From soccer field to shining hockey arena – and every homespun and professional-grade sports venue in between – more young women flock to sports now than at any other time in history. Even though hopeful trends suggest that global viewers are starting to engage more in women’s sports (according to a 2018 Nielsen study), women’s teams garner less financial support than men’s teams – and female athletes tend to earn less than their male counterparts.
But there’s another glaring problem staring down the sports industry. Despite the explosion of women participating in athletics today, a shockingly small percentage of them are coached by women.
Prior to the passage of Title IX in 1972, women coached 90 percent of women’s teams. By 1978, the deadline for Title IX to go into effect, the number of women’s teams at the collegiate level had almost doubled, from 2.5 teams per school to 5.6. A logical trail might lead you to believe that the swell in women’s teams would have created ample opportunity for female coaches – but in those six years, the number of female athletes coached by women plummeted to 58 percent. Follow another path and you might assume that women must certainly fare better today. Once again, you’d be wrong.
In 2019, a mere 40 percent of female athletes are coached by women, a number that has remained stagnant for the last decade.
After Title IX, which prevents discrimination based on sex to anyone who wants to participate in a federally funded education program or service, more money flooded into women’s sports. The added financial boon spurred the development of scholarships for female athletes, and the increased status of women’s athletics led to the development of national collegiate championships. With more money and prestige, more men lobbied to coach women’s teams, resulting in fewer coaching appointments for women.
Twin Cities PBS partnered with the University of Minnesota’s Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport to explore the organization’s research on this issue and the barriers women face on a career path to coaching. So we interviewed eight women coaches to dispel false narratives, discover some solutions and highlight why it matters to have women coaching.
Jill Ellis, Head Coach, U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team
In 2015, Jill Ellis coached the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team to victory in the World Cup Championships – and as she looks ahead to the next World Cup, she says that she loves “the hook of the unknown because the game has to play out.” But she admits that it’s critical for young players to have a support system to help them juggle the demands of sport and life. Pointing to Germany, a country with a female chancellor and a long history of having women coach women in soccer, she says that we still have strides to make to see women in leadership roles as “part of the norm.”
Faith Johnson Patterson, Head Coach, Girls’ Basketball
Minnesota Hall of Fame Basketball Coach Faith Johnson Patterson relishes the opportunity to witness girls make their first baskets and experience their first rush of competitive fuel. As she reflects on her experiences coaching girls’ basketball teams, she exclaims how extraordinary it is to watch a group of young women “come together at the right time to perform out of their minds.” The first African-American woman to coach in a state tournament and the only one to win one, she’s coached 24 athletes to Division 1 scholarships. But she says that sports help foster young women’s confidence, their toughness and their belief that they can do anything.
Beth Wilmeth, Head Coach, Women’s Volleyball at University of Northwestern
Beth Wilmeth may have initially launched her coaching career to extend her experience as a collegiate athlete – but her leadership has resulted in a slew of impressive accolades for the Eagles women’s volleyball team at University of Northwestern. More importantly, her focus on principles over winning helped the team win the NCAA National Sportsmanship Award in 2010. While she values the mentorship she received from male role models in her career as both an athlete and a coach, she is actively involved in promoting opportunities for men to learn from female leaders.
Kari Maijala Ornes, Director of Coaching, Prior Lake Soccer Club & Leslie Oskey, Assistant Women’s Soccer Coach, Augsburg University
“I think one of the biggest things that sports can offer a female is an area in which they can grow in the leadership realm,” says Kari Maijala Ornes, Director of Coaching at Prior Lake Soccer Club. Both Maijala Ornes and Leslie Oskey, Assistant Women’s Soccer Coach at Augsburg University emphasize the leadership skills young women gain when they devote their time to athletic pursuits. And there’s ample research that backs up the relationship between sports involvement and leadership: According to “Making the Connection Between Women, Sport, and Leadership” released by EY Women Athletes Business Network and espnW, 74 percent of women executives surveyed say that a sports background can help accelerate a woman’s leadership and career potential. Having positive female coaches as leaders and role models allows young girls to say, “If I can see her, I can be her.”
Julie Lundquist, Assistant Women’s Soccer Coach, University of St. Thomas
If there’s one universal truth about sports it’s that no one ever wins all the time – and the process of making mistakes offers young women the opportunity to try different tactics and stay the course, according to University of St. Thomas Assistant Women’s Soccer Coach Julie Lundquist. After a stint at a Fortune 500 company, Lundquist says that “coaching chose her,” and she now plays a crucial role in helping female athletes chase their dreams without being defined by their gender.
Colette Montgomery, Director of Coaching, Edina Soccer Club
Digging for creative solutions to grapple with a difficult teammate or a tricky situation on the soccer field teaches young women to approach similar situations off the field with tolerance and tenacity, says Colette Montgomery, Director of Coaching for Edina Soccer Club. In addition, female athletes learn how to identify their particular talents and to then lean on others for assistance in other areas, building a greater sense of community along the way. Sports offers a safe space for young women to fail, pick themselves back up and to develop the skills it takes to succeed in the future.
Leah Dasovich, Head Coach, Girls’ Basketball, Minnetonka High School
When Minnetonka High School’s Leah Dasovich succeeded a man as Head Coach of Girls’ Basketball, she faced a lot of doubts about her strength to lead, particularly from the fathers of players. As a result, one of her primary goals in working with female athletes is to instill in them the confidence to walk into a room and express their ideas without second-guessing themselves. In high school and college, Dasovich worked only with women coaches who showed her that it was possible to professionally pursue her own love of athletics. She also challenges the notion that women have to choose between work, their passions and family – and instead coaches her players to consider how they can achieve balance in their lives from a young age.
As part of our partnership with the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport, we’ve also featured Minnesota Lynx Head Coach and General Manager Cheryl Reeve.
Watch the full-length documentary Game On: Women Can Coach.