Building a Future in Sports Coaching for Women

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According to the NCAA, “In 1972 women coached more than 90 percent of college women’s teams. Today they coach fewer than half.” Despite the progress made toward achieving gender equality in the workplace in other industries, athletics still has a lot of work to do.

To learn more, check out the infographic below created by the Ohio University’s Online Master of Athletic Administration program.

How women can strive to break down the barriers that currently exist in coaching college and pro athletics.

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Chapter 1: Women in Coaching – and the Lack Thereof

Women have broken the glass ceiling in numerous professional sports leagues. These breakthroughs offer hope for a brighter future. However, statistical trends paint a bleak picture. In 1978, 58.2% of coaches in women’s varsity sports were women, a percentage that represented 24 different sports. This number had declined to 52.4% in 1982 and had whittled down to just 42.2% in 2006. In 2016, the number had reached down to 40%.

There are several obstacles faced by female coaches. Firstly, many believe that women over 45 are out of touch with athletes. There’s also a male-focused control of athletics, which has nearly excluded women from coaching positions. This issue combines with a lack of female empowerment, as women have accepted the dominating role of men and male coaches. Additionally, those already in leadership positions strive to keep their power, which limits opportunity. Some circles like to place the blame on women for their lack of representation in coaching, while others argue that women aren’t naturally suited for specific tasks or roles. Finally, there’s also a double standard in play, as women are expected “to be strong leaders but not too strong,” according to Tom Newkirk, a lawyer who was representing former head field hockey coach Tracey Griesebaum after she had been fired by the University of Iowa.

Timeline of Female coaches in Professional Sports

In 1997, the NBA became the first professional league to hire female officials. Yet the first coach wasn’t hired until August 2014, when the San Antonio Spurs hired Becky Hammon to be an assistant coach. By August 2016, each of the four major pro sports leagues – NBA, MLB, NFL, and NHL – had hired a female coach.

Chapter 2: Two Inspiring Female Coaches and Their Achievements

The potential of women in coaching is exemplified by two inspiring female coaches: Pat Summitt and Nikki Izzo-Brown

Pat Summitt

Pat Summitt coached the Tennessee Volunteers women’s basketball team from 1974 to 2012. Her teams racked up 1,098 victories during her tenure – the Division I college basketball record for both men and women. She also earned honors as NCAA Coach of the Year seven times, and she coached her way to 8 national championships and 31 straight NCAA tournament appearances. She also coached 21 All-Americans and 12 Olympians at Tennessee. Additionally, she earned 2 Olympic medals as both a coach and as a player, and earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012.

Nikki Izzo Brown

Nikki Izzo-Brown has been the head coach of the West Virginia University women’s soccer team since 1995. During that time, she’s coached 23 All-Americans, 22 Academic All-Americans, 21 future professional soccer players, 2 Olympic bronze medalists, and 2 FIFA Women’s World Cup players. She describes herself as “hard work, blue collar,” and cites strong women independent women in her family as playing a key role in her getting started as a college coach. She believes her woman’s perspective helps her be more open to compromise, increasing her effectiveness.

Chapter 3: Changing Old Ways

Women aren’t the only ones fighting for coaching equality. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is a vocal proponent of hiring more women to fill coaching positions.

The NBA’s Goal of Hiring Its First Female Head Coach

During a recent interview with Business Insider, Silver “expressed his hopes that the NBA would become the first professional men’s sports league to employ a female head coach.” Silver even named a few potential candidates. Hammon was on the list, as was Washington Mystics guard and Washington Wizards player development assistant Kristi Toliver and Denver Nuggets basketball operation associate Sue Bird.

Removing Barriers

Breaking down the walls and increasing the number of women in coaching positions will require action. Sports associations and academic institutions should increase the visibility of female role models, cease perpetuating masculinist ideas, interview men and women equally for coaching positions, and provide on-site childcare services for female coaches.

Conversely, women seeking coaching positions shouldn’t give in to dominant coaching narratives and practices. They should also focus on becoming the coach they want to be, develop a support network that includes women, and they should seek out both male and female mentors.


The statistics may be disheartening, but the impressive accomplishments of coaches Pat Summitt and Nikki Izzo-Brown should be cause for discovering and supporting the next generation of female coaches. For too long, women endured a lonely struggle, trying to break the glass ceiling. Today, individuals in leadership positions across sports associations and academic institutions are amplifying the call for more women in coaching.