7 Steps for Mothers and Women to Take to Become Youth Sports Coaches

The likelihood is that if you are a woman, waiting around for youth sports organizations to send you an engraved invitation to become a coach may be a bit like Waiting for Godot. The sports community needs to forge a welcoming culture so that women are empowered to succeed as coaches.
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In my most recent blog, I wrote about giving sports moms a special shout-out for Mother's Day, how we need to make youth sports more welcoming to women and mothers as leaders and coaches, and why the relative lack of women coaches in youth sports is so problematic, and needs to change.

While there are many reasons why woman make excellent youth sports coaches, and while there are many steps which youth sports programs can take to create an environment that is more inclusive and welcoming of women, particularly mothers, into leadership and coaching roles (many of which are explored in an excellent recent article in the Canadian Journal for Women in Coaching), the likelihood is that if you are a woman, particularly a mother, who wants to get into coaching, waiting around for youth sports organizations to send you an engraved invitation to become a coach may be a bit like Waiting for Godot.

Here, then, are some steps women and mothers take to get into coaching:

1. Identify the sport you are interested in coaching.

Chances are it will be the sport your son or daughter is playing, or thinking of playing. Most parents, at least when they begin coaching, do so because they have a child on the team (one study estimates that about 90 percent of the volunteer coaches in a given community are the parent of one or more team members).

2. Learn everything you can about the sport and about the secret language of coaching.

Many women think they can't coach a sport because they don't know enough about it. I never played soccer, yet my years of playing field hockey and lacrosse came in handy. Talk to other coaches, attend clinics, high school and college games, watch instructional videos, read up on the history of the sport, its rules, and its culture. The Internet, of course, is a great place to find information, but lots of what a coach knows is learned informally, not from books or clinics.

3. Take coaching classes.

Find out on the Internet when coaching classes are being held in your area for the sport you want to coach, and ask the coordinator of your town club whether they will pay for you to attend. For instance, the course for the lowest level soccer certification offered by the Massachusetts Youth Soccer Association (Class "G") costs $40, takes four hours, and can be done online or in-person. As I found out, when you have a coaching certificate, it is much harder for the powers-that-be to turn you down for a coaching position.

4. Join a coach's organization.

After you get your license or certification, join a coach's organization. Being a member will help you keep current on coaching techniques in your sport.

5. Find a mentor or co-coach.

Ask a veteran or retired coach if he will mentor you or, better yet, co-coach, an option that allows a flexible arrangement which accommodates the many roles women/mothers often have to juggle. Spreading out the responsibility makes things easier. Several women coaches told USC sociologist Michael Messner for his 2009 study and subsequent book, It's All for the Kids: Gender, Families and Youth Sports (University of California Press 2009) that they were recruited into coaching and then mentored by a more experienced coach. Often (though not always) this mentor was a man. Many successful women coaches have benefited from these guys.

6. Become an assistant coach or team administrator first.

The pipeline to becoming a head coach runs through assistant coaching. Nearly every head coach Dr. Messner interviewed started as an assistant coach, a much lower-key and lower-pressure position. But women who wanted to assistant coach often had to be extra-assertive about it -- going beyond simply signing up on the volunteer sheet, making a follow-up phone call, or advocating for herself at an initial team meeting.

7. Become safety certified.

As someone whose priority for the past 15 years at MomsTEAM, and before that, as a sports mom and coach, has always been safety, this is the most important one on the list. Taking courses in first-aid, CPR and the use of an AED, and the CDC's "Heads Up" concussion training shows that you put the safety of the kids above all else, even winning. Courses in your community aren't hard to find: The American Red Cross and the United States Olympic Committee offer a Sports Safety Training program to teach injury prevention and emergency care to the nation's coaches. The 6.5-hour program is designed to teach coaches the principles of injury prevention and the steps to take in giving first aid in emergencies on a sport-specific basis. Participants receive training in CPR (valid for one year) and Sports Safety Training (valid for three years). Course content includes preventing; preparing for and caring for emergencies should they occur.

Ultimately, whether you manage to not just become a youth sports coach but succeed as one will likely depend on developing a bit of a thick skin and taking an "all business" approach. The challenge I faced in coaching sports, as I have since found in the business of sports, is dealing with being an outsider in such a male-dominated culture and being judged by a double standard: unless you are competitive and aggressive, you run the risk of not being taken seriously. If you are too aggressive, you run the risk of being seen as pushy.

Any mother who wants to undertake the significant commitment of time and energy needed to be a youth sport coach should be able to coach, including stay-at-home mothers and those who work part-time. The sports community needs to forge a welcoming culture so that women are empowered to succeed as a coach without worrying about being perceived as too tough or not tough enough.