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Athletic Directors, Female Coaches Working for Equity in High School Sports

By Monique Paris on November 10, 2021 hst Print

As the first few months of school pass, students settle into their classes, fall sports are in full swing, and high schools embrace the annual tradition of homecoming.

High school athletes, leadership students and musicians prepare for a week-long tradition of activities and parades, and the week ends with audiences gathering at the homecoming football game. Traditionally, schools have held that homecoming activities bring people together, but the origins of homecoming events also bring to light that many school traditions were founded in climates non-inclusive to female coaches and athletes.

Next year marks the 50th anniversary of Title IX – the law that enabled girls and women to play sports and claimed not to exclude persons from athletic opportunities based on gender. Female coaches and coaches of female athletes cannot help but notice that although girls have equal athletic participation, traditions like homecoming become representative of the discrepancy between the intentions of Title IX and the climate surrounding women’s high school athletics.

Title IX made equal opportunities for females to participate in athletics, but there still needs to be a shift for more equitable practices. The reality is that not all female coaches realize the ideal equitable environment described in Title IX; however, the relationship between a school’s athletic director and female coaching staff can be a first positive step in creating systemic, positive change. When athletic directors focus on supporting and learning from their female coaches, they can create better athletic programs for students.

Supporting Girls Athletics Through Reimagining Traditions

Equity needs to be fostered in the form of resources, empowerment of female coaches and athletes, and more progressive involvement into the greater campus culture. Some school leaders may want to examine, change and/or eliminate antiquated events where traditionally male athletic programs are celebrated.

For example, eliminating homecoming with deeply rooted traditions may be an abrasive cultural shift that may not create desired positive outcomes. Female coaches want the best for their students, and the creative athletic director can work to find meaningful ways to establish systemic equity and inclusion for all sports.

Specific ways that high school athletic directors can support girls high school athletics is to embed these programs into campus culture by retrofitting traditions. Events such as homecoming can be more inclusive by honoring both the football team and finding ways to honor female athletes, coaches and their sports teams and activities in the week of festivities.

Examples include creating spirit days or weeks that are centered on girls sports, essentially a female athlete equivalent of homecoming; including women’s sports in the local press when their teams have games, wins, new seasons starting, or embrace their own traditions unique to their sport; and lastly making sure that when new traditions are created, they capture the spirit of Title IX by honoring male and female programs inclusively.

Supporting Girls Athletics Through Hiring Practices

In addition to traditions, there are other aspects of high school athletic programs where Title IX creates equality. Having equal roster numbers on boys and girls teams helps level opportunities for students, but does not completely shift the culture in athletic environments to true inclusion. An example can be found by analyzing the coaching staff, which may not always match the respective gender of the populations they coach.

Creating environments reflective of Title IX’s intentions starts by analyzing the foundational components of a team by exploring hiring coaches who represent the students they serve; athletic directors can support girls sports programs by hiring female staff members who represent the population they intend to coach. With the recruitment of female athletic staff, and continued support in the form of mentorship, athletic directors create pathways for female leadership and participation.

Supporting Girls Athletics by Listening to Female Coaches and Staff

In order to justify changes that align the intentions of Title IX to high school athletics and beyond, change must not stop at the adaptation of traditions birthed in exclusion and hiring of female staff. Exclusion may no longer be a barrier, but implied cultural exclusion and discrimination still manifest toward female athletes, their sports, and toward female coaches.

Athletic directors need to be proactive in gathering feedback and listening to their female coaches to find out how they can better address perceived inequities. Periodic check-ins and end-of-season staff interviews are great ways to gather feedback regarding equity challenges that may still exist within schools. Systemic change does not happen with compliance alone, but when athletic directors and school leaders actively solicit feedback from coaches to learn about their experience, they can begin to take steps to improve.

Athletic directors can also be on the lookout for ethical violations including harassment as such instances occur more frequently for female coaches in the world of athletics. Athletic directors need to seize opportunities to protect all personnel from harassment.

Setting clear expectations and educating coaches, players, parents, school staff and community members on general human resource guidelines that include sexual discrimination policies for district employees, clarifying team policies that combat sexual discrimination, and publicizing codes of conduct at events that specifically advocate against sex or gender-based derogatory commentary can help female coaches succeed.

In addition, continued education through required professional development for coaches and staff that focuses on gender discrimination demonstrates to all stakeholders that schools are focused on creating the best environment for all students and helps them realize a more equitable future for all.

Final Thoughts

Creating equity in athletic programs may seem daunting, but it can be done by a thoughtful, proactive athletic director. Increasing female coaching staff opportunities, examining and redesigning school events, and listening to the female coach perspective will create avenues for schools to shift from the initial equality which came from Title IX to authentic inclusion of female coaches and athletes within high school sports. Athletic directors play a key role in realizing an equitable future as they connect coaches to the students, campus and local community. They determine how relationships between coach and school community are obtained and maintained, and how they can be valued and strengthened.

Title IX can and should be more than a spreadsheet of team rosters submitted for compliance legislation. While exclusionary traditions may still take place and the climates experienced by female coaches, players and their programs are far from perfect, all school leaders owe it to their communities to try to find ways to make their programs better. Students can reach their full potential when environments are created that show all stakeholders, including female coaches, that everyone has value.