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Perceptions of leadership in sport


Blog written by Kinesiology graduate student and doctoral candidate Vicki Schull

The connection between sport leadership and masculinity is particularly strong given the history of sport, which is steeped in a culture of male dominance and control, and associated with masculine traits and ideals such as physicality, power, and aggression. Researchers have found that female athletes preferred a coach who was able to command respect, was authoritarian, and professional – traits and characteristics that are associated with men and masculinity. In another study, researchers found that nine out of twelve female athletes preferred male coaches based on their perceptions that men had greater knowledge and were better able to garner respect and enforce discipline – again traits which are socially constructed as masculine. It is also important to note that lack of experience with female sport leaders and coaches may play a significant role in these perceived preferences for male coaches considering men quantitatively dominate leadership positions at all levels of sport including youth sports, high school sports, and college athletics. In college sports for example, men account for nearly 80 percent of all head coaches, hold 57.4 percent of head coaching positions of women’s sports, and hold over 80 percent of athletic directors positions.

To say that a practice, such as leadership, or a social institution, such as sport, is gendered means that it is described or defined in terms of masculinities or femininities.  Because masculinity and femininity are socially constructed as separate and oppositional, masculinity is often socially constructed as superior to femininity and will inevitably lead to gender-based inequalities and stereotypes. While know that leadership in sport is often described and defined in terms of masculinities, there have been few studies that have examined the gendering of leadership in sport, especially in terms of how female college athletes perceive leadership, and how their experiences in sport shape their leadership beliefs. The purpose of my dissertation research is to understand how female college athletes socially construct leadership in a context that is dominated by men and certain forms of masculinities.

Why do I think this is important? Personally, I did not aggressively pursue a coaching career because I did not think that I was “coaching material” or that I possessed the appropriate traits and characteristics of a coach. Luckily, I stumbled upon a coaching opportunity, discovered I could coach, and made it my career for eleven years. While I was lucky to have stumbled upon a career in sport leadership, how many young women are turning away from a profession and field in desperate need of gender diversity because they think or have been told by other that “they don’t have what it takes?”

One Comment leave one →
  1. Jill permalink
    03/30/2011 3:58 pm

    Too true! I too have had experience as a coach. I was definitely treated differently than my male counter-parts on a consistent basis. Perhaps our perceptions are too influenced by a man’s ability to be assertive and confident (thanks to their predecessors) whereas women are viewed as push-overs (or if they are confident and asseritve, they are referred to as female dogs). Great topic!

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