Last spring I had the pleasure of working with an up-and-coming young female coach. Not only did she play soccer at a very high level, but she has that “x” factor as a coach. She is wise beyond her years, she has invested in her own development as a coach, she has the ability to teach the game, she inspires her players, she holds them to a high standard, and she leads her players to places they haven’t been before. I’ve worked with a lot of great coaches, but this one will go as far as she wants to go in coaching.
At one point we were discussing some of the challenges she was facing. She shared with me that some of the dads of her players didn’t like how she managed the team tryouts and they had been vocal about their displeasure. She also shared that some of the parents had complained about who she selected for Varsity and others continued to question her ability to be a coach. I asked her how they justified those comments and she replied, “because I am young, I can’t help the fact that I am 26, but they question everything I do and they say it’s because I am young.”
As she continued to explain some of the parental issues on her team I had a sinking feeling in my stomach, I knew I had to tell her something that wasn’t going to be easy for her to hear. I said the following, “their criticism and disrespect for you isn’t because you are young, it’s because you are a woman, but they don’t have the courage to say that.” Her jaw dropped.
I continued to share that when a “young coach” is a male his youthfulness is seen as a positive attribute. We often hear parents saying that he connects with his players, he understands this generation, and that he brings a lot of energy. The same logic is not applied to young female coaches.
“She’s a young coach” and that should be a good thing. If you want her to ever be a seasoned, experienced, veteran coach, then she needs to spend some quality years as a young coach. But let’s be honest, her youthfulness is not the issue here, it’s just easier to blame it on that than to deal with the underlying, and at times overt, sexism in athletic culture.
It’s time for a change. We can do better.
Kids deserve the opportunity to learn from great coaches and some of the greatest coaches I know are young women.