. But mothers, research shows, have the necessary s
Women coaches are rare in all levels of sport, even among youth teams. But mothers, research shows, have the necessary skills to be good coaches. In this 2001 photo, former Cedar Rapids Washington prep and Iowa State standout Stacy Frese fires up a group of campers. (The Gazette)

The past five years I have entered a new phase of my lifelong love of sports.

I am no longer a competitor myself. I no longer work full-time in the world of sports, but I have stayed involved through my writings and efforts in making sports fun for our youth.

I have watched my grandsons play a multitude of competitive sports.

While looking across the gymnasiums and fields of play, I have noticed one thing — coaching, whether boys’ sports or girls’ sports, still is dominated by male coaches.

I get it. The career I chose was dominated by the male gender. Females already have a lot on their plate, from performing primary child-raising duties, taking care of the household, serving as chauffeur to a multitude of appointments, while also most likely working a full-time job outside of the home.

But men in the family also are busy, but they find the time to coach the kids, whether it be sons or daughters.

The Canadian Journal for Women in Coaching, often in step with the objectives of the Women in Coaching Program of the Coaching Association of Canada, often focuses on the many challenges facing women who choose coaching as their profession, particularly for those in high performance sport. The additional challenges posed for women coaches who are mothers have been documented.

In February of 2015, Sport & Society, a program of the Aspen Institute, released the Project Play report, designed to give all youth the opportunity to become active through sports. One strategy noted is to train coaches on how to work with “youngsters in a developmentally appropriate way.”

Many youth coaches are volunteers and are parents. Parents learn by trial and error that children develop differently and “meeting a child where she/he is at developmentally is important for health, growth and maturation.” Unfortunately, a developmental approach to coaching that seems logical in a parenting context is not the norm.

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The Journal notes 80 to 85 percent of volunteer youth sport coaches are male. The lack of gender balance sends the wrong message to children and youth about power, gender and leadership, and reinforces the idea that sport is male-dominated, male-run and male-centered.

“Mother-athletes have a vast amount of sport and child-centered knowledge that can be transferrable, yet many mothers fail to think about their skill set as applicable to coaching or fail to perceive themselves fit to coach,” the Journal noted. “... Such skills, which are arguably required of every mother, such as planning, management, communication, organization, teaching, scheduling and interpersonal and relational expertise are all aspects of parenting that easily transfer to coaching.”

The positives related by the mother-coaches in this particular research include coaching overwhelmingly enriched their lives as it facilitated positive family interactions and relationship building and quality time with their children, enhanced their ability to know their child’s friends and provided a place to teach life skills and lessons.

So how do we get more mothers involved in coaching youth sports? The Journal lists numerous strategies:

— Ask and invite women to coach. People are four times more likely to volunteer if they are asked. Nine-out-of-10 times it’s the father who steps up. Invite and involve mothers into coaching when their kids are young.

— Include mentorship. Create a buddy system and pair up new coaches with a more experienced female mentor or group of mentors. Start as an assistant or team volunteer to get the hand of it and to learn.

— Include a co-coaching option. This allows a flexible arrangement that allows for juggling multiple roles — more of a shared responsibility.

— Offer women-only coaching clinics. Get women to run the clinics, decreasing intimidation and insecurities.

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— Appeal to altruism. Coaching is a meaningful way to give back to your child, family and community.

— Point out the possibility for a better relationship with your child. Sports provide a different context to get to know and understand your child.

— Create awareness about personal benefits. Many mothers felt good about their impact and relationship with their child, but felt coaching also helped them grow and benefit.

— Make apparent mother skills translate. Skills needed to successfully parent are very similar to coaching skills.

— Impart the impact of being a role model. Many mothers felt strongly about being a positive role model for their, and other, children.

Nancy Justis is a former competitive swimmer and college sports information director. She is a partner with Outlier Creative Communications. Let her know what you think at njustis@cfu.net

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