5C athletes and coaches speak on gender diversity in 5C coaching staff

While there are near equal numbers of male and female athletes at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps and Pomona-Pitzer, the coaching staffs at both athletic departments skew heavily male, even among women’s sports. 

More than half of women’s teams are coached by male head coaches, and 40 of the 74 coaches for women’s or coed sports are male.

Athletes report differing experiences with this dynamic. Some female athletes at CMS and P-P say they have struggled to communicate with and be understood by male coaches. Others say they’re comfortable with the dynamic and haven’t encountered problems.

And while some coaches say gender can impact their relationships with their athletes, others say they’ve been able to cultivate relationships with players regardless of gender.

Before Title IX, which said women’s teams should receive the same opportunities and funding as men’s teams, women held more than 90 percent of head coaching positions on women’s college teams, according to The New York Times.

After Title IX was enacted in 1972, however, money flew into women’s sports and created many more jobs — many of which went to men.

Today, about 60 percent of women’s college teams are coached by men, while 97 percent of men’s college teams are coached by men, the Times reported.

According to the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport at the University of Minnesota, women face numerous barriers to pursuing college coaching careers, and are offered limited incentives and low pay.

Women’s health and body image

Some female athletes told TSL that women’s health and body image issues can be especially difficult to address with male coaches.

“There’s something about body image that males cannot understand about females and the way that they might view themselves after being in the sport for a while,” said Helen Guo PO ’20, who runs cross-country and track and field for Pomona-Pitzer. 

Guo, a three-time All-American, said that male coaches can struggle to address some aspects of being a female athlete.

“That [includes] losing your period, tracking your period, being aware of how you’re feeling and things like that that I don’t think a male coach would understand very much,” she said. “Or even if they understood, [they] wouldn’t fully know how to implement it because they haven’t been a female athlete.”

“In high school, I had a female coach, and she always seemed to understand me in a way that I never really appreciated until I went to college,” Guo added. 

Kirk Reynolds, Guo’s head coach, recognized that some female athletes can feel uncomfortable talking to him about some topics.

“I have never found it uncomfortable,” he said, “but I’ve noticed that often some of the students have found it uncomfortable.”

“We want everybody to feel like they are able to connect with somebody on the coaching staff,” he added. 

For some athletes, though, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Addi Duvall CM ’22, who plays for CMS women’s water polo, said her coach Greg Lonzo “leaves [women’s health] up to the girls to take charge of their needs and isn’t interested in the details,” which she sees as a positive.

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Advantages of female coaches

Some female athletes also say female coaches have advantages when it comes to connecting with and supporting them on a variety of levels.

“I’ve noticed that with my prior and current female coaches, they pay more attention to the little things and know more about the female game,” said Madison Quan PZ ’22, who plays for the P-P women’s basketball team — one of only two Sagehen women’s teams with only female coaches. “There is heightened respect for female athletes.”

P-P swimmer Katherine Lauerman PO ’20 said her female assistant coaches are able to better connect with athletes in some ways.

“The female assistant coaches … are often more in-tune with the emotional needs of [all] athletes than the male coaches,” she said.

A female athlete on the CMS track and field team, who requested to remain anonymous because she wanted to preserve a positive relationship with the coaching staff, said she feels like she can be the most open with the female coach with whom she works closely, rather than the male head coach.

“I find it easier to connect with her, partially because she is a woman, but also because she is more open to talk about injuries, life and often politics than our head coach,” she said.

Female coaches can also serve as important role models for their players.

“Having a female coaching staff gives me hope for the future of female sports in general,” Quan added. “They all inspire me to be the best version of myself on and off the court.”

CMS Athletic Director Erica Perkins Jasper, a longtime tennis player and former coach, said her female coaches also helped inspire her to pursue a career as a coach.

“It was powerful to have two strong women as mentors and role models in my sport, something I hadn’t experienced until college,” she said. “This played a big part in my desire to become a college coach after I finished my career as a student-athlete.”

When she was a coach herself, Jasper said she tried to continue this tradition.

“I took my job very seriously particularly when it came to serving as a role model for my student-athletes.” She wanted to show her athletes that she could “coach a successful [Division I] team and be a mom.”

“This was probably one of the great advantages being a female coach provided: I was able to have lots of meaningful conversations and create educational opportunities with our student-athletes on [gender in athletics, the workplace and life]” Jasper added.

Tucker Center research supports the idea that female coaches can serve as important mentors.

Young women want and need strong, confident same-sex role models, who positively affect their self-perceptions … and make it more likely they will go into coaching … and stay in coaching,” according to the Center.

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Not an issue for some

Some female athletes said they haven’t had any issues communicating with or being understood by their male coaches.

“Having a male coach is more normal to me than having a female coach,” Duvall said. “[Lonzo] reminds us constantly that if we don’t feel comfortable talking with him about any academic, social or mental health problems, that he is a resource and can connect us with whatever we need.”

CMS sprinter and jumper Grace Pratt CM ’21 said she “doesn’t notice it that much” that her head coach is a man.

And Lauerman said her head coach, Jean-Paul Gowdy, has been able to forge relationships with male and female athletes.

Gowdy “establishes a relationship of trust with most swimmers,” she said. “I believe that, in general, he balances his involvement well, which I believe is what allows us to have such a good team atmosphere.”

Makensey Druckman PZ ’21, who plays for P-P softball, which has a female head coach, said other factors in coaching can trump gender.

“I realized that it’s more than just the gender differences,” she said. “It’s more about their personality type and their coaching style that stands out to me more.” 

Druckman said she usually doesn’t see significant differences between male and female coaches.

“I have seen female coaches just as strict and competitive as male coaches,” Druckman said. “The thought of my head coach being female doesn’t faze me because the way she coaches is what I pay attention to.”

Coaches prioritize connections, performance

Several coaches who spoke to TSL said they focus more on connecting with their athletes as individuals than on their gender.

“There are always some people that I don’t connect with quite as strongly,” Reynolds said. “And if there’s a way to have a coaching staff that includes a wide range of personalities, a wide range of variables that can cover the needs of each individual, then that is really important to me. It’s not necessarily just gender-based.” 

Emma DeLira, an assistant coach for the Sagehen women’s cross-country and track programs, agreed.

“For me, personally, it doesn’t matter about the gender that I’m coaching,” she said. “It’s about making those connections and treating each athlete as a person and individual … regardless of gender.”

Gowdy said he treats the men’s and women’s swim and dive teams as one.

“We train together. We compete together. We call each other PPSD, not PPWSD or PPMSD,” he said. “I try not to start my day or to start practice thinking of two genders. I know that’s easy to say but the way we approach a team is there is no one size that fits all.”

John Goldhammer, the head CMS cross-country coach and an assistant track coach said that “a good coach is a good coach regardless of the gender.” 

His men’s and women’s teams also practice together.

“We have a really good program with men and women combined,” he said. “We have a tendency to bring them together so they can work together and even have some fun with it.”

But some coaches also recognized that gender can sometimes play a role in players’ relationships with their coaches.

“I feel that they are more open to come up to me about [female-related issues],” DeLira said. “I think that I helped open the door for our female athletes to either approach me or whoever they feel comfortable with.”

Goldhammer also said “it can sometimes be difficult to have a feeling of where [female athletes] are coming from and what their expectations are.” 

Gowdy added that he’s found having a female coach on staff can be helpful for connecting with both women and men.

“I am very intentional about having a female coach on staff,” Gowdy said. “There are even plenty of men that connect a little better with her, and also there are also plenty of women that connect a little bit better with me.”

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This story was last updated March 6, 2020 at 1:29 p.m.

This story was updated March 5, 2020 at 11:49 p.m.

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