Elon University women’s basketball head coach Charlotte Smith learned the value of women’s college sports through her time on the basketball team at UNC.
Smith’s hero was her college basketball coach, Sylvia Hatchell.
“She's one of the most humble people I know, but one of the most hungriest people in terms of equity and equality for women,” Smith said. “She's never shied away from taking a stance and making her voice be heard and fighting for the rights of her players. She's always been my hero, my inspiration.”
In the last 50 years, the number of female athletes in college sports dramatically increased. However, women coaches are more underrepresented in women’s college sports than they were 50 years ago.
Currently at Elon, approximately 26% of non-volunteer coaches are women 一 double counting for coaches who are on staff with multiple teams.
Female coaches in women’s sports at Elon makeup just above 46% of all coaches and 44% of head coaches during the 2019 - 2020 academic year, according to the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sports. Nationally, in Division I about 42% of head coaches for women's sports teams were female, according to the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sports.
Conversely, as for men’s sports only one of the 28 Elon men’s varsity sports coaches is female: assistant track and field and cross country coach Laura Iguana, the coach for both men’s and women’s cross country and women’s track and field. In 2017, approximately 3% of men’s Division I head coaches were women, according to the NCAA.
Same-gender role modeling is important to development into adulthood, according to Katie King, a professor of psychology at Elon, who works in the women’s, gender & sexualities minor, making gender representation significant in areas like sports.
“We all follow models, but we also are more motivated to follow models that look like us,” King said. “Then their success becomes our success, it becomes reinforcing to us. So same gender models just provide an extra motivation that says you can do this, you can do this.”
According to Smith, working with young women is her favorite part of her job.
“The most rewarding part of coaching for me is the intimate relationships that you build with the players and in developing young women for a lifetime of success,” Smith said.
Female collegiate coaches have not always been underrepresented in women’s sports. The trend started when Title IX 一 a law that prohibits federally funded institutions from discriminating on the basis of sex 一 was enacted in 1972 and greatly increased representation of female athletes.
During that year there were fewer than 32,000 women competing in collegiate sports, representing 15% of college athletes. In 2018, that number increased six-fold with more than 216,000 women competing in the NCAA, representing 44% of all college athletes.
But, the law has done the opposite for female coaches. In 1972, about 90% of head coaches in womens’ collegiate sports were women. That percentage dropped by about 50%.
The Title IX effect
The year before Title IX was enacted, Elon added its first women’s varsity team: basketball. Kay Yow, who would go on to coach the U.S. women’s Olympic basketball team in 1988, was the first head coach of women’s basketball.
Initially after the implementation of Title IX, female varsity athletes at Elon and schools around the country would compete in the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women. The goal of the organization, according to the University of Maryland's archives, was “to provide governance and leadership in the assurance of standards of excellence” in women’s sports.
“The Association for Intercollegiate Athletics of Women, which is essentially the NCAA but for women, so the men are over at the NCAA and women are competing in the AIAW,” said Courtney Boucher, a research assistant at the Tucker Center.
However, as the implementation of Title IX began and the NCAA took over hosting women’s sports completely in 1982, more men began to coach and the percentage of female coaches in women’s sports dropped by about 40%. This decrease was seen at Elon as well.
In 1979, there were three female head coaches for Elon’s three women’s varsity sports and throughout the ’80s and ’90s, this number decreased.
According to Boucher, this decrease in representation happened because more men began to filter into women’s sports — coaches in women’s sports were finally being paid a livable salary.
“Men are infiltrating women's sports to coach that because now they're getting funded, where before Title IX, there wasn't any money in it,” Boucher said. “You have this history of PE teachers just kind of doing it more out of the goodness of their heart because they're passionate about women being physically active, so they're giving that but not for any sort of financial gain. Then, all of a sudden, you have Title IX and the NCAA, and then it becomes a viable career pathway.”
Importance of representation
Boucher said she feels weird about being asked about the importance of women coaching.
“No one asks that about men,” Boucher said. “I think that's an interesting way to position that because we have 98% of men coached by men, and no one questions that. And all of a sudden we have a majority of men coaching women, ‘Why should women even be coaching women?’”
Despite that, Boucher said the biggest reason for the importance of female leadership on sports teams is the same reason why it's important in all other careers.
“Especially college and high school-aged women are more positively affected when they have better self perception, when they have a same-sex role model,” Boucher said. “It’s an, ‘if you can see it you can be in that type of situation.’”
For softball head coach Kathy Bocock, she treats the athletes on her team like her parents taught her.
“There are four boys in our house and four girls in our house, so I was very fortunate to have the parents that I have that were never ‘the girls’ and ‘the boys,’” Bocock said. “I never felt less.”
Senior softball player Ally Repko feels Bocock has helped her learn more about the sports and has also been able to relate to her.
“I have had a lot of male coaches, especially during my time in high school, but for softball I have always had female coaches,” Repko said. “Which is really awesome because they've played before, so they can relate to you, not only like how the sport and like, techniques and stuff, how that's going, but also just what we experienced off the field, like the struggles that women face.”
Women’s representation going forward
Mary Tendler, Elon women’s volleyball coach, believes that some of the lack of representation is due to the hours it requires to be a head coach.
“I think it's hard for females to get into coaching to be head coaches just because it's hard to have a family and to coach at the same time,” Tendler said. “I've been married for 28 years now, but … My husband and I have no kids so my husband is a coach as well for North Carolina A&T, so have a little bit easier time as far as balancing stuff.”
According to a 2020 study from the Tucker Center, women largely outnumber men in assistant coaching positions for women’s teams and that number increases until women hit the age of 27, when the number of female assistant coaches declines rapidly until about the age of 31.
“All of a sudden [women] decline, and the men stay there. Up to this critical zone of attrition, this is when women are leaving the pipeline,” Boucher said. “I don't think that we know the reason why I think that we can speculate, what's typically happening with women around that time. Typically they're starting to think about marriage and families. It's oftentimes that responsibility is displayed on the woman.”
Emily Gann is the head coach for the Guilford College women’s volleyball team and was a varsity athlete on Elon’s volleyball team under Tendler. Gann is the only mother in Guilford College Athletics, with the exception of their interim athletic director.
“Many get out when they have children, and it's not easy, and I think just with the culture of the sport and the culture of departments,” Gann said. “Today is the first time I've seen my children in three days. We traveled, we played Saturday and I recruited all day Sunday. I've really [only] seen their faces today. So, within college athletics, just understanding that there's a different grind and just being supportive of that.”
Another large factor is the priorities of the athletic departments that hire coaches, according to Boucher, who specifically studies the hiring practices of NCAA Division I athletic directors. Over 90% of Division I athletic directors are male according to a report from the NCAA in 2012. Boucher studied the practices of schools that have a high percentage of women head coaches.
"What we found with The Tucker Center is that those athletic directors are very explicit about valuing and supporting women,” Boucher said. “Sometimes women coaches have different considerations maybe than male head coaches. They value that and they're gonna create a culture of whatever that looks like maybe that's familial or maybe just different thoughts in terms of recruiting."
To increase women representation in collegiate sports Charlotte Smith said there needs to be transparency within the department.
“I would like to see equality,” Smith said, “but there can be no equality without transparency.”
Elon Athletics did not respond to Elon News Network’s email or call for comment on their hiring practices and how they support female coaches.