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barriers | Women in Coaching

barriers

Supports for Female Coaches: Part I

In past blogs I’ve written about the barriers female coaches at all levels face in pursuing, maintaining and thriving in their careers (read barriers Part I and Part II). It is important for women to know and understand the many barriers they face, so they don’t feel alone, isolated, or blame themselves when barriers arise. Knowledge of barriers can help women understand the system of marginalization many of them face, so they can develop strategies, coping and support systems to combat them.

 

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In my next series of blogs, I’m going to share evidence-based information about key things that help and support female coaches.

 

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The most common support female coaches cite is feeling they possess adequate knowledge and skills to perform their job. This knowledge is acquired through formal educational means, coaching work shops, mentorship or by experience. When female coaches believe they are competent, they also feel more confident and are more likely to stay in the profession. Every human being, regardless of gender, persists in things she feels competent to do and will avoid or quit something in which she feels incompetent.

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One study found that female coaches compared to male coaching peers were more likely to have earned an undergraduate degree or higher, and accrued elite level competitive experience…meaning they are highly competent and possess a high degree of educational and athletic capital. But women often to not perceive they possess adequate knowledge, when they do!

 

Female coaches also state that attending all-female coaching clinics run by an all-female staff is highly beneficial to helping them develop confidence, knowledge, and skills—not to mention it is a great opportunity to network and find support. The Alliance of Women Coaches is a great organization that helps support female coaches and eliminates many of the barriers that impede and limit women who coach.

Star Athletes

Photo courtesy of news.health.com

One of the very first things I learned as a coach was to cater a training plan to a specific athlete. For example, it wouldn’t make sense to use Allyson Felix’s workout regimen for my sprinter athletes. However, while Olympic athletes are more likely to train differently than Division III athletes, there are some specific tools that we can take directly from them.

 

In the New York Times Well Blog this week, Gina Kolata speaks to several star athletes to ask them what “vaults them from the middle of the pack to the podium.” Read along…I think you’ll find some useful strategies that translate easily to any athlete:

 

1.”STAY FOCUSED” – Natalie Coughlin (Olympic medalist in swimming) said that she used to daydream while swimming laps at practice. It wasn’t until she changed her thoughts to her technique that she actually saw improvement. Using my sport as an example, I used to get lost in my thoughts a lot while out for a run (and still do!) However, ever since I became a coach, I now think more about my form – where are my arms? how are my feet hitting the ground? are my hips under me? Not only has this helped my running overall, but I also think it has lessened my chances of injury.

 

2. “MANAGE YOUR ‘ENERGY PIE’” – “Energy pie? All the things that take time and energy — a job, hobbies, family, friends, and of course athletic training.” Steve Spence, a self-coached distance runner who competed in the marathon in the 1992 Olympics and now coaches at Shippensburg University, said “There is only so much room in the pie.” If your athletes are anything like mine, then this one might pose some challenges! I probably spend more of my time coaching athletes on time management than on our sport! However, it is time well spent and pertinent to those who juggle a demanding academic environment, a varsity sport, a job, etc. My mom once told me that “the stick doesn’t burn at both ends.” It is nearly impossible to put 100% effort into everything you want to do. Prioritize and focus on what’s most important.

 

3. “STRUCTURE YOUR TRAINING” – Meredith Kessler began racing Ironman triathlons at the same time “she was working 60 hours a week at a San Francisco investment bank and trying to spend time with her husband and friends.” While she eventually decided to quit her job to focus on training, some tactics she utilized while still at work included the structuring of her training, namely learning when it was appropriate to train endurance versus speed. Every workout should have a purpose (and one that you can explain to your athletes)!

 

4. “TAKE RISKS” – Helen Goodroad’s childhood dream was to become an Olympic figure skater. Then she grew to be 5’11″. “One day, when Helen was 17, a coach asked her to try a workout on an ergometer, a rowing machine. She was a natural — her power was phenomenal.” To make a long story short, Helen ended up taking a risk by leaving her figure skating dream behind. In return, she was recruited as a rower at Brown, was invited to train with the junior national team, and won a world championship with the under-23 national team. She spoke about “leaving her comfort zone” which my high school coach used to tell us all of the time and is something I will never forget (he even had a poster with his own depiction of breaking down “walls”).

 

5. “THE OTHER GUY IS HURTING TOO” -  Brian Sell raced the half marathon at the US championship in 2006. With two miles to go, there were two other runners by his side. His realization was: “Those other guys must be hurting as much as he was, or else they would not be staying with him — they would be pulling away.” So he made up his mind to stay with them no matter what. He won by 15 seconds (and went on to race the Olympic marathon in Beijing in 2008). This strategy works! I am a firm believer that a good chunk of one’s performance comes from the mind and heart, the two parts of one’s body that still fight even after everything else has given up. I can attest to this when I ran my 5K PR (personal record) last year. I had nothing left in my legs, and while it would have been much easier to stay at that pace where I felt comfortable, that’s not how races are won (or PRs are broken). I had to step out of my comfort zone.

 

Work Cited:

Kolata, G. (2013, January 14). Training Insights from Star Athletes. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/14/training-insights-from-star-athletes/?emc=eta1

Female Coaches & Referees

Over the course of the last year I have heard a number of accounts from female coaches about their experiences with (mostly male) referees. In short, female coaches in a variety of different sports, feel they are treated differently by referees.

For example, many female coaches have told me they say one thing such as, “Hey Ref, watch the hands” and get carded or given a technical foul, while their male counterpart down the sideline says the same thing and the Ref doesn’t even blink. One college soccer coach told me she swore about something on the field, not even about or to the Ref, and the sideline Ref turned around and told her that she was not being a good role model for her players…meanwhile the male coach of the other team is swearing a blue streak with no comment from the Ref.

Based on the experiences of female coaches I’ve spoke with, here is what I can summarize–In comparison to male colleague female coaches:

  •  get penalized harsher
  •  get penalized quicker
  •  get penalized for less
  •  get reprimanded or lectured to by referees
  •  are talked down to in a very condescending manner by referees
  •  are more often treated rudely by referees

Are these situations consistent with your experiences? Are there others I have missed? If so, I’d like to hear about it as I am beginning a new research project on this topic to bring awareness to this issue in order to create change.

KEY POINT:  what these female coaches are experiencing is good old fashioned sexism….one of the many barriers that female coaches face in the workplace (which I’ve written about previously here and here). I will be writing more about this topic in the future so stay tuned…but in the meantime, if you have a good example, send it to me at nmlavoi@umn.edu (don’t worry I won’t post it here, you’ll remain anonymous).

 

It’s not just us coaches…

Photo courtesy of The New York Times

As I read through my daily headlines this afternoon, I came across an article entitled “Sharing the Pain of Women in Medicine” and was inspired to write about it today. The author describes her doctor friend who “got tired of being a woman in medicine.” She, more often than her male counterparts, was asked to work on more holidays, sit in on administrative meetings, and other things that kept her away from advancing in her career. When she raised these concerns to her chairman, “he listened – but never responded to her repeated requests for a raise or more support.”

 

This sounds awfully familiar…I wrote about similar events in “The Women’s Side of the Glass Wall.”

 

In 2000, a survey put out by Annals of Internal Medicine found that gender bias was widespread among medical institutions. “More than half of the women professors surveyed reported being discriminated against or sexually harassed,” women faculty made less money, were promoted more slowly, and fared worse in peer-review. A more recent  study that focused on the emotional well-being of its survey takers showed that men were just as likely as women to feel ignored, discriminated against, and unsupported by their institution. As a result of these findings, some institutions have begun to offer mentoring programs aimed to develop leadership skills and to create a collaborative environment of trust. “While it remains to be seen whether these changes will endure, it has become clearer that men, as well as women, stand to benefit from any improvement.” Here’s to hoping!

 

Work Cited

Chen, P. (2012, November 29). Sharing the Pain of Women in Medicine. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/11/29/sharing-the-pain-of-women-in-medicine/?ref=healthupdate&nl=health&emc=edit_hh_20121204

 

Women in Sport Leadership Lecture

This fall at the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport we focused our fall Distinguished Lecture on the topic of gender and sport leadership. Specifically we invited two renown sport management scholars, Dr. Janet Fink (UMass Amherst) and Dr. Sally Shaw (U of Otago, New Zealand) to flush out why the numbers of women sport leaders is declining in the US, and why women in other countries have failed to ascend to positions of power. Their insights are compelling and thought provoking.

You can view the entire lecture for free online.

Female Leadership Development in Higher Education

Photo Courtesy of mariashriver.com, blog of Tabby Biddle

In my Foundations in Higher Education class this week, we were asked to choose an article to critique and summarize. I chose a piece from Educational Management Administration & Leadership in which an online survey was conducted of twenty-six women among eight New Zealand universities in an effort to answer “What helps or hinders women to advance in university leadership roles, as reported by women?” (Airini et al., 2011, p.48).

 

The motivation for this research question is that “gender imbalance among senior university academics is an acknowledged problem in many countries, [and] women represent only 16.9 percent of professors and associate professors in New Zealand.” Moreover, even when women do assume roles of leadership, they are put in a more precarious situation than men, and are more likely to be under close scrutiny. Just as there have been more female athletes since Title IX but fewer female coaches, “female student enrollment figures are increasing…but this is not reflected yet in a proportionate rise in female senior academics” (Airini et al., 2011, p.44-45).

 

Three main types of factors help or hinder the development of an academic woman’s leadership potential: 1) personal, 2) professional, and 3) organizational factors. In regards to personal factors, “women may consider responsibilities, such as raising a family, and their physical and mental health to take priority over climbing the corporate ladder,” or on the other hand, they may sacrifice this lifestyle and forgo having children in order to succeed in their career. From a professional perspective, women have a perceived notion to be tougher and to have competence in selling themselves. Lastly, universities have shifted “away from the modernist university,” one of intellectual traditions, academic freedom, and backed by government investment, to a “corporate post-modern university,” one of strategic focus, client service, and lower levels of government funding (Airini et al., 2011, p.46). If this is the case, then one can’t help but compare the gender of current CEOs and executives of corporations to senior academics at universities and wonder if the latter will follow the same trend as the former in hiring mostly males.

 

Surprisingly, the results of the online survey revealed that women experience more “helpful” incidents than “non-helpful” (Airini et al., 2011, p.49). Therefore, even though facts may show that fewer women assume leadership roles in academia, it may not be because they are being hindered by external factors. Surveyed women discussed positive working relationships they have with those more senior (which led to bigger projects, increased confidence, and greater recognition); opportunities to attend conferences for professional development; and a family connection that actually produced a new client. Perhaps the most interesting positive finding was that one woman did not take on a managerial role since it would take time away from her research (which could also explain why fewer women are seen in those positions).

 

However, there were some findings that explain possible hindrance to women advancing in academia, including negative working relationships that involved intimidation and challenges to integrity; poor attitudes towards having children and taking maternity leave; stress, illness, bereavement, and low self-esteem. In these circumstances, advancement could be hindered due to restrictions on hours available to work or travel.

 

The issue of gender imbalance is important to higher education because often when a structure or organization changes, so do its people. As discussed above, if universities are becoming increasingly more like corporations, then the leaders of universities might be more like Chief Executive Officers. The article states that “recently, there has been an increase in emphasis on vision-building, strategic planning, financial management, accountability, and building leadership teams.” This statement exudes the same message as that of a mission statement of a Fortune 100 company. The question is, therefore, are women having a harder time adapting to this “corporate post-modern university” model, or does the new model require a different type of leader that academics – both men and women – aren’t yet prepared for?

 

Work Cited

Airini, Collings, S., Conner, L., McPherson, K., Midson, B., & Wilson, C. (2011). Learning to be leaders in higher education: What helps or hinders women’s advancement as leaders in universities. Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 39(1), 44-62.

Why Do You Do It?

Me and my husband after the race

I recently became a half IronWOman at the Ironman 70.3 Pocono Mountains last Sunday, and then have been subsequently asked why I did it. Why did I swim 1.2 miles, bike 56 miles, and run 13.1 miles? Why did I partake in grueling sport for a continuous 6 hours and 50 minutes?

 

It wasn’t for the 64-degree water temperature in the lake or for the excruciating back pain on the bike, but for the fact that I was able to overcome those challenges (among others!) and finish with strong feelings of ACCOMPLISHMENT and PRIDE.

 

There were a few times throughout the race at which I was about to give up: (1) I didn’t think I could stick my face into that frigid water anymore and I was going to doggie paddle the whole thing. But then five months of swimming intervals in the pool, watching my times come down, would have meant nothing; (2) I didn’t think I would be able to climb another steep hill on the bike without either falling over or creating a  muscle spasm, and then I kept wondering how in the world I was going to run a half marathon afterwards. My quads had been giving me trouble leading up to the race and were on the brink of failing me.

 

But they didn’t. And neither did I fail myself.

 

It would have been way too easy to give up, and it wasn’t what I had trained for. September 30th was the only day I would have the opportunity to test my skills – both my physical and mental strength. This race was too precious to me to throw it all away. I gave myself pep talks on the bike and thought about how to finish the race so that my muscles would not cramp. “Be smart,” I told myself, “Relax.”

 

But still, why did I endure?

 

So I could see my husband at every transition, cheering for me, my champion for just being out there in the most spectator-UNfriendly sport

 

So I could get off the bike, relieved from back pain, and begin my favorite sport – the run

 

So I could pass people on the run and listen to spectators, townspeople, and fellow athletes racing by my side tell me how fast and smooth I looked

 

So I could smile at the town of Stroudsburg as they watched me race through their streets

 

So I could sprint across the finish line down Main Street, lined with crowds all shouting my number, “Yea 945! Way to finish!”

 

So I could cross the line under a big white banner, cry tears of joy and shock, and fall into my husband’s arms.

 

So I could be a role model for my athletes who expressed such admiration for both of their coaches (yes, the head coach did it, too!)

 

And so I could experience firsthand that anything is possible.

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