Female Coach on a Man's Field


Almost 20 years ago I took my first head coaching position with a local youth soccer organization. I was just barely 25, knew nothing about coaching and even less about soccer, but the kids needed a coach so I stepped up to help. I’ve coached over 100 teams during my tenure. Most of the teams I coached were boy’s teams because I have three sons and one daughter, and she always played on her brother’s team. As a coach I witnessed and experienced so many forms discrimination and microaggressions, towards me, my teams, my players, and even my player's parents. Personally, I was discriminated against for being a woman, for being white, for not being an athlete, for my body type, and for my coaching style, I was also sexually harassed as well. My teams and players were also discriminated based on their ethnic background, the fact we had girls on boys’ teams, our age (as we often played up divisions), and where we were from. The team parents were discriminated against for their ethnicity, ability to speak English, and social status.

I always took the kids no one else wanted to work with, all the kids they said could not be coached, the trouble makers and built them into formable teams. One of the hardest things I ever witnessed was in my last couple of years of coaching. I had a team of 16 Hispanic boys, one Caucasian boy, and my daughter. The boys were playing in a seventh and eighth grade league and their ages ranged from 8-11 years old. This meant we were playing an age division or two up from where they should have been playing. I believe in setting the bar high for my players and the parents agreed. We were good, this team at the end of our fall season had won 5 games, tied 2 and lost one. They were so proud of themselves and so was their families. The parents asked me to take the team to an extra tournament at the end of the season and I decided they deserved a chance at some extra competition.

The tournament was held by a predominately Hispanic Club and most of the teams in attendance were predominately Hispanic just like ours. There were two very notable differences with our team compared to the others in the tournament, ours had a girl on the team, and our coach was a woman, and not only a woman but a white woman. Every other team had male coaches and most of them were Hispanic. I felt for my team as I could hear the other players and coaches making comments to them in Spanish on and off the field. Given that myself, my daughter, and even the Caucasian boy on the team spoke fluent Spanish we were all aware of what was being said. My team was hurt, heartbroken, and upset.

These boys came to play a game they loved, they came to show the other coaches from our own league they were worth coaching and instead they end up feeling beaten by something they could do nothing about, the color of their coach’s skin and the fact she was a woman. At half time of our first game we were down 4 to 0. After listening to the discriminating comments from the moment we arrived at check in, I told the boys they deserved to be in this tournament, that what mattered was not what they said to us, or about me, but what was in their hearts and how that translated on the field as they played the game they loved, for themselves, for their parents, and for their coach who loved everyone of them. They had to decide to be the difference and not let the color of my skin or the fact I had to sit down to pee be the reason the other teams would get in their heads, hurt them, and take away what was theirs to have. I told them that they had the power to change the soundtrack and walk away from the hate by doing what they did best, playing from their hearts.

The team returned to the field in the second half and honestly, I didn’t know what to expect. Especially after the other team put a fifth goal up almost immediately. Then something shifted, the feel on the field seemed to get lighter as the team stopped responding, and maybe even stopped listening to the other team and put in their first goal. In short order they put up another four tying the game up with only a few minutes to spare. The intensity on the field almost erupted when my team scored just as the final whistle blew. I almost cried over how proud I was and how sad at the same time. The team took that same intensity into the rest of their games and managed to win the tournament. Unfortunately, two of my fathers were ejected from the fields for getting into altercations with other parents defending me as the coach, only further illustrating how deep the beliefs ran about females coaching, and it being a white female coaching a Hispanic team.

I had never really experienced discrimination like that before in regards to my race, I had definitely experienced it due to my sex however as I have always pushed past gender barriers to prove anyone can do it regardless of girl, boy, or other. With sports being so male-dominated it discriminates against women thereby preventing a woman’s advancement to high level positions (Surujlal, 2015).

Currently, women represent 42.6% of the head coaches in women’s sports while men represent 57.4% of the head coaches in women’s sports. In contrast, women represent less than 3% of the head coaches in men’s sports. This creates a double standard in which men are afforded greater coaching opportunities in both men’s and women’s sports.

Conversely, coaching opportunities for women are limited in women’s sports and are mostly absent in men’s sports (Walker 2018). Even in woman’s sports, women do not represent the majority of the coaches due to the long-term domination of athletic coaching being a male profession. This has made it difficult for myself and other volunteer female coaches to be taken seriously on the field. When it comes to traditional Hispanic male-female roles they are very patriarchal. The husband is the breadwinner and the wife is the homemaker, she is expected to defer all decision making to her husband as well (Galanti, 2003). These kids, overlooked and discarded by other coaches, were just ecstatic to be playing. Their parents took a little wining over, I gained trust through our teams record and respect from my years in the league and reputation. But the teams, coaches, and parents at the tournament had no idea who I was, or why I was there. By their understanding and experience I did not belong. My team and my coaching proved otherwise.


References:

Galanti, G. (2003). The Hispanic Family and Male-Female Relationships: An Overview.

Journal of Transcultural Nursing, 14(3), 180–185.

https://doi.org/10.1177/1043659603014003004

Surujlal, V. (2015). The glass ceiling in sport coaching: perceived challenges of female

coaches: sport management and governance. African Journal for Physical

Health Education, Recreation, and Dance, 21, 80–94.

Walker, B. (2018). The underrepresentation of women in the male-dominated sport

workplace: perspectives of female coaches. Journal of Workplace Rights: JWR,

15(1), 47.

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