“I want to be a math teacher,” one of my Seniors said to me during a conversation about her plans for after high school.
“That’s awesome! I have seen you tutor your friends in math and you are a really good teacher.” And this is true. My student usually has a line of other Seniors during study hall waiting for her help on their pre-calculus homework.
“Thanks, teaching is fun and it is the best way to show that you really know something.”
“Hey, have you ever thought about coaching? You have played all kinds of sports at school, softball, volleyball, golf, and cheerleading. Coaches are really good at teaching. We would love to have you come back and coach one of our teams one day.”
“Really? I never thought about it.” She asked, surprised but intrigued.
“Yes, we need alums to come back and coach. I will tell our Athletic Director you are interested.”
At the all girls school I serve, over 60% of the student body plays a sport but when I ask a student athlete what career they want to have when they are older, NONE of them say coach. It is interesting to me that we have students who love sports, but they are not considering a career in athletics. I have some suspicions about why this could be in our community. One, is not enough representation of women in sports, coaching, or the different careers associated with sports. We have a female athletic director at our school and do our best to hire female coaches in every program, but it is still hard. Two, the sports industry isn’t very welcoming to women. It looks and feels like an uphill battle to get recognized as a credible woman who knows what they are talking about in the sports world. I think this is changing, especially after seeing all of the efforts by the NCAA and advertisers during March Madness, but it drives me crazy that equity in women’s sports is an afterthought.
For me personally, I loved softball growing up and all I wanted to do is play. I played for as long as I could all the way through college, but then after that, there are not many opportunities to continue. There were only so many roster spots on Team USA, but then the sport was pulled from the Olympics, and the roster became even smaller. The professional league only had four teams at the time, and now a few more professional leagues have popped up, but are still trying to prove themselves to be sustainable.
After graduate school, continuing to play was not a viable option for me to support myself. I had to figure out some kind of job, so I took my first high school coaching position because a friend of a friend asked me if I wanted to coach.
“Sure, I can coach a high school team.” I said, even though I had never done it before.
We had a fun first season, I think we only won seven games, but I applied what I had done so many years before as an athlete to my new role as a coach. I showed up early to practice and met with the Athletic Director regularly. I volunteered in the Athletics Department, clearing out the storage facilities and sorting uniforms. The AD became my mentor and I was introduced to the principal. I tried my best to attend other events at the school and become a part of the community. I was “just the softball coach,” who happened to have a Master’s degree at the time.
At the end of the season the principal invited me to her office. She said she had seen my positive rapport with the players and parents, noticed me helping in the athletics department, and knew I believed in all girls education. From there she offered me a full time position as a PE teacher and assistant to the Athletic Director.
I was in shock. I never considered being a PE teacher.
Thinking back, the next question that came out of my mouth in her office makes me laugh. I was holding on so tight to my love of softball.
“Can I still coach the softball team if I teach PE?”
The principal smiled.
“Of course you can coach. I expect you to coach our team next year too.”
With one conversation a door in education and working in schools was opened for me. As an athlete I learned to be the first one to practice and the last one to leave. I learned how to relate to other people with different backgrounds and personalities. I learned how to communicate. Most importantly, I learned how to lead. And although it felt like I only had one conversation and landed my first real job, I had already been putting in the work during the softball season and that was my tryout period. To use another sports analogy, warm ups are just as important as the actual game.
It is proven that when girls play sports they learn life lessons that they can someday apply in a profession of choice. We need to take this one step further and encourage high school athletes to become coaches as well. Before Title IX the majority of teams for women and girls were coached by women, but as soon as schools had money to pay coaches of women’s teams men became involved. While Title IX was monumental for opportunities to play, it nearly wiped out women in coaching. It is time to bring that stat back.
Female coaches are needed at all levels and so are conversations about how it is possible to make a career out of coaching. Experience as a coach is valuable and has transferable skills like management, planning, and budgeting. With these types of skills in their tool belts combined with a college education, young women will become the next PE teachers, athletic administrators, sports journalists, or work in sports medicine. Sports law and advocacy for athletes are also up and coming professions and we need women leading the way there too.
Let’s work together to cultivate love of sports in girls and women and have the goal to translate that love into a career. Inclusivity in coaching and sports professions will not change unless women support each other. We are already seeing this from athletes Simone Biles and Sue Bird and coaches like Dawn Staley and Becky Hammon. Women have been waiting for a seat at the sports career table for too long. Here’s to creating our own table and having it grow simply because we asked other women “have you thought about coaching?”
Asking will lead to yes’s.