Lead Her Forward: Creating a Culture of Women Coaches

By Nelson Musselman | Posted on February 1, 2024

Lead Her Forward 410

Celebrated on February 7, National Girls and Women in Sports Day® honors the achievements of girls and women in sports, while also acknowledging that we must continue to advocate for gender equity. As we embrace the significance of this national day, the spotlight not only shines on women athletes but also extends to the women who guide them from the sidelines – their coaches. To help athletes reach their full potential, park and recreation agencies must recognize and address the pressing need to recruit and retain more women coaches. By fostering an inclusive environment that creates a culture of women coaches, park and recreation agencies can pave the way for young girls to see themselves not just as players, but as leaders on and off the field. 

Did you know that girls’ sports participation is on the rise? According to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association (SFIA), girls’ youth sports participation rate was 35 percent among ages 6-17 in 2022, the highest participation rate for girls since 2013! However, most youth sports coaches continue to be men, even for girls’ leagues. In 2022, only 26 percent of youth sports head coaches were women, up slightly from 24 percent in 2019, according to data from SFIA. This level of representation is far below what’s needed to accurately reflect and balance the percentage of girls who participate in youth sports. Even in sports predominantly played by girls, like volleyball and softball, about four in 10 youth coaches are still men, according to the analysis from the 2022 National Coach Survey. The results were even more eye-opening for popular women’s sports such as basketball and soccer, where an overwhelming 81 percent of the coaches surveyed were men.  

Research shows that having a woman role model in a coaching position is enormously powerful for making girls’ experiences positive and in helping ensure girls return for future seasons. When more women coach, more girls play sports, increasing girls’ access to all the benefits sports provide such as increased self-esteem, self-confidence, and social and emotional learning skills. In celebration of National Girls and Women in Sports Day, here are five ways your agency can create a culture of women coaching: 

1. Training and Development Programs  

To bridge the gender gap in coaching, park and recreation agencies should invest in training and development programs specifically designed for women coaches. These opportunities can include workshops, seminars and certification courses tailored to address the unique challenges and opportunities that women coaches may encounter. By providing access to quality coach training, agencies can hope to equip women with the skills and confidence needed to excel in coaching roles. 

2. Promoting Visibility and Representation 

One of the key factors in encouraging women to become coaches is providing visible role models. Park and recreation agencies can actively promote and celebrate the achievements of women coaches in many ways, including success stories, interviews and spotlights on women coaches within the community. By showcasing successful women in coaching positions and setting up a coach mentor program, agencies can inspire others to follow in their footsteps. 

3. Flexible Scheduling and Volunteer Opportunities 

Recognizing that many women juggle multiple responsibilities, including work, family and other commitments, park and recreation agencies can offer flexible scheduling for coaching positions. Allowing for cooperative coach-sharing opportunities can make coaching more accessible to women who may have time constraints. By accommodating diverse schedules, agencies can attract a wider pool of women coaches. 

4. Promoting Inclusivity in Recruitment Strategies 

When recruiting for coaching positions, park and recreation agencies should actively promote inclusivity. Implement inclusive policies and key messaging that highlight the need for women candidates and encourage women, regardless of their background or experience, to consider coaching opportunities. Adapting recruitment practices to be more inclusive can help the hiring process attract a diverse range of women to the youth sports coaching field. 

5. Creating a Supportive Community 

Building a supportive community is crucial for retaining women youth sports coaches. Park and recreation agencies can establish mentorship programs that connect experienced women coaches with those who are new to coaching. This mentorship not only provides guidance but also fosters a sense of camaraderie and support within the coaching community. Additionally, creating networking events and forums for women coaches to share experiences and insights can further strengthen the sense of community. 

Park and recreation agencies have many opportunities to create an environment that welcomes women into coaching roles. The confidence, strength and character gained through sports participation are the very tools girls and women need to become strong leaders in sports and life. By fostering a culture of inclusivity, we can welcome women and girls into coaching roles – and in turn into sports teams and leagues – ensuring girls have access to the benefits sports provide. This National Women in Sports Day®, NRPA encourages you to consider creating a culture of women coaches in your community. 

Nelson Musselman (he/him) is an NRPA program specialist.