Wanted: Women coaches and refs

By Sarah Weld

I spent much of the last month watching soccer -- women's soccer, that is. The Women's World Cup, held every four years since it began a mere 20 years ago, is a young thing compared to its male sibling, the men’s World Cup, which started in 1930. Yet this year's riveting three-week competition spotlighted women's soccer more than ever, inspiring girls everywhere to kick start their dribbling.

I began playing soccer in elementary school -- my hours spent on the field through high school and college a sweet, grassy escape -- and am part of the first generation of American women to grow up participating in many sports.

Today, millions of girls -- one in three now participate in high school sports, compared to one in 27 in 1971 -- play everything from soccer and lacrosse, to volleyball and softball. Advances in women’s sports have certainly been impressive. But the women in charge are still outnumbered (not unlike in the U.S. Senate and corporate boardrooms).

Coaching young soccer players, both girls and boys, for seven years, I have lost count of how many times the referees and other coaches, almost always men, first approach my male assistant coach and not me.

As one of just 29 female head coaches in a 189-coach league, I am often the only woman at clinics and licensing classes. Plus the coaches’ shirts only come in boxy men’s sizes.

Which is why I always made sure I was seated in time to watch the female referees march onto the field before every World Cup game. I was also thrilled to see the players, of course, but those female refs who control the flow of the game filled me with glee. They command the play, in front of thousands of fans, incurring the wrath -- or gratitude -- of players and audience alike, just like the male refs. And I bet their shirts are cut for narrow torsos.

I also love the women coaches, former stars pacing on the sidelines, and the women commentators, too, most of them former soccer powerhouses like U.S. champion Brandi Chastain. But even Chastain, who famously stripped down to her sports bra after the U.S. women won the 1999 World Cup, was regularly interrupted mid-sentence last month by her fellow male broadcasters.

I can’t figure out why there aren’t more women keeping me company on the field. From playing high school and college soccer in the ’80s, I know there are enough soccer savvy women who could be coaching or refereeing.

So where are they? Why do they sit back and let the dads, even those who have never played the game, take over? Just like girls need to see women politicians, doctors, and CEOs, they also need to see women coaches and referees.

(Sarah Weld is the co-editor of The East Bay Monthly, where this article first appeared. Weld, who coaches youth soccer for East Bay United in Oakland, Calif., played soccer and lacrosse at Harvard.) 

11 comments about "Wanted: Women coaches and refs ".
  1. Leslie Franken, August 16, 2011 at 1:09 p.m.

    Thank you Sarah! I have stumbled into coaching at the REC levels and I love it! I coached U8G and now U10G (as well as assisting at U10B) and while I am still learning how to be a good coach, I will say this experience has been nectar for my soul. These girls are amazing and I think its great to be a female role model. I am currently encouraging my team to come with me to a university-level women's game to see how a game at this level is played.

  2. Denise Court, August 16, 2011 at 2:14 p.m.

    I really loved this article. I am a woman coach of a men's u18 premier team. I also coach u11 and u12 boys and am a keeper trainer for the county and for a local community college. I am also regularly approached by the coaches of the other team and asked "Where's the coach?". I a then met with a strange look when I reply "you are talking to her". I am sure you can also appreciate the tension and quick congrats that are given when we win.

    As we speak, I am sitting in a shirt from my favorite tournament, that is way to big and makes me look like a heavy man. I would LOVE to get a nice v-neck ladies cut shirt from one of the many expensive coaching courses or tournaments that I attend.

    I am also a product of the 80's. There were no girls team. I played on boys teams from the age 5 to 15. We were the first girls team in our high school. There were very limited college choices so I ended up not playing in college. I got married and had children, but continues to take coaching courses and coach for local clubs. I feel the sting when I am asked by the college coaches I work with, who I played for. This younger generation does not understand how many opportunities they have and how jealous us old timers are.

    We need to continue to encourage the strong woman in the sport to mentor these incredible girls into to next generation of strong coaches. We need to make it attractive for them to get their coaching licenses and to coach both boys and girls so that we can continue the forward movement of the sport in America and hopefully, someday, catch up with the rest of the world.

    Thank you Sarah for your comments, and continue the good work for the love of the sport.

  3. Sam Axe, August 16, 2011 at 3:03 p.m.

    This article has derogatory and sad notes to it. It is all over the place as well. i agree that there should be more females in the coaching and refereeing world but that is their own choice whether they are or not. There are ALOT of women in charge of hiring now. Second, have you heard of title IX? In some state(big ones) men don't have the option of playing soccer in college but women do. What this article should be after is that the higher ups should pick the best candidate regardless of sex. And t-shirt sizes really? I just got back from the "B" and there were at least 8 women all who received a small or medium polo and it fit just like any other shirt. Who really wears those things after the clinic unless you want to show off your coaching education emblem on the side of a national team polo.

    Brandi Chastain was regularly interrupted NOT because she is female BUT because a lot of what she was saying was either speculative, wrong or too technical for a layman.

    You could actually see DiCicco squirm when she said something wrong and he just let it go.

  4. Sam Axe, August 16, 2011 at 3:09 p.m.

    It says you have an E license... they don't give out shirts at those also.

  5. Joseph Pratt, August 16, 2011 at 3:37 p.m.

    I couldn't agree more...bring on more women coaches! Please! Soccer is desperate for quality coaches, and certainly benefits when those coaches have played the game. Too often we have men who never played soccer coaching rec teams. They coach as they think they should: like basketball and football coaches, constantly shouting instructions and trying to control the game. But soccer isn't like that, and the rec players (along with many club players, for similar reasons) grow up not learning to think and make their own decisions! We need more qualified coaches, whatever the gender, It has always surprised me to see how few women are coaching, when we all know that huge numbers of women have plenty of playing experience. Clubs and organizations like AYSO could probably do more to specifically target women to fill coaching needs.

  6. Carolyn Wolff, August 16, 2011 at 9:41 p.m.

    I am a product of the 80s and played w/ the boys as well. I started coaching Rec 8 years ago and loved it so much I went on to obtain a D license. I have mentored with out most experienced coaches for the last 3 yrs. Finally our club went to paying coaches for our competitive program this year. But would they hire a women, NO! They chose men with no license or experience coaching to represent their club. - I'm looking for a new club that could use some diversity and great female role models!

  7. catherine Jones, August 16, 2011 at 10:15 p.m.

    I too am first generation women's soccer player late 70's. I was the first girl ever to play in our league. Also I have coached for about 30 years starting in high school, all youth soccer. I have seen girls soccer grow in leaps and bounds. Not like the snails pace of men's soccer. I still struggle today though to be respected as a coach. Men still dominate the youth fields as coaches.

  8. Joe Ver, August 16, 2011 at 11:39 p.m.

    Good article. In some states women are not getting their fair share of the coaching opportunities, since men are still the DOC's of clubs and they choose the coaches. There are many successful women players and lets not forget the only World Cups won in the US have been by our women.

  9. K Hakim, August 17, 2011 at 12:22 a.m.

    Joe, let's also remember that women coaches have lost the World Cup and against weaker teams.

  10. Andres Yturralde, August 17, 2011 at 10:08 a.m.

    "So where are they? Why do they sit back and let the dads, even those who have never played the game, take over?" I agree 100%, Sarah. People should be chosen based on merit, not on anything else. But the operative word here is "should". There are lots of "shoulds" that don't get their way every single day. Even during the insignificant pickup games I play, it seems the women are criticized more than the men-- even when it's abundantly clear that some women have better soccer skills than some men. But it all comes down to... ALL I CAN DO IS ALL I CAN DO. Which is why I praise a woman every time she makes a good play.

  11. Kevin Leahy, August 17, 2011 at 2:10 p.m.

    I believe one difference is how imbedded you are in the game. How many females watch soccer? Most men that have played @ a decent level have also watched plenty of games. I have coached many females that, play @ a high level but, do not ever watch games. I agree that we need more women but, we need them with passion. I have worked with one female coach and she had just as much quality to offer as anyone, I have ever worked with. She also had a passion for the game.

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