You may have felt the stares or piercing looks from across the meeting room. You may have even been ignored or not invited to a particular outing. Why? You have the keys to the kingdom and your peers are looking in from the outside. And as you are well aware, perception is reality in sport. So what happened? You worked your tail off learning the game and even attended clinics and conventions to establish trust from coaches across country. You networked, made the right phone calls, and finally landed a head coaching position. You finally arrived but at what cost? You don’t have time for many close friends outside of the game, you miss out on many family functions and people whisper or look the other way as you walk down the hallway in your attractive new gear. Running a major sport program is certainly not for the feint of heart. However, you can make a difference in how the other intercollegiate non-revenue coaches interact with you by opening up and helping them to understand the dynamics of coaching women’s basketball.
Let’s start with how this unfavorable sentiment developed over the years. After a contentious battle with the AIAW in the 1970s and early 1980s, the NCAA made the decision to promote women’s basketball in an effort to generate support for the takeover of women’s athletics. However, the unintended consequence of administering a Division I women’s basketball tournament in 1981 was the creation of a tiered women’s sports program. Prior to NCAA governance and despite the universal popularity of women’s basketball, each women’s sport program was generally on an equal playing field for marketing, facilities, and financial support in the AIAW. Currently, women’s basketball is marketed by the NCAA as the premier women’s sport and receives increased promotion and attention. Many are still unhappy with that decision.
So what are benefits of being identified as the top women’s sport in the era of Title IX watchdogs and the emphasis on girls’ physical fitness?
1) Compensation. Your salary is more than you could have ever imagined as a youngster. And in everyone else’s mind too. Regardless of the federal law and fairness application, fans and critics still giggle at the thought of a college women’s basketball coach making more money than most university presidents.
2) Facilities. Okay, you still feel that your counterpart who coaches the men’s team is the one who is really overpaid. What about your palatial arena, locker room, and office suite? As you parade your recruits through the building and watch game footage on the state-of-the-art video board, remember that your peers are probably still waiting for their promised facility upgrade and laptops. They are more than likely sharing offices, supplies, practice space, and a copier. Hint: Don’t whistle tunes of happiness too loudly during your tour.
3) Staff support. Some fans have begun to count the number of suits sitting on basketball benches to see if there are more players than non-players. The days of a head coach and one assistant are over. One can now observe the assistant coaches, video coach, strength & conditioning coach, head manager, director of
basketball operations, athletic trainer, and nutritionist cheering or grimacing during the game. The basketball entourage is in everyone’s face and most aren’t excited that you have more support than ever to further spoil your players. The ever-growing staff support just appears to accentuate the feeling of arrogance and entitlement towards women’s basketball.
4) Confident players. Who wouldn’t want assured young women? Coaches who notice that those same athletes have become self-possessed, ungrateful, disrespectful persons when they outside of your scowl or control. Women’s basketball players are used to receiving assistance from staff and lots of freebies.
Many other non-revenue sport participants are given perks as well but they aren’t in the limelight as often. Thus, it is even more important for basketball players to be humble and kind. It hurts you and your program when women’s basketball players are selfish in the classroom, on campus, and in town.
5) Departmental support. As the flagship women’s sport in the NCAA, basketball gets special attention. The marketing team has a strategic plan, outlines media tactics, and offers special promotions for your program. Yes, they do the same for all sport teams. However, goals are established for football, men’s basketball, and your team that leaders in the department will really measure and reflect upon at the end of the year. The objectives are more than a wish list and heads may possibly roll without consistent results. People are watching.
So why even care that other Olympic sport coaches aren’t your buddies? What if people don’t understand that you didn’t make the rules? You are a team member though and it should bother you. It is important to work hard and smart to make your department a friendly and more unified unit. Remember, “A team is only as strong as its weakest link.” Any type of dissension within the athletic department will surely manifest itself in the most inopportune way and hurt the development of a player in the long run. One day you may desire to be an athletic administrator so it pays to further develop your negotiation, mentoring, and management skills. Don’t sit back and hope it goes away. Take action. Sports often serve as the front porch for the university so one can’t afford to have the dirty laundry of jealousy on the lawn chairs.
Even though you can’t control the NCAA financial distribution for women’s basketball, you can make a concerted effort to craft your legacy. Be a role model in this unique situation and reach out to the other coaches. Don’t assume that they know how you had to repeatedly make a sales pitch and keep pressure on administrators to make things happen. A teachable moment may be to invite your staff to lunch and share your story. How things weren’t always so plush and comfortable for you during your coaching journey. Share your daily appreciation for the opportunity to coach and inspire young women. Don’t take your leadership for granted. Your players and staff need to hear your acknowledgement of those who paved the way for your success and opportunity. It is important for you to extend the olive branch by being a better communicator and offering to visit with other coaches at their office. The money currently available to women’s basketball programs may dry up one day and collectively, the sport will need allies. Your star needs to shine in good and bad times. Although “leadership is lonely,” you do represent the women’s basketball family in words and deeds. Participation in the game of basketball is a privilege. Let’s be mindful of that wonderful gift by recognizing the benefits and never taking the coaching opportunity for granted.
Dr. Deborah Stroman is an enthusiastic educator and entrepreneur. She is a faculty member of the sport business administration specialization of the Department of Exercise and Sport Science at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. Additional responsibilities include academic advising and coordination of the undergraduate internship program for sport administration. As a business owner, Dr. Stroman offers distinctive consulting services for former athletes desiring a successful transition from their sport career. Her teaching focus is the theory and practical application of economics and finances, entrepreneurship, leadership, sport marketing, and sport administration. Her research interests are leadership and social issues of sport. As a former basketball player at the University of Virginia and graduate assistant coach for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, she continues to stay active by playing basketball and golf, core training, and biking. Her other hobbies include reading, discussing politics and behavioral economics, and traveling. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 919.843.0336. Her Twitter handle is drstroman.