Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Women on the sidelines -- Troubling ideas about female coaches

Last summer I wrote a post about some of my mom's troubling ideas about how to be a good (read: tough) soccer player, said player must play "like a boy". Well, the same Challenger British Soccer camp, coordinated by my mom, that sparked that post was back in my hometown this past June, and my mom had more ideas about gender and soccer to share.

It's not often that my mom and I fundamentally disagree about something, but apparently when it comes to sports we don't quite see eye to eye.

This year my mom was discussing her contract with Challenger Sports, which she had recently renewed, and she mentioned that one of her only stipulations was that she did not want female coaches because she "doesn't like them". She was adamant about this and I asked her why. Her reasons broke down as follows:

1) Female coaches don't have the same commanding presence on the field as male coaches.
2) On a related note, children respond better to men than they do to women.

Overall, she believes that female coaches aren't as loud or forceful as male coaches and they will, therefore, not be able to coach as effectively.

Ok. The first thing that really bothered me about my mom saying this is that she has been coaching youth soccer for years. When I was in high school I used to help her coach young players in our home town. The idea that she truly believed that she and I, as women, could not be effective coaches due to our femaleness baffled me. In fact, I knew it could not be how she honestly felt because she has said on several ocassions that people have approached her indicating that she was considered one of the top coaches in our small town because of her experience as a soccer player and coach, which none of the other coaches possessed even a fraction of.

That recognition must have felt great for her, except that by her logic about what makes an effective coach, there is no reason that she should be a good coach. She is a woman, after all.

I asked my mom about her refusal to allow female coaches at the soccer camp. Had she seen any of the female coaches employed by Challenger do their job? No. Then how could she be so sure that these female coaches wouldn't be as good at doing the same job done by the male coaches? She just knew. Did she understand that all coaches employed by Challenger had to have the same minimum level of coaching training? Yes.

I tried to get her to understand that her intentional exclusion of women coaches was based entirely on her gendered assumptions about the capabilities of men and women. She assumes that female coaches will be quiet and perhaps even timid on the field and will not demand the attention of the children they are coaching. While those are atrributes that are generally perscribed to females in our society of the gender binary, it is unfair to use only those stereotypes of what women are when considering which coaches to bring to a camp in our town.

It makes little sense for a shy, quiet, timid woman to want to coach a sport, let alone get the training required for getting into a program like Challenger that requires going abroad to coach kids in another country. The women in these situations have to be good coaches, otherwise they wouldn't have their jobs.

My mom automatically codes certain attributes as either feminine or masculine and assumes that only women can possess the feminine traits and men the masculine. She doesn't always do this, but she defaults to this when she discusses things like sports and athletes. She gives little room for the variety of human behavior that accepts that men can sometimes be quiet and women can be forceful. That kind of narrow-mindedness means that the kids in my small community may never experience positive examples of female soccer coaches because for some of them, this soccer camp is their only experience with playing the sport. It's not fair, especially to young female players who are being denied a role model they can better identify with, considering that the possible female coaches that could be brought to town are being turned away for nothing more than the fact that they are women.

My mom seemed unmoved by my attempts to get her to see things from my point of view on this issue, so I decided not to pursue it further with her. But it's a topic that I feel is important and needs to be addressed. Hence this post.

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