December 1, 2014
By Annie Dittberner '17
Today, women hold position as doctors, lawyers and CEOs. If they can be professionals in these previously male-dominated fields, what's stopping women from coaching boys' high school sports teams?
Janna LaFountaine asked herself the same question.
LaFountaine, associate professor of exercise science and sports studies at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University, was recently presented with a survey from a colleague who researched female coaches' experiences and perceptions coaching men's collegiate sports teams. LaFountaine, however, was interested to find out what was taking place at the high school level.
She began with an online survey of 67 female coaches in Minnesota. The study was divided into three parts: survey responses, open-ended responses and follow-up interviews.
After conducting the research, LaFountaine found the results were almost split.
"The survey portion showed more negative data, but the follow-up interviews taught us that the women coaches mostly enjoyed their work," she said. "However, these women were the ones who were extremely competent, successful and most of the time professionals in the sport that they are coaching."
LaFountaine's study used open-ended responses, and interview data to understand the experiences and perceptions of females coaching males at the U.S. high school level, as well as address the perceived barriers that may prohibit females from coaching boys.
In general, the female coaches interviewed felt more support from their athletic administrators, parents and other coaches than previous research had shown. The female coaches stated they enjoyed coaching boys, yet they believed they needed to be physically competent in order to prove themselves while coaching a boys' team.
Years ago, LaFountaine coached high school boys' tennis in the United Kingdom and at Metcalf Junior High in Burnsville, Minnesota.
"That's why I'm frustrated with what is going on right now," she said. "I applied for those positions because they were available. And I ended up enjoying them. Similar to the people in my interviews, I think they fit my personality."
LaFountaine's personal experience coupled with her research has led her to believe that although success is key for men coaches as well, men coaching either male or female teams will typically be given more leeway.
"That's just how it works," LaFountaine said. "To me, it seems like men can have a losing season for a longer time before they are challenged by parents, fans and other coaches."
Additionally, LaFountaine's research described women's struggle for respect. The research, she said, concluded that women felt like they needed to employ masculine characteristics in order to be successful.
"Research that relates to management and women concludes that blending stereotypical masculine and feminine traits together will set women up for the most success in the business world," LaFountaine added. "It looks like this is the same case in the coaching sphere."
LaFountaine has presented her findings at two national conferences and plans to publish her journal article by 2015.
"We're seeing signs of change on an international scale," she said. "When females see that, it can certainly open other doors for them."
LaFountaine hopes that her research will change the perception of females coaching male sports teams.
"If women have an interest in coaching, they should feel comfortable applying for both male and female positions," she said. "I encourage athletic departments to improve their culture by thinking about what they need to do to make women feel more comfortable in those roles. They should read and hear about successful female coaches who have worked effectively with male teams, in order to be open to hiring the individual best suited for the job, regardless of gender."