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Becoming A Youth Sports Coach: Advice For Women

Youth sports organizations say they want more women involved, but the simple fact is that far fewer women coach youth sports then men.  According to one recent survey, of the estimated 6.5 million youth sports coaches, only about 25% are women.

Brooke de Lench and boys soccer team she coached

If you are a woman, particularly, a mother, who wants to get into coaching, here's what you need to do:

  1. Identify the sport you are interested in coaching. Chances are it will be the sport your son or daughter is playing, or thinking of playing, but of course there is nothing new about that. Most parents, at least when they begin coaching, do so because they have a child on the team (one study estimates that about 90% of the volunteer coaches in a given community are the parent of one or more team members).
  2. Recognize the potential conflict coaching your own child may create, but also the potential rewards.  If you want to coach your child's team, understand that doing so may present, as the author of a 2005 article on the parent-coach/child-athlete relationship in the Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport observes, a conflict of interest for both you and your child. Your child may feel "pressure from [you] and [his] coaches to perform well, and desire that you be a source of social support and leave skill and strategy instruction to the coach's domain." You also may find separating your role as parent from your role as a coach, a "fine line to tread." As one respondent indicated in focus group interviews for the article suggested, "parents coaching their own children may be fine for lower skill levels, where the emphasis is on skill development and fun" and "where equal playing time is the norm" "but at more advanced, competitive levels, "it's so hard to be the perfect, impartial, neutral coach, as if it wasn't your daughter no matter how hard you try."  On the other hand, sports provide mothers a different context in which to get to know, understand their children
  3. Learn everything you can about the sport. Many women think they can't coach a sport because they don't know enough about it. Talk to other coaches, attend clinics, high school and college games, watch instructional videos, read up on the history of the sport, its rules, and its culture. The Internet, of course, is a great place to find information.
  4. Take coaching classes.  Find out on the Internet when coaching classes are being held in your area for the sport you want to coach, and ask the coordinator of your town club whether they will pay for you to attend. For instance, the course for the lowest level soccer certification offered by the Massachusetts Youth Soccer Association (Class "G") costs $30.00 and takes four hours. As I found out, when you have a coaching certificate, it is much harder for the powers-that-be to turn you down for a coaching position.  One of the suggestions offered by mothers interviewed for a recent article in the Canadian Journal for Women in Coaching was to look for women-only coaching clinics and training sessions.  As one mother said, "seeing other women doing it can make you feel more confident."
  5. Join a coach's organization.  After you get your license or certification, join a coach's organization. Being a member will help you keep current on coaching techniques in your sport.
  6. Become certified in first-aid, CPR and the use of an AED. The American Red Cross and the United States Olympic Committee offer a Sports Safety Training program to teach injury prevention and emergency care to the nation's coaches. The 6.5-hour program is designed to teach coaches the principles of injury prevention and the steps to take in giving first aid in emergencies on a sport-specific basis. Participants receive training in CPR (valid for one year) and Sports Safety Training (valid for three years). Course content includes preventing; preparing for and caring for emergencies should they occur.
  7. Become an assistant coach, co-coach, or team administrator first. Most of those who become long-term coaches start out as assistant coaches or have a mentor. Ask a veteran or retired coach if he will mentor you or, better yet, co-coach, an option that allows a flexible arrangement that accomodates the many roles women often have to juggle.  Spreading out the responsibility makes things easier.

Boards of Directors: More Women Needed

Colleen Superko is a senior partner in one of America's most prestigious and venerable law firms. The mother of three young hockey-playing sons and a multi-sport athlete herself, Superko wanted to sit on the board of the local youth hockey organization in Wellesley, Massachusetts to make sure it was doing everything it could to make ice hockey safe for all the children in the program. After being turned down for several years, Superko finally was asked to join the board. In three years she rose to the elected position of league president.

Unfortunately, Superko is a relative rarity in youth sports: a woman member of a board of directors. Of the 1632 seats on the boards of the 82 national youth sports organizations, only 164 are held by women. The same holds true for other national organizations that have been established in the interest of reforming youth sports. Clearly, more needs to be done to include more women on these boards.

Adapted from the book, Home Team Advantage: The Critical Role of Mothers in Youth Sports (HarperCollins 2006) by Brooke de Lench.

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