Are we better off with fewer female coaches?

OK, I know the title of this post is controversial in it’s very composition. Before you jump all over me for suggesting such a thing, let me explain where the thought came from. I’m not actually making a statement of opinion, just presenting something to ponder.

Here’s the background.

We’re once again in the middle of the annual coaching merry-go-round with respect to US college coaching jobs. Inevitably, that brings with it another round of discussions as to the relatively low proportion of females coaches there are in a primarily female sport (I’m not calling volleyball a “girls'” sport, just talking based on the participation numbers – at least in the States). On the forums you can easily find arguments about whether athletic departments are and/or should be favoring female coaching candidates over males who are perceived to be more experienced or better credentialed.

As long as I’ve been involved in coaching there has been a running question, debate, exchange, etc. about how to attract and retain more women in coaching. I’ve written about it before.

In recently reading yet another forum thread on the subject I found myself pondering the thought, “Are we actually better off with women not staying in coaching?”

I am, of course, not making anything like the statement, “A woman’s place is in the home”. I am also not in the least suggesting that women are inferior to men as coaches. A married professional coach I know frequently comments that he is only the second best coach in his household. 🙂

I am also not suggesting that the sport of volleyball is better having fewer female coaches. Personally, I think the best situation for any coaching staff is to have both genders included. Such staffs incorporate a wider set of perspectives than single-gender ones, which is a good thing.

Instead, the question that went through my mind was whether society as a whole was better if women take what they learn from being athletes (since we’re talking mainly of former players here), and potentially early-career coaches, and putting them to use in non-coaching roles. We’re talking about skills like teamwork, leadership, and the like which can be effectively applied in a broad array of positions and activities. That’s one of the reasons we encourage participation in sports, right?

So as a society, are we better having women put those skills to use in non-coaching positions? Certainly, there will be many who argue that by comparison sports is a trivial, frivolous endeavor – that people should focus on more worthwhile things with their time and talents, especially from a career perspective.

Of course this presumes there is more value in having more women in non-sports roles than is the case for men. I’ll leave that discussion for others to argue.

And then there’s the question of who is leading the way in terms of helping these women develop through the process of being athletes and early-career coaches. Is the gender of those in those roles consequential?

On a related note, I sometimes see the suggestion that players prefer coaches of a certain gender. I’d love to see an actual study done that is able to factor out preconceived notions of leadership characteristics.

Anyway, feel free to discuss and debate among yourselves. 🙂

John Forman
About the Author: John Forman
John currently coaches for an NCAA Division II women's team. This follows a stint as head coach for a women's professional team in Sweden. Prior to that he was the head coach for the University of Exeter Volleyball Club BUCS teams (roughly the UK version of the NCAA) while working toward a PhD. He previously coached in Division I of NCAA Women's Volleyball in the US, with additional experience at the Juniors club level, both coaching and managing, among numerous other volleyball adventures. Learn more on his bio page.

Please share your own ideas and opinions.