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Female Athletes and Concussion


Our Spring Distinguished Lecture Series is tomorrow, Thursday April 14, 7-9pm CST on “The Female Athlete and Concussions.

Recent research findings in multiple academic disciplines have sparked a much-needed national conversation about the rising incidence, severity, and consequences of sport-related concussions. This conversation has also raised our awareness, increased our educational efforts, and spurred policy changes. Unfortunately, the vast majority of concussion-related research and public dialogue have centered on male athletes, specifically at the professional level. Yet concussions—and their devastating consequences—affect athletes in all sports and at all levels, regardless of gender. This has prompted scholars to ask: Do gender differences exist in sport-related concussion risk, symptoms, outcomes, and recovery? To address these critical questions and issues, nationally recognized experts will discuss the latest research about what is known and not known regarding the impact of concussions on female athletes. Strategies for future research, as well as educational and prevention efforts, will also be examined.

For more information on this free and open to the public event click here.

To read our newsletter about this important and under examined topic click here.

If you can’t make the event, you can tune in live at 7pm CST.


A chance to listen: I’m not just a coach, I’m a female coach


Maya Hamilton is an Assistant Swim Coach at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota.

Blog written by Kinesiology graduate student Maya Hamilton.

Sometimes the research on the lack of females in coaching and the issues they face seems like a broken record. There are countless theories that try to explain the steep decline in the numbers of females coaches since Title IX, the discrimination, lack of support, limited access, and work-family conflicts female coaches face, etc., etc. But maybe the record isn’t broken, it’s just waiting for people to really listen. Sometimes we need to step back and remember why all of this is important. We need to hear the voices of the women themselves.

The women behind these voices are reaching out to make themselves heard even where the voices are unexpected. My current research is on the ethical professionalism of collegiate coaches, not specifically on issues of women in coaching. But as I went through the data I collected on coaches’ ideas of what it means to be a professional, I couldn’t ignore what I read: Females were making sense of their role as a professional coach not simply as a coach, but as a female coach. They were not prompted in any way to discuss their coaching in relation to their gender, but much of their understanding of themselves as coaches seemed to come from their experience navigating a male-dominated profession.

I want to take this space to share the voices of some of these female coaches.

Responding to the question of “What does being a member of the coaching profession mean to you?” one coach wrote: “Now, when I look at this question, I think of it more in terms of what does it mean to be a professional woman in coaching, since my sport is still male dominated and archaic in how they think about women.” Another coach situated herself in the profession, saying her thinking “as a female” didn’t always align with the dominant view of “the boys club” (referring to her coaching peers).

Other coaches addressed the expectations and stereotypes placed on female coaches as minorities in the profession. One coach wrote about her personal struggles of “how to be confident when coaching every day next to a legend in the sport — my male counterpart.” Another wrote, “peers expect a softer coaching style [from women], but [they expect] the same results.” She went on to say that female coaches are expected to be more caring, so if they act tough, “stereotypes prevail.” Another described stereotypes placed on her due to her lifestyle: “As a female coach who has no children (by choice), people see me more as a Sue Sylvester than a woman who has made these life choices”  [Sylvester is a single, power-abusing cheerleading coach on the TV series Glee].

Almost all female coaches spoke of the difficulty of navigating the work-life balance. While male coaches also brought up conflict balancing work and non-work life, they primarily wrote in general terms (for example, “I struggle keeping a balance between my professional and personal commitments”). Female coaches, on the other hand, were very specific in the conflicts they face. Multiple coaches spoke of the difficulty of being a great coach, a great wife, and a great mother.  Two coaches’ words specifically stand out. The first wrote, “I want to be the BEST at everything . . . a coach, wife, mother, etc. I haven’t felt that I’ve been able to give 100% in any capacity (either at home or with my athletes). . . . Work or family? Recruit or go home to play with my girls?” The other spoke of her own struggles but also how her role as a female in the profession is perceived: “Work-life balance is a huge topic. . . . especially as a mother of young children. I have seen the type of assumptions that can negatively impact one’s working environment and career, including being told that women with children [need] to spend more time with their families.”

Reading the words of these coaches, hearing their voices, and observing how these women frame themselves not just as coaches but as female coaches, makes the issues facing women in the coaching profession real. I don’t hear a broken record; I hear women who deserve to be heard.

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?”

International Women’s Day: Physical Activity Equality for ALL


Blog written by Kinesiology graduate student and doctoral candidate Chelsey Thul, M.A.

Today is International Women’s Day (IWD), which honors the economic, political and social achievements of women throughout the world.  According to the IWD website, “organizations, government and women’s groups around the world choose different themes each year to reflect global and local gender issues.” In the Tucker Center, our theme is physical activity equality for all; we hope for a day where all girls and women—no matter what ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or class—will have equal access and opportunities to participate in, and reap the many benefits of, physical activity.

One way we have worked to achieve this theme is through our research and outreach promoting physical activity opportunities among East African adolescent girls—a prevalent and growing immigrant population in the United States that up until recently have not had voice in the physical activity literature or programming. As a result, physical activity opportunities for this specific population are scarce. In 2008 in a study titled, “Reducing Physical Inactivity and Promoting Healthy: Living: From the Voices of East African Girls”, Dr. Nicole M. LaVoi (my adviser and Associate Director of the Tucker Center) and I asked these girls about their beliefs, needs, desires, and barriers related to physical activity, as well as their suggestions for future culturally relevant physical activity programming.

Overwhelmingly, we heard that East African adolescent girls want to be active in a variety of ways (i.e., swimming, dance, basketball), but that they face a multitude of personal (i.e., lack of time and low feelings of physical activity competence), social (i.e., lack of peer and parental support and culturally competent, caring coaches), environmental (i.e., lack of resources and opportunities), and cultural barriers (i.e., lack of female-only spaces where they can maintain their cultural belief of privacy and modesty, yet still be active) to do so.

The primary suggestion the girls offered for future physical activity programming was creating an inclusive all-female program that is run by culturally sensitive, committed coaches and is centered on the activities they want (rather than the traditional activities academics and programmers think they want). Our study is currently in press in the Qualitative Research in Sport and Exercise journal.  Also, based on the girls’ suggestions, a two-day per week culturally relevant, all-female basketball league was developed by the Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota in the East African community. We have continued to help the league organizers develop the program over the past 2 1/2 years. Indeed, we are driven to do our part to meet the theme of physical activity equality for all. What is your theme and how are you doing your part?

Impact of Heterosexism on Millennial Assistant Female Coaches?


Alyssa Norris

Blog written by MA Kinesiology graduate student Alyssa Norris.

Since the passage of Title IX, the proportion of women holding head coaching positions in intercollegiate women’s athletics has dropped from 90% to 42.6%, while the number of intercollegiate female athletes has ballooned over tenfold. To those in the sport field or with an interest in women in sport, this is not novel. This difference has garnered a lot of research in sport sociology, sport management, and feminism, but less research from a psychological perspective.

Researchers have proposed a range of theories for the decline and lack of women in coaching, and evidence suggests female coaches do experience discrimination, a lack of access, a lack of social support, work/family conflict, sexism and heterosexism. Heterosexism, which is the presumption of heterosexuality, is reflected at a societal level through discrepancies in marriage or partnership options, at the institutional athletic level through negative recruiting and labeling coaches as lesbian, and at the individual level through the use of gay slurs. From a sociological standpoint, heterosexism serves as one barrier to women in coaching, leading women to leave head coaching positions more quickly than their male counterparts.

However, although negative recruiting and heterosexism impact all women in sport, what impact do these experiences have on lesbian coaches in particular? In psychology literature, heterosexism in life and work situations has been linked to negative mental health outcomes, such as psychological disorders. How do young lesbian coaches, such as assistant coaches, respond to incoming families’ questions about boyfriends or to athletic department directors’ “suggestions” to avoid being seen at gay bars? Do they leave coaching? More importantly, do they experience negative mental health outcomes from their work in the heterosexist environment of intercollegiate athletics? The nature of homosexuality is changing in the U.S., as LGBT individuals are coming out at younger ages in a society that holds more positive attitudes toward homosexuality. What happens as this generation, the Millennials, of non-heterosexual women enters coaching, and what role do their mentors, such as head coaches and athletic directors, play?

African American Female Athletes: Beyond Althea Gibson


Blog written by Kinesiology doctoral student, Emily Houghton.

2011 marks the 35th year of Black History Month. During February, sport media outlets offer narratives on Black History Month varying from athlete biographies, to social commentary on sport as a site of racial harmony, to Top 10 lists.  While celebrating African American contributions to sport, journalists and sport sociologists have often focused on men. When women are included, attention has been paid to a select group of athletes primarily Wilma Rudolph, Althea Gibson, Venus and Serena Williams. Biographies of these professional African American female athletes do contribute to our understanding of an elite group. Beyond the visibility of a select few professional athletes, however, research has indicated that little scholarship has been dedicated to African American female athletes at the youth, high school or collegiate levels. This is troublesome for several reasons.

Despite significant participation rates in collegiate track and basketball, African American women are underrepresented in leadership positions within NCAA institutions. We also know little about the their experiences (social support, academic achievement, motivation or barriers) as student athletes or sport managers. Furthermore, the constricted media coverage of African American female athletes as well as the small numbers of women in leadership positions has led to fewer positive athletic role models for African American girls. Ultimately, failing to include African American female athletes in sport media coverage or sport sociology sends the message to society that their experiences and achievements are not valued.
How do we change the pattern of exclusion? One idea is for researchers to make a concerted effort to work with African American female athletes. For example, we are presently collaborating with a group of six women who competed in high school or collegiate sport towards the latter part of the Civil Rights Movement here in the Twin Cities. Through interviews, we hope to gain a better understanding of their lived experiences including their relationships with sport and each other, with one goal being to produce some educational pieces that can be utilized by schools. This is our attempt at breaking the pattern and writing African American female athletes into history.  What are you going to do?

Parent Perceptions of Youth Sport and Family Time


The Tucker Center’s Associate Director Nicole LaVoi and Research Assistant Alyssa Norris have released a cutting-edge report on parent perception of how much youth sport interferes with family time. Youth sports can provide a positive, meaningful context for youth development and family engagement. However, little is known about parents’ perceptions of how youth sport interferes with family functioning. The data in this report aims to fill that gap. To read the report click here.