Sunday, 30 July 2017

Why We Should Celebrate Steadman

The woman pictured to the left might be one of the brightest coaches in the Canada West conference, and certainly one of the few in U Sports women's hockey across this great land. Sarah Hodges coaches the University of Regina Cougars women's program and always has competitive teams, even in years where she's rebuilding the program with younger women. It's one of the reasons we like seeing her team come to town because she always seems to ice a team that will give it's last breath to succeed under Miss Hodges.

On the other hand, it's a bit disheartening to see her, Michelle Janus, and Danielle Goyette as the only three women's coaches in a conference of eight teams. Further to this, the numbers don't get much better when looking across the nation at the other three U Sports conferences nor does it get any better in the United States when it comes to the examination of women being coaches of any kind in team sports as The Atlantic's Linda Flanagan reported two days ago. Her examination of this topic is excellent, and I'll relate this back to hockey down below after we talk a little about the lack of women as coaches at all levels of team sports.

Miss Flanagan uses a very poignant off the start of the article to make the point that she drives home throughout the article. She wrote,
"Moriarty estimated that as many as 20 coaches guided her various sports teams before college. What united all her head coaches, across sports, was gender: All were male."
This isn't some exception to the rule when it comes to team sports and women's sports. Men are being hired as coaches for women's teams, and it was pointed out in one rather poorly-written article that there are no women coaching women's teams in one professional hockey league. Rather than asking the question of why, the writer of the linked article used a quote from Michigan softball coach Carol Hutchings that read, "You can't want to be something there isn't." I believe that statement of there not being "something" to be a lie, and Miss Flanagan's research into this subject proves that while the jobs are certainly there, there are a number of factors that continually hold women back from coaching positions.

Title IX was supposed to bring equality for women's sports to the forefront in American universities as more women athletes would be able to pursue their sporting aspirations with the law. Miss Flanagan, however, points out that Title IX was a boon for women athletes, but was the cause for women coaches to see a massive drop in their numbers.
"Much attention and worry has been devoted to the decline of female coaches at the collegiate level since Title IX was passed in 1972. This landmark legislation prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex in all educational programs that receive federal funds, and its passage compelled colleges to ramp up the number of athletic teams for girls to stay on par with what they offered boys. While nudging a record number of girls into athletics, Title IX also contributed to an unexpected and steady drop in the number of female collegiate coaches of women's teams, from 90 percent in 1972 to 43 percent in 2014. In response to Title IX, many colleges combined male and female athletic departments, which in turn often meant that men now oversaw women's teams; the law also meant pay parity for women's-team coaches, the now-lucrative salaries attracting male coaches to female sports. These phenomena, among others, pushed women out of college coaching."
Nearly half of the coaches who were running women's programs in the NCAA were replaced by men in 42 years. That's a massive drop in the number of women coaches, and it's a trend that has yet to reverse itself.

Now you may be saying, "Well, let's get more women coaching at the grassroots level and that will change." That's a very simplistic view of the problem, but it would be a good place to start in terms of developing coaches who could possibly move up. However, Miss Flanagan's research shows that the grassroots movement is the very epitome of the problem.
"What's gained scant notice is the even greater scarcity of women coaches in youth sports organizations and secondary schools. According to a 2015 survey conducted by the Sports and Fitness Industry Association, one of the few national organizations that carries out research on youth sports, only 27 percent of the more than 6.5 million adults who coach youth teams up to age 14 are women. Scarce data of any kind is collected on coaches, but a 2014 report on high-school coaches in Minnesota found a similar discrepancy: Across the state, just 21 percent of high-school head coaches, and 28 percent of assistant coaches, were women. The same study found that 42 percent of girls' teams, 2 percent of boys' teams, and 21 percent of co-ed teams were headed by a woman. As for assistant coaches, the numbers were similarly small, except the all-boys' teams had no female assistant coaches at all. Enormous numbers of children experience this imbalance in athletic role models: The Aspen Institute's Project Play surmises that up to 57 percent of kids ages 6 to 12 play team sports annually, even if it's just one season a year."
It's as simple as this: if women aren't coaching at the grassroots level, they aren't going to be hired by reputable programs as coaches with no coaching experience. The numbers that Miss Flanagan found are astounding as they are unbelievable, but they are numbers that are overlooked all the time. Head down to your local soccer fields and do a brief survey on all the coaches. I would guess the coaches in minor soccer regardless of the age of the players are predominantly, if not entirely, men.

Now you may be wondering if there's some sort of sexism playing a role in having men assume coaching roles for children's team sports, and that may be true when it came to the turn of the century when, in quoting Miss Hutchings, something wasn't there. There were no major women's sports, and there was generally just the Olympics where only the best women athletes represented their countries in a handful of sports. However, Title IX should have spawned more high-level female coaches than what we see today, especially in hockey, and Miss Flanagan examines this point as well. She writes,
"Why so relatively few women decide to coach for high-school or youth sports teams is unclear. After all, thousands of girls who grew up playing sports under Title IX are qualified to coach, and many are parents themselves. But the management of such teams, all of it volunteer, typically splits along gender lines. According to a 2009 study by the sociologists Michael Messner and Suzel Bozada-Deas, men typically coach, and women typically serve as 'team moms,' organizing the snack schedule, managing logistics, and collecting money for coaches' gifts, among other administrative work. In the researchers' view, this imbalance stems from 'institutional gender regimes' that divide the work between men and women based on traditional roles. The well-documented gender gap in confidence may also be part of the answer. And some mothers who might otherwise enjoy leading their child's athletic team are vetoed by their offspring."
In reading this, I see this delegation of jobs far too often to deny the plausibility that typical gender lines don't exist. Both men and women play sports at high levels today, and even beer-league parents have enough knowledge of the game to coach children's sports. Instead, there seems to be a "management" role given to mothers while fathers take the higher profile position of coach. I get that we're still less than 100 years out from World War II when we asked women to man the factories and build amazing things, but the progress seen in the last 50 years among equality should have found its way into some progressive homes by now.

If there aren't any women coaching any sports, why would women strive to be like those role models and mentors? This has been proven by science and statistics that, as Miss Flanagan points out, women who are coached by men are less likely to pursue coaching positions.
"Naturally, the lack of female coaches also signals to girls that coaching is not a career option that's open to them. If the overwhelming majority of coaches they encounter are men, young women would logically conclude that sports and coaching are better left to the males. And the research bears that out: Girls who were coached by men were less likely to pursue coaching careers than those led by women. 'When you only see men in positions of power, you conclude 'sports are not for me',' said Nicole LaVoi, the co-director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport at the University of Minnesota."
I don't know how much clearer these facts are when it comes to getting women involved in coaching the games they enjoy playing and watching. And this isn't some study where the results are invisible to the naked eye or the ignorant mind. One just needs to look around and see that there are very few women's coaches at high levels or the grassroots levels. If it isn't obvious, I'm not certain you watch sports.

That being said, if one does watch sports and there are women coaching, there are certainly differences in the way men and women coach in terms of messages, style, and overall aesthetics. That's not to say there aren't men who are exceptional women's coaches, but men generally run teams in a far more "top-down, 'command and control' style," as per a 2013 symposium at Harvard Business School on women leaders cited by Miss Flanagan. According to the same symposium's findings, "women have a 'more participative, androgynous, and transformational leadership style'" which, to me, would be much more beneficial when it comes to the developing minds and bodies of children and adolescents. In reading this, I have to say that I have begun reviewing my own coaching style because I tend to lean towards the top-down view. Is that because I've learned that behavior from my previous coaches in sports? Is that some sort of style I've developed? Either way, this has made me step back and take a really good look at how I coach other people.

Miss Flanagan presses on after noting these differences in coaching to look at the effects of coaching on athletes. She writes,
"Risa Isard, the senior program associate at the Aspen Sports & Society Program, wonders if the scarcity of female coaches at younger levels helps explain why girls still trail the number of boys who start and continue playing — even though more girls play sports today than ever before. By age 14, girls drop out of sports at twice the rate of boys, just at the time when girls stop speaking up and asserting themselves. And non-participation has a health consequence: Compared to girls who play sports, inactive females have worse grades, graduate from high school at lower rates, and are more likely to become pregnant. 'Girls respond well to female coaches, and good coaches keep kids in sports,' Isard said. Thus, the shortage of female coaches has a potential health consequence for those girls who connect better to fellow females, and who opt out or quit when women coaches are absent."
If that's not the best reason for encouraging women to pursue coaching, then I'm not sure what is. Having women participate in sports is one thing, but when you see that women who don't participate in sports literally are worse off than their sports-playing counterparts, one would think that we'd be recruiting women to coach every sport that is played yet the research shows that isn't happening at the grassroots levels nor are we seeing it at the higher levels such as the NCAA. If one isn't cultivating and growing the number of women in coaching from the grassroots levels and helping them ascend to higher levels of coaching, where do we find female coaches who can mentor and teach our next up-and-coming women?

Here's the point in all of this. I took a ton of heat over a tweet when Kelley Steadman decided to call it a career in professional women's hockey. I wrote,
There were a number of complaints about the lack of female coaches in the American professional women's league as I pointed out at the top of this article, and I decided to send out that tweet on July 6 as a wake-up call. Would it be great to see Kelley Steadman on the ice and scoring goals? Absolutely. Take nothing away from her accomplishments and achievements in her two seasons of professional women's hockey. She's an outstanding player and a phenomenal athlete who deserves every bit of recognition and praise sent her way for what she accomplished in hockey. Her retirement took a good player off the ice, but the short-sighted view on the state of women's hockey - perhaps even women's sports - is why I sent out that tweet.

Kelley Steadman's impact on hockey will be much greater as a high-level coach on one of the premiere NCAA teams than what she did on the ice. She has an incredible hockey mind, she sees and plays the game at a high level, and she's joining an excellent program at Mercyhurst where she'll influence generations of women's hockey players as they move through the program. If she decides to leave and move to a new program at some point, that too will benefit women's hockey much more than she's being given credit for and her work at hockey schools as a coach can and will inspire girls and young women to continue to pursue their dreams.

I don't know if Kelley Steadman had been coached by men throughout her hockey career. I know that Hockey Canada has made it a point to try and put women in charge of the women's program, starting with Melody Davidson and, most recently, with Laura Schuler at the helm. Schuler spent time as a player in the NCAA at Northeastern University under Don MacLeod who helped build that program into a powerhouse throughout the 1980s and 1990s before moving to the University of Toronto where she played under Karen Hughes. She played with Team Canada under Melody Davidson and Shannon Miller, culminating in a silver medal at the Nagano Olympics. Once she retired from the game after being cut from the 2002 Canadian squad, Schuler decided to get into coaching. This article from The Globe & Mail in April 2016 speaks about Schuler's experience and influences in terms of getting into coaching.
More doors were opening for female coaches when Schuler was cut from the 2002 Olympic squad. She established a women’s hockey program at University of Massachusetts-Boston before heading to her alma mater Northeastern, where she coached for five seasons.

Wanting experience in a top NCAA women's program, she joined Miller at Minnesota-Duluth in 2008 as an assistant. The Bulldogs had just won their fourth national championship.

"To be mentored," Schuler said. "It was a tremendous opportunity to be able to go and see how an elite program was run. Just to see the insides of it and how Shannon ran things."

Minnesota-Duluth jettisoned the Bulldogs' all-female coaching staff at the conclusion of the 2014-15 season.

"Obviously that was a tough situation to be in," Schuler said. "To see a whole staff go is always tough, especially when they're all females."

Schuler, who was Canada’s assistant coach at the 2015 world championship, hopes her ascension to head coach this year sends a more inspiring message to women in the profession.

Schuler counts Miller and Melody Davidson as significant influences on her coaching career.
Having two strong female coaches helped Laura Schuler follow her dreams and head back to the Olympics as a coach. Without Davidson and Miller mentoring Laura and showing her the ropes, would we even be talking about her as Canada's bench boss? The statistics presented above by Miss Flanagan say that it would be unlikely, and part of the reason she followed her dreams once her playing career was over was directly because of Melody Davidson.
"She was part of that staff that released me and I'll never forget how she treated everybody," Schuler said. "She treated everybody fairly and made everybody feel so important.

"I knew those were things I wanted to be as I moved forward in my coaching career. When the two of us sit down and start talking hockey, for me, it's the best thing ever."

That's why it's important for Kelley Steadman to become a great coach after making her decision to walk away from the game. It's not about how many goals she scores or how many points she accumulates. She can reach many generations of women as a coach who might be the next greatest player. Even if Kelley doesn't get a generational player to work with in her time at Mercyhurst or wherever her path takes her, her influence over thousands of young players will be felt throughout the women's hockey world. She's now a coach, a mentor, a teacher, and a counselor to many women who may one day represent their countries on the biggest stages.

Al Pacino's Lt. Col Frank Slade said of Chris O'Donnell's Charlie Simms character in Scent of a Woman, "Let him continue on his journey. You hold this boy's future in your hands, committee. It's a valuable future. Believe me. Don't destroy it. Protect it. Embrace it. It's gonna make you proud one day, I promise you."

He may well have been describing Kelley Steadman's future as a coach because all I see on the horizon is greatness. Putting exceptional people behind the bench is just as important as putting exceptional people on the bench, and it's something everyone who has never played the game should remember. Without great coaches and great mentors, we'd never see the next exceptional player. That's why the sky's the limit for Kelley Steadman in her new role.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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