Coaching Question (Part 1): Can women coach men?
The questions is grossly archaic—bringing us back to the days when a woman’s role in society was to be a stay-at-home mom—yet, the question is just now being addressed and traditional coaching roles being challenged. Remember: the sports world is old-fashioned and grounded in its views of gender norms. (Check back tomorrow when we expand the question to consider if gays and lesbians can/should coach.)
The question has come to issue with Coolidge High in Washington DC announcing on March 12th that Natalie Randolph will be their head football coach (Washington Post article here). Randolph joins Debbie Vance, from Lehman High in Bronx, NY, as the only female high school football head coaches.
Randolph is certainly qualified: she has played five seasons in the Independent Women’s Professional League and was an assistant coach for two years at another DC high school. Further, according to the Post’s article, she is very well-liked by the students and the players; when she was introduced to the team, she was met with overwhelming applause.
She acknowledges that people will have negative things to say, but she will not be swayed: “I can’t control what people say. The first thing is, I love football, no matter whose domain it is. I’m going to do it. If I let people dictate what I do, I wouldn’t be where I am.”
Vernon Davis, tight end for the San Francisco 49ers who grew up in the DC area, blew up his Twitter and provided the predictable arguments against having a woman head coach. Here are some of his tweets:
- Back home in dc where I grew up, a nearbye high school just hired all women to coach the varsity football team. That is ridiculous
- A woman can’t relate to a boy like a man can in my opinion! What do you all think about that? They even have a woman strength coach.
- Football is a mans sport way, not woman. That’s why there is cheerleading and other things.
- Females can do anything, but a boy will respond to a man better than a woman when partcipating in this game of football.
- You show me a woman that can run a better route than Jerry Rice then j will let her be my coach.
- I wish the woman coaches all the luck in the world and hope they become successful at what they are doing. I agree, anything is possible.
Okay, now ignoring that last tweet which screams of agent-imposed-damage-control and the remarks that are absurd (suggesting cheerleading as what women should be doing), the valid themes are that players need a male coach to be like a father—tough, disciplined, authoritarian—and that you need to be able to play the sport in order to coach it. I guess I’ll just address these arguments in order:
(1) You need a male coach to instill discipline, be a father figure, blah, blah, and blah.
This argument stems from the militaristic style of coaching that tears down the players and builds them back up as a team. The coaching style definitely has its merits: it does build discipline and character, it does build team camaraderie, and it does challenge boys to become men, as cliché as that sounds. The argument is furthered by suggesting that these values traditionally are instilled by a father, and as many of these players may not have a father-figure in their life, that the male coach should fill the role.
To counter these points, I would just say first, the authoritarian style can easily go too far and become abusive (see: Mark Mangino); second, there are women that are just as capable of being tough if needed; third, just as a man may be able to get the most out of his players being tough, a woman may be equally successful building a team being compassionate, discovering what motivates the players, etc.; and fourth, there are many sources needed for both father and mother figures—football is not the exclusive source, and further, a female coach can be an important mother-figure as well.
On this topic, the football practice scene from The Blind Side comes to mind (if you haven’t seen the movie yet, go rent it). In it, the Michael Oher character is new to practice with his coach trying to teach him techniques of blocking. With progress slow, Oher and his coach both get frustrated. Then, Oher’s adopted mother Leigh Anne Tuohy, played by Sandra Bullock, walks up to Michael and says, “This team is your family, Michael. When you look at him, you think of me. Now you have my back. Are you going to protect your family, Michael?” He responds, “Yes, ma’am,” and from that point forward is a dominant left tackle. I don’t know if this is one of those iconic scenes from the movie that is true or Hollywood-embellished, but it illustrates the point: there are various ways to get everyone to perform and sometimes it is the non-traditional, other-gendered perspective that is most successful.
(2) You need to be able to play the sport to coach it.
I infer this argument from VD’s tweet that he’d allow a woman coach if she can run a route as good as Jerry Rice. Again, there are certainly benefits if a coach has experience playing the game, but it is by no means a requirement. Again, see: Mark Mangino, only this time actually see him. There is no way he could run a route as good as Jerry rice, or a route at all for that matter, but he coached Division I football for years. Further, football is a sport where the positions require such distinct skill sets that very few have ever been equipped to play at different places (George Blanda, quarterback-slash-kicker extraordinaire, comes to mind as an exception). If it was required that you could do the job of each position in order to coach, there would be no qualified male coaches either.
Jamele Hill, an ESPN personality who I was fortunate enough to meet a few years ago at Leigh Steinberg’s Super Bowl party, is always on the scene when race or gender gets brought up. After VD’s tweets, the idea of a woman coach became the focus of Hill’s twitter for a few hours. She seemed especially keen to point out the fallacy in suggesting you must have athletic ability to coach:
- OK w/ comment abt young boys responding differently 2 women. but @VernonDavis85 4got his coaches cant run J rice route, either.
- If ur against women coaching fb, fine. but dont make it an athletic argument. plenty of bad/mediocre male athletes are coaches
Let’s also not forget that Randolph does play. Five years in a woman’s professional league surely makes her more experienced than many of her male counterparts across the country.
Ultimately, coaching positions, like any other job, should be given based on qualifications. Race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. should not be disqualifying traits. If you can do the job, you can do the job. Check back tomorrow as I write the 2nd part to this coaching question: can/should gays and lesbians coach?