Monday, July 13, 2009

Gender equity in the game, but not yet on sidelines

Difficult to argue with the transformational power of Title IX on girls' participation in organized sports. As noted in Until It Hurts (page 45, if you're reading along): "The year Title IX took effect, 1972, boys playing high school sports outnumbered girls by twelve to one. Twenty years later, the edge had shrunk to fewer than three boys for every girl. The latest statistics from the National Federation of State High School Associations show girls comprising about 40 per cent of high school athletes."

All the more puzzling then that female coaches have achieved such modest gains and, in some cases, actually lost ground. Nicole LaVoi, associate director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sports, has been tracking this stat. So have other sport researchers including pioneers in the field, Vivian Acosta and Linda Carpenter. Last month, I visted Nicole at the Tucker Center's home base, the University of Minnesota, to hear more.

Before we go trumpeting across-the-board equality for women in organized sports, consider this:

At the college level, just 21 per cent of all men's and women's teams are coached by females. Less than half of WOMEN'S teams - 41 per cent - are coached by females. Prior to the enactment of Title IX in 1972, more than 90 per cent of head coaches in women's sports were females, according to data from Acosta and Carpenter.

LaVoi and Mike Messner, the noted kids sports researcher and professor of gender studies at the University of Southern California, each has extended the coaching analysis to rec sports. They've found women under represented there too.

LaVoi's survey of the Minnesota Youth Soccer Association showed 15 per cent of head coaches were women - 24 per cent for girls teams, five per cent for boys. Messner studied a Southern California youth sports community, reporting that just 13 per cent of head coaches in the American Youth Soccer organization there were women. I highly recommend Mike's recent book on these issues: It's All for the Kids: Gender, Families and Youth Sports.

What this means for girls'/women's participation overall in youth sports is unknown but not too difficult to surmise. Seems to me the situation is self-perpetuating. Fewer female role models on the sidelines means fewer girls aspiring to one day become coaches.

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