Posted by: Sydney Shaw | April 3, 2019

Gender, Leadership, and Sport

Although we haven’t had the chance to talk about gender and sport leadership, this topic is of huge interest to me. From playing soccer to dancing and now cheering and watching my brother play football, baseball, and hockey, sports have been a huge part of my life since I was a kid. After taking leadership in sport last semester, it really showed me how interested I was in the field and how much of it I could relate back to my personal life. In the future, I hope to get my master’s in sport leadership and pursue a career in sports.

Before Title IX, women represented a vast majority of all athletic director positions, but that number today has significantly decreased. The dramatic decline not only affected athletic director positions but head coaching positions as well. Since the passing of Title IX, the overall number of female head coaches is less than 2%. Title IX was created in order to prohibit sex discrimination in educational programs that received federal funding, and although the number of female athletes did increase, the number of women in leadership positions did the opposite. So, I pose the question, where are our female leaders? While researching for my annotated bibliography, I found that there was a direct relationship between the gender of the athletic director and gender of the head coach. Therefore, with more male athletic directors in position today, more male head coaches are being hired over females. I found this to be very interesting because even when a female was more qualified and experienced than a male applicant, he was still chosen over her, but why? What is holding back women from being hired as head coaches?

In an article I found about paving way for more women to coach football, the author discusses how the first woman to coach in the NFL is with the Alliance of American Football as a defensive specialist. Jenn Welter is one of three coaches who are women in the newly formed AAF, a high-quality professional football league fueled by the players, fans, and game. From the beginning, the AAF has been employing women, showing signs of progress being made in the sport and the league pushing boundaries when it comes it comes to diversity within the sport. One thing I like that Welter said was, “So the thing that kind of drives me and excited me about that is once it’s been done, it can’t be undone”. Through years of hard work and breaking through barriers and stereotypes, she has helped pave the way for more women to coach football, and once one woman has done it, the door for other females is left open. The article ends with a pun that goes perfect with what we have discussed in class about the glass ceiling, it goes, “Thanks to the trail Welter has blazed, she’s lived up to one of her slogans and has helped ‘kick glass’ for other women like her”.

With this, I want to know what you think about gender and sport leadership. Why do you think less women been employed in leadership positions after the passing of Title IX when it was supposed to prohibit sex discrimination? Do you think Jenn Welter is making an impact on women, allowing them to look at her and say “I want to be her”? What kind of message do you think Jenn and other female coaches are sending to women and to men? Take a peek at the article to read about Jenn and the AAF. I look forward to reading your thoughts!


  1. I am amazed that there is a direct correlation with the gender of the athletic director to the gender of the coach that is hired. Even in the high schools in my area, a lot of the softball, track, and women’s soccer coaches (female sports) were coached by males. It is incredible how heavily-dominated males are in the field of sport, something many people do not typically think about.

    I have a lot of respect for Jenn Welter and really appreciated reading the article you posted on her! I especially liked one of the videos in the article where she is doing a drill with one of the linebackers, and he physically picks her up and carries her as part of the drill. I love this, the leading by example where she is not afraid to embrace the full aspect of the sport, regardless of her gender. This is how leaders should be, having upmost passion for what they do, inspiring more and more people to follow in their footsteps.

    • Thinking back to my own sports experiences as a softball player, I can only think back to a single season where I was coached by a female coach. This coach, however, was one of the most ineffective coaches I had. Which makes me think back to the question Sydney posed about only seeing male coaches in sporting environments even after Title IX was passed. I think something that is interesting to think about is that though Title IX was passed, many individuals still associate sports with males. Professional sports in ALL contexts are predominately male, and those that are female are much less likely to receive attention for what they are doing on the field. For example, a professional softball player makes on average $6,000 per YEAR while a professional baseball player can make hundreds of thousands or even millions. While Title IX was an extremely incredible feat for many obstacles women were facing, I think there are still many other challenges that are in the way and will continue to serve as obstacles despite the push to promote women’s athletics.

  2. I was in your group when you were saying that gender is correlated with coaches and athletic directors. I thought this was very interesting and I hadn’t really thought about it till you said something. I do feel like it should be different, and people should be hired based on qualifications, but how can we tell if people are getting hired because of qualifications or gender because we aren’t there during the hiring process. Women can bring many aspects to coaching, so I hope that because of Jenn Welter, more women will feel as if they do it as well. She seems like a great coach, but I do wonder if she got hired because she is a little on the manly side, with what she wears and she looks very strong. That is just something I was wondering. Great article though!

  3. I think growing up a big reason I was turned off from sports was because I never really saw women doing them. None of my friends were in sports and no girl in my heavily female family was either. My dad played football but that was when he was in high school and college, well before my time. So I guess I never thought about doing it because I didn’t see it as an option. I tried to get into soccer, but didn’t feel strongly enough about playing to keep going especially since I hadn’t made any friends with it and made friends doing other hobbies like dance and theater (which are sports in their own sense). I think it’s so interesting that something that I thought about so subconsciously is actually a big deal. It was never that I looked at women who played sports and thought that was wrong, it was just I didn’t do them. As I grew up, I did notice that women were typically given the “female sports” to coach and play, like softball and volleyball and cheerleading. Which was why the female lacrosse coach at my school was such a big deal. She was absolutely fearless and an amazing coach, who happened to be a woman and proud of it. I think with more exposure to women coaches and leaders who are so wonderfully powerful like her, more men and people in general will see that women can coach “male sports” just as well and maybe better. The type of sport should not define who is the coach and as soon as we see that, the better off we can be.

  4. Women is sports is something I’m super interested in too. Sports have played a huge role in my life, and I’ve had a number of both male and female coaches over the course of my soccer career. I read some of the Kane article we were assigned and I was surprised to learn that Title IX actually decreased the number of female coaches across the board. While the AAF is a great example of diversity, I think another coach paving the way is Muffet McGraw, the head coach of the Notre Dame women’s basketball team. While they just recently suffered a heartbreaking loss in the national championship, I read an article about whether McGraw would ever hire a male coach to her staff. For the last 7 years, she has had an all-female coaching staff. To put it simply, she said “no.” She says there aren’t enough women in power and there aren’t enough role models for young girls to look up to. While the article explains that she does have some privilege to make this kind of claim, it’s an interesting one. I really like her point of view, and it’s interesting to read about her. Similar to Jenn, Muffet wants to be a role model for young women and reinforce the idea that “you can’t see what you can’t be.”

  5. I have played sports on and off throughout my youth. I played soccer, field hockey, and also danced throughout my childhood. However, I do not follow sports much now so I have never thought about nor noticed the gender of the coaches. When I played field hockey and danced, my coaches and ballet teachers were always women. I attribute that to being typical activities participated in by women. But when I played soccer, my coaches were always male. I think that this article is interesting because as someone who doesn’t follow sports much, I have never considered this issue.

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