Thursday, September 03, 2009

New Book Examines Challenges Facing Women Coaches

In her new (2009) book, Gender Games: Why Women Coaches Are Losing the Field, author Christina Cruz examines gendered dynamic of college athletic departments and the tensions that it creates for female coaches. These tensions, which Cruz labels "micro-competitions" likely explain why the percentage of coaches who are female has diminished from over 90% to 43% in the last thirty years. In presenting the narratives of five successful female coaches, Cruz uncovers numerous examples of micro-competitions, many of which the coach is powerless to win, that affect coaches' self-efficacy in aspects of the job outside of the role of coaching itself. The narratives provide examples of coaches negotiating between on-court and off-court personas, their efforts to satisfy athletic department and cultural expectations that are often in conflict, and the toll of working with and for unsupportive or hostile male colleagues. An overall finding is that "male-centered environments cause the coaches to pit themselves against patriarchal forces that promote male power over women and perpetuate preexisting gender regimes. This atmosphere leaves these female coaches vulnerable to self deprecation."

I really appreciate that Cruz then translates her findings into advice for both coaches, on the one hand, and athletic administrators and other "gatekeepers of power" on the other. She encourages female coaches to work together to help reposition those who are "at the margins" closer to the center of power. She encourages them to be aware of and to challenge men's "status
seeking games" and to stand up and challenge those who bully and harass women. Then she implores administrators to guard against inappropriate and oppressive behavior by staff, to create space for all to give input without being dominated by some, to assist coaches in achieving their goals, and to facilitate mentoring and professional development. It is hard to write a prescription to address entrenched cultural stereotypes and biases, many of which are subtle and easy to overlook ("micro") on an individual basis. Cruz's book does a good job not only shedding light on the nuances of the problem, but in addressing the problem in a coordinated and comprehensive way.