Why so few women coaching volleyball?

For as long as I’ve been involved in US collegiate coaching there have been discussions and articles and commentary on the subject of attracting and retaining female coaches. This is particularly the case at the college level. A December 2013 article from Volleyball Magazine is an example of the debate/dialog. There was a related session at the 2013 AVCA Convention I attended as well, and no doubt others.

While I visited German professional volleyball teams in 2014 the subject came to mind. I thought about the composition of the coaching staff of the women’s teams I saw. There were no female coaches on any of the staffs. In fact, when I was with the SC Potsdam women there was a day when it was something like eight men in the gym between coaches, trainer, manager, etc. standing opposite 12 players. That struck me as borderline comical. I think one player made a similar observation to one of her teammates.

With that in mind, I asked a coach if he knew of any female professional coaches in Europe. He could think of no more than a handful across all the men’s and women’s teams. When I asked him what he thought the reason for that was he replied with something to the effect of, “Women are smarter than men”.

That’s obviously a fairly tongue-in-cheek response. It’s the start of a reasonable thought process, though. The main thrust is coaching can be all-consuming. I can attest to this myself. I might have finished my PhD quicker if it not for coaching volleyball.

OK, maybe not. You get my point, though.

As my supervisor could attest, coaching became a major distraction. I find that volleyball always worms its way to the forefront of my mind. This is especially true during the season. And I was not even coaching professionally or in an everyday coaching situation. Certainly it was not like coaching pro volleyball or in the US college game.

This all-encompassing aspect of coaching at the higher levels is something I know gives prospective female volleyball coaches pause. I have a friend from my youth who played NCAA Division I. She earned All-American honors and later played on the beach tour. She coached at our high school for a couple of seasons. That was as far as she would take it, however. She told me that after seeing the amount of time and travel and all that her own college coach put in she wanted nothing to do with it.

Then there’s the family element.

The head coach who hired me as assistant at Midwestern State resigned after my second season there (her third). She’d had a baby 9-10 month earlier. The father had been at another school in Texas as a basketball coach, but moved on to a school in California near the start of our season. She decided over the holiday break that she didn’t want to wait any longer to have the family together (she was thinking to give it one more season). She was not going into a new coaching job, though thought she might look for a high school or junior college position eventually. This is an example of how quickly one’s priorities can change.

As a upper level coach, volleyball can easily become your life. If someone doesn’t want that, they either have to coach at a less intensive level or not coach at all. This is what the coach I asked above about why women don’t, because they are smarter than men.

What do you think?

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.

One comment

  1. Kelly Daniels says:

    Having all female assistant coaches throughout my coaching career, this conversation has consistently come up. I would think they have the best consensus to address this issue. From my understand females are the matriarch of families. The rigorous responsibility of upper level coaching tend to conflict with values of family responsibilities. There are those who have families and can coach at the top level. Looking at the NCAA DI Top 25 there are 3 female head coaches. Sure that is a low percent, but to me it means it can be done. I personally believe values and priorities of the individual determines what one want to accomplish.

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