Would-be Black female coaches face major obstacles

Nicole LaVoi
Nicole LaVoi MSR file photo

SOECharlesHallmansquareTwo generations removed from the passage of Title IX in 1972, women college coaches are near an all-time low. But historically, if you are Black or another woman of color, these numbers have always been low.

According to the latest NCAA demographics data (2015), 49 percent of Division I head and assistant coaches of women sports are women and 51 percent were male in 1995-96, and it’s 44 percent female and 56 percent male in 2014-15 a five percent decline for the women. However, in the racial/ethnic breakdown, 84 percent were White and 16 percent non-White in 1995-96, and 77 percent White and 23 percent non-White in 2014-15, a seven percent gain for non-Whites.

Nicole LaVoi, the University of Minnesota Tucker Center co-director, discussed this among several other topics during her October 19 lecture titled “Paradox, Pitfalls & Parity: Where Have All the Women Coaches Gone?”

“I can’t point to one thing — there are a lot of things happening simultaneously,” stated LaVoi.

However, on the second “P” — pitfalls — she continues, “Of coaches of color, both men and women, women of color is the minority of the minority” in all three NCAA college divisions.

A 2015 NCAA “Perceived Barriers” report surveyed 529 females of color and found that the three top obstacles to more Blacks and other females of color in leadership roles are 1) few are hired, 2) job availability, and 3) stereotyping of women in athletics.

These barriers LaVoi described are also discussed in her new book, Women in Sports Coaching. “I want to get more stories from [Black females and other women of color] because their stories are a little different” from those of White females, she told the MSR. “I need to do a better job of bringing their voices to the forefront.”

LaVoi also talked about “homogenous reproduction” — people tending to hire only people who look like themselves, a common practice in college sports. The few Blacks who are in hiring positions often aren’t accused of this practice. “They don’t want to be, like, ‘I’m Black so I don’t want to hire all Black coaches,” said the professor to the MSR after the lecture.

She also talked about “statistical tokens” and “marginization” when women hold “less important” roles. Black female assistant coaches often are “pigeonholed” in such positions “rather than tracked into head coaching roles,” noted LaVoi.

Black women and other women of color often must deal with a “triple bond,” LaVoi continued. “They are women — African American or [other] women of color — and they face racism. People believe that Black females” are more suited as athletes than coaches and leaders, she observed. And in those cases where Black females are head coaches, “They feel scrutinized and under a lot of pressure to perform. If you’re a token at your workplace, you are more likely to see negative outcomes and more likely to burn out and quit.”

Among those who attended LaVoi’s lecture last week were two of her students, both Black female student-athletes who want to be coaches one day, they told the MSR.

“Sarah” (the student didn’t want her name or sport published) said, “It was a little bit scary to see that women don’t have a lot of opportunities. But if I push hard at it, I can break through it.”

Senior soccer player Simone Kolander spoke of her desire to coach as well: “It’s definitely something I like to do. A lot of my work experience has been in coaching youth soccer and youth basketball.”

After her lecture, LaVoi told the MSR, “It’s not just about women. It’s about race, gender, sexual orientation to create inclusiveness. For change to happen, it doesn’t happen by women only. We need to enlist the men as well.”


Information from the NCAA and the Women’s Sports Foundation was used in this report.

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.