Last year, for her first time since high school, Georgia women’s basketball coach Joni Taylor got to spend Thanksgiving with her family.
While the life of a head coach looks glamorous, the reality is there have been a lot of things she has had to give up. Throughout her playing and coaching career, Taylor has missed out on weddings and wedding showers, funerals and baby showers.
“I think some people get into it not understanding fully what the sacrifice requires,” said Taylor, who was on maternity leave during Thanksgiving 2016.
For Taylor, the sacrifice is one of the reasons behind the decline of female head basketball coaches in Division I women’s basketball.
In the last six years, the number of women coaching Division I women’s basketball teams has decreased 11 percent, to 196 from 221, while the number of male coaches has increased 33 percent, to 152 from 114, according to NCAA statistics. If this trend continues, men will surpass women in four more seasons.
With the women’s NCAA Tournament wrapped up and head coaching jobs becoming available in the offseason, Richard Lapchick, director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, said he believes this issue becomes even more important.
“Without female head coaches, female student-athletes may have a harder time seeing themselves as head coaches and the gender gap will persist,” Lapchick said in an emailed response to questions.
Taja Cole transferred to Georgia after last season from the University of Louisville, where she was coached by Jeff Walz. Now coached by Taylor, she said female coaches can relate to female players better because they know how each other act.
“I think it's harder with a male coach because it's like it's two different creatures,” Cole said.
While women do still hold the majority of Division I head coaching positions at 56 percent, the number has been steadily decreasing since the 2009-10 season.
“Same-sex role models are very important to positive development of young people, whether you're male or female,” said Nicole LaVoi, co-director of The Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport at the University of Minnesota.
The Tucker Center awarded letter grades for the 2016-17 season to all Division I women’s sports based on percentages of female head coaches. Basketball received a B, while field hockey, lacrosse, golf, equestrian and softball received As.
“Simply ‘adding more women’ is only part of the solution,” LaVoi notes in her research, adding that the best way to reverse the decline is to “confront the systemic bias that permeates collegiate athletics.”
Title IX, the 1972 federal law that prohibits discrimination based on sex, is designed to address that bias. But it also brought increased visibility and resources to women’s sports and, in turn, more men vying to coach women’s teams.
While the better competition, higher pay and more respect for women’s programs helped increase the number of female coaches and athletes at the collegiate level, it has also contributed to the decline over time.
“Those positions all the sudden became desirable for men, which before they were not,” LaVoi said.
Some female coaches begin their careers because it's all they know, Taylor said. They grew up playing basketball, then went on to play in college and maybe even professionally. All they want is to stay around the game, so they become assistant coaches with hopes of becoming a head coach.
“For a female coach, it’s hard when you’re trying to run a program, with the recruiting and the schedule and the traveling,” said Carla Johnson, head women’s basketball coach at Clarke Central High School in Athens. “There’s a lot of time commitment that takes you away from your family.”
Women sometimes end up leaving the profession in order to have a family life, Taylor said, before they ever earn the title of head coach. And because of this, as Lapchick puts it, the ”pipeline” to female head coaching dries up.
For Pachis Roberts, a former Georgia women’s basketball player, it’s important that that pipeline continues to flow because there are certain boundaries males can’t cross when they coach females.
Roberts speaks with plenty of experience from both sides after having a female coach in high school and a male coach, Quentin Hillsman, at Syracuse University. She then transferred to Georgia and played for former head coach Andy Landers and then finished her collegiate career playing for Taylor.
“With my experience, a male coach, they're a little bit more intense,” Roberts said. “And all the female coaches I've had, they're a little bit more calm.”
Roberts also said being calm is important because it helps the players keep their composure. Another reason she sees female coaches as an asset to female players is because they look up to their coach as a role model, so it helps to see how they handle situations on the court.
“The primary advantage of having a female coach in women’s basketball is that their presence in this position will lead young females to recognize that they can hold these positions in the future,” Lapchick said.
On April 2, South Carolina won the women’s NCAA Tournament, led by a female head coach, Dawn Staley, who took home the title of national champion for her first time. Through her success, the decline of female coaches could turn around.
“I'm hopeful,” LaVoi said. “I'm cautiously optimistic.”