Blog written by MA Kinesiology graduate student Alyssa Norris.
Since the passage of Title IX, the proportion of women holding head coaching positions in intercollegiate women’s athletics has dropped from 90% to 42.6%, while the number of intercollegiate female athletes has ballooned over tenfold. To those in the sport field or with an interest in women in sport, this is not novel. This difference has garnered a lot of research in sport sociology, sport management, and feminism, but less research from a psychological perspective.
Researchers have proposed a range of theories for the decline and lack of women in coaching, and evidence suggests female coaches do experience discrimination, a lack of access, a lack of social support, work/family conflict, sexism and heterosexism. Heterosexism, which is the presumption of heterosexuality, is reflected at a societal level through discrepancies in marriage or partnership options, at the institutional athletic level through negative recruiting and labeling coaches as lesbian, and at the individual level through the use of gay slurs. From a sociological standpoint, heterosexism serves as one barrier to women in coaching, leading women to leave head coaching positions more quickly than their male counterparts.
However, although negative recruiting and heterosexism impact all women in sport, what impact do these experiences have on lesbian coaches in particular? In psychology literature, heterosexism in life and work situations has been linked to negative mental health outcomes, such as psychological disorders. How do young lesbian coaches, such as assistant coaches, respond to incoming families’ questions about boyfriends or to athletic department directors’ “suggestions” to avoid being seen at gay bars? Do they leave coaching? More importantly, do they experience negative mental health outcomes from their work in the heterosexist environment of intercollegiate athletics? The nature of homosexuality is changing in the U.S., as LGBT individuals are coming out at younger ages in a society that holds more positive attitudes toward homosexuality. What happens as this generation, the Millennials, of non-heterosexual women enters coaching, and what role do their mentors, such as head coaches and athletic directors, play?