A group of researchers from various universities around the United States recently published a paper highlighting the role of sexism in women’s collegiate swimming and diving coaching.
The paper, titled “She is the Best Female Coach”: Female Swimming Coaches’ Experiences of Sexism” was published by Dr. Jessica L. Siegele of UNC Pembroke, Dr. Robin Hardin of the University of Tennessee, Dr. Elizabeth A. Taylor of Temple University, and Dr. Allison B. Smith of University of New Mexico. Dr. Siegele, the lead researcher on the project was a swimmer at the University of Kentucky from 2001-2005, and coached at various levels, including time at Ashland University, California University of Pennsylvania, Univ. of Pittsburgh, and Colorado College.
Within the paper, the researchers analyze obstacles faced by women’s collegiate swimming and diving coaches utilizing the Ecological Intersectional Model, which “captures how a person’s whole identity constrains their ability to interact with others and engage with their environment.” Utilizing this model, the researchers identified several barriers for women in coaching, including:
- gender normalcy
- homologous reproduction (people hiring other individuals that look like themselves)
- an unequal assumption of competence
- work-life conflict
- A lack of mentors and professional networks
They then furthered their investigation, collecting qualitative data by interviewing 21 female NCAA Division 1 swimming and diving coaches with varying levels of experience, including: head coaches, associate head coaches, assistant coaches, and recently retired coaches. During these interviews, all of the participants answered questions regarding their personal coaching history, their training and education as a coach, and their perceptions regarding the gender imbalance in the profession.
Based on this study, the group was able to conclude that there is “a pervasiveness of gender bias in the swim coaching profession,” notably manifesting itself in five different forms of sexism, “(a) misidentification (b) differential treatment, (c) tokenism, (d) isolation, and (e) motherhood.”
Dr. Siegele commented on her team’s findings, stating, “On a personal level, I experienced many of the things the women in this study did. For me specifically, the misidentification happened very regularly. People have a really strong and largely unconscious bias of what a coach should look like.”
“As for the categories of sexism, I want to emphasize that every coach’s experiences are unique and do not fit nicely into boxes. However, I wanted to be able to help people make sense of these women’s experiences. I would say my categories are probably imperfect, but I think it may help our understanding of the issue if we can identify specific areas where women are being harmed by sexism.”
“I don’t think that any woman who has coached collegiate swimming will be surprised by my findings. But I also don’t want to paint the picture that this is the singular reason women are not represented in better numbers in collegiate coaching. Coaching in general has a massive work-life balance problem. While this affects both genders, we know that women often bare a higher load of domestic responsibilities.”
The group’s study comes at a time during which only 16% of NCAA Division 1 women’s swimming and diving programs have female head coaches, despite the fact that almost half of USA Swimming’s registered coaches are female.
In an annual report published in 2019 The Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport, division 1 swimming and diving received an “F” grade for the percentage of women head coaches. In that report, only 31 of the 134 programs analyzed had female head coaches. The 2020 version of the Tucket report has not been published yet.