Where my ladies at: The presence of female coaches in sports


Tribune News Service

Katie Sowers, an offensive assistant with the San Francisco 49ers, is the first woman to coach in the Super Bowl.

Veronica Wernicke, Opinion Editor

Breathing heavily, I cradled the ball in my lacrosse stick as I ran to the goal hoping and wishing this would finally be my chance to sink the ball straight past the goalie. One breath. Two breaths. SWISH. As soon as the ball pushed the net back I turned to coach Kristin Schwarz and we both cheered.

Once I was back on the sidelines, coach Schwarz and I celebrated my first goal after three years of playing lacrosse. Coach Schwarz helped me get there and understood what that moment meant to me, meanwhile coach David Darden marked down the goal and went back to watching the game.


Between elementary and high school I grew up playing lots of different sports like soccer, softball, basketball and lacrosse. While playing on all these various teams I noticed something quite unfortunate. Of the four sports I played at various times over the course of seven-plus years, all my coaches were male until I joined my high school’s lacrosse team, where one of my two coaches was female.

Of the 18 girls’ sports offered at my high school (Vernon Hills High School located in Vernon Hills, IL), there are currently 34 female and 24 male coaches. This is a slightly more encouraging make up of figures and I always thought of my high school as more progressive than others.

Looking back, this was the same across the other sports that my friends played throughout their youth. Male coaches dominated and continue to dominate in women’s and men’s sports.

“In sports such as skiing and running, male coaches mostly view training as going as hard as possible to succeed,” wrote Megan Roehl. “In the past, females are able to factor in other factors to be able to train to the best of their ability. Additionally, having a female coach/mentor would have impacted my confidence in male-dominated sports.”

Roehl, a junior at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, also grew up playing several sports throughout her childhood — softball, cross country, volleyball and Nordic skiing.

Throughout her sports career, her makeup of coaches included having male coaches for 10 years and female coaches for one year in softball, female coaches for six years and a male coach for two years in volleyball, both male and female for two years for cross country and seven male coaches for four years of Nordic skiing.

“It is so important for young females to see other females succeeding in their sports, supporting them and able to reach them in terms of social issues of the sport (body issues, training, peaking, puberty, self-confidence and mental stability),” wrote Roehl. “This is especially important in Nordic-skiing, because it is mostly males in the more advanced levels. For example, the American Birkebeiner is the largest skiing event in the country, and it was 75% males. For young females, there is a lot of unsaid tension and pressure regarding body image because of the tight clothing and perceived need to be small in order to succeed. Having a female coach is important to be able to support young females in terms of body-positive coaching. As a coach, I have been able to step in at a more effective position when I am hearing non-body positive language. Male coaches would not be able to step in at the same level of comfort as a female coach.”

Roehl is also currently the coach of a mixed-gender middle school Nordic-skiing team. Roehl herself is 21, and the rest of her coaching staff is made up of five middle-aged male coaches, one late 20’s male coach and only one other late 20’s female coach.

“When helping with younger skiers (second through fifth grade), the female skiers gravitate heavily to myself and the other female coach,” wrote Roehl. “The females also are much more willing to listen to feedback and discuss things such as how they are feeling with the female coaches. Additionally, the young male skiers tend to not respond to the feedback from female coaches as well.”

High school senior Nikki Tuttle has played softball for 11 years and recently committed to play for Meredith College next school year.

Throughout her softball career, she has had more male coaches than female with a tally coming to eight males and five females. She noted the only big difference she noticed between their coaching styles was the level of discipline, with her male coaches enforcing stronger discipline.

Although she also added that both genders coached her well and she did not gravitate towards one more than the other.

“I do think that there should be more female coaches in women’s sports,” wrote Tuttle. “I say this because I feel that you learn by experience and the women who have played the sport before would have more knowledge of the sport.”

Along with this, Tuttle added that while she thinks women being more involved in men’s sports is great, she believes the men who have actually played the sport will have more experience and knowledge on it like in the case of football for example.


In the case of soccer, there is not much if any difference in the game as it crosses the bounds of gender vs a sport like baseball and softball which have slightly different rules and game play. So, men and women can easily coach either gender when it comes to soccer.

Zach Carter grew up playing soccer from age 10 to 19. Of those nine years and all the different coaches he had, five were male and one was female. His sister Emily Carter also grew up playing soccer. They both played in the same league — Rockdale Youth Soccer Association (RYSA). Compared to her brother, she played from age six to 14 and had four male and four female coaches.

“I grew up with the coach, so I was with them a lot. I would say I definitely gravitated more towards the female coach than males,” said Zach Carter. “The males looked at us more as prospects for going pro, versus the female coach that was watching us grow up and trying to breed us to be better in case we wanted to do anything later down the line. That’d be the best way to put it cause she really took care of us as a team and individually. So, it was a lot more of a calmer and nicer experience versus the gritty and everything that comes with the competitive side of things.”

Not everyone gets the opportunity to grow up knowing their coach and their family. And, it will take a lot more than the players knowing and having a prior relationship with a female coach for females to get the same respect as male coaches do even without already knowing them.

But, what will it take?

“I feel like it would definitely take a push to integrate female head coach positions into professional sports because all these head coaches you see are coming from, you know, years of coaching professional teams and they’re jumping all over the place,” said Zach Carter. “And, if that were to open up, I definitely feel like if a female coach wanted that position for a certain team that they should definitely be allowed the chance to coach.”

While a bigger problem exists at the youth level there is still a problem at the collegiate level as well.

A 2018-2019 study conducted by the University of Minnesota found that of the 3561 Division I head coach positions of women’s teams sampled, only 1491, or roughly 40%, of those spots were filled by women.

As of the 2019-2020 season UNC Wilmington (UNCW), has 10 Division I women’s teams. Of those 10 there are 10 female coaches and 13 male coaches. The women’s beach volleyball, volleyball, cross country and track and field teams are also the only sports coached by an all-male staff.

These are female sports, so why are there not more female coaches heading these teams? Not that men coaches are not successful coaches for female sports teams, but why are females not given the same opportunities to coach these teams? And, as Tuttle mentioned, someone who has actually played the sport will have better knowledge of how to better play it.

Before Kristen Skiera became the lead women’s lacrosse coach at the United States Military Academy West Point (Army West Point), she played lacrosse for over 12 years.

Prior to her position at Army West Point, Skiera served as an assistant coach at the United States Naval Academy (Navy) for two seasons, an assistant coach at her alma mater Duke University for two years, one season as an assistant coach with University of California, Davis (UC Davis) and one-year co-head coaching the Dutch national women’s lacrosse team.

“I feel like there should be as many qualified female coaches in women’s sports as possible. It is important for young women to have strong female mentors,” wrote Skiera. “As a woman coaching 18-22-year-old females, I have experienced many of the challenges they will face during these transformative years, and that intimate knowledge helps me coach them more effectively. Also, when tasked with setting student-athletes up for success in life, female coaches can model how to be a strong mother, daughter, wife, sister, teammate and friend. I firmly believe you learn best when you have a model worth imitating.”

As a player, Skiera noted she had an even number of male and female coaches. From age 10 to 18, she was coached by males and when she entered the collegiate level the majority of her coaches were female — again this problem seems rooted in youth and male major league sports.

“I do not necessarily feel like there is a difference between male and female coaching styles,” wrote Skiera. “I think females can be more physically supportive with things such as hugs and putting their arm around your shoulder just because it is more professionally and socially acceptable. However, I acknowledge there are so many other ways to be supportive as a coach than showing physical affection and not all my female coaches were affectionate in that way.”

The lack of female coaches is not any better even at the highest level in the sports world. There is hardly any female representation in male major league sports.

But, things are slowly getting better.

“I do believe there should be more female coaches in men’s sports,” said Zach Carter. “They deserve the chance to show that they can coach an entire team at a professional level and there may be no hiccups.”

Katie Sowers, Alyssa Nakken and Rachel Balkovec have all recently made headlines for becoming the first female coaches in major league men’s sports. Sowers became an offensive assistant for the San Francisco 49ers. Nakken became an assistant under San Francisco Giants manager Gabe Kapler. And Balkovec was named a full-time hitting coach for the New York Yankees.

In a Microsoft commercial which aired during the 2020 Super Bowl, Sowers noted that men are taught by women their whole lives, so why should women be excluded from coaching major league sports. The short answer, they should not be excluded.

“I do see the trend continuing, especially in the world we live in now, because everything should be able to be equal, especially in that respect as far as coaching,” said Zach Carter. “They can write down plays and orchestrate plays just as much as a male coach can. And it really just depends on, I guess the manager staff wanting to see if they want to try to experiment with a female head coach. But with a continuing trend like that, it’ll inevitably happen to a few teams.”

While it may not seem like the biggest deal to some, that there are not more women coaches across the board, it is sending a negative message to our sports players. That women are not as valuable as or worthy of being teachers of sports — which is completely absurd. I have always wondered if I would have stuck with my sports longer or understood my sports better had I had more female coaches to look up to and learn from.

As the years go by and our society becomes more accepting and progressive, then that is when we will see even more female coaches at the forefront of not only more women’s sports, but even more in male professional league sports. Women like Sowers, Nakken and Balkovec will go down in history and become household names just as Bill Belichick, Mike Krzyzewski and many others alike.

“I absolutely believe there should be more women coaching men’s sports. In the same way that men can bring different approaches and perspectives to women’s sports, the same can be said for females in male-dominated sports,” wrote Skiera. “I don’t subscribe to a stereotypical idea of gender in coaching in the sense that one gender exhibits characteristics A, B and C while the other gender is more known for being X, Y and Z.  Rather, I think there are shared characteristics of successful coaches that both genders can exhibit alike. A coach’s strong character, competence and leadership should resonate with any gender.”