Female Coaching Network Blogs – Ornmadee Baxter-Lovo
As female coaches, we face the inevitable and usually unintentional collide of who we really are as coaches and what is expected for us as women. It is only female coaches who can hold this statement: It is very challenging. Surrounded by female coaches who were strong, passionate and stubborn throughout our younger days made the reality seem possible that you could really be a coach to anybody, regardless of whether you were male or female.
This old fashioned idea that you couldn’t, never even passed most of our minds because, who really believes in that stuff anyways? I remember taking a course that placed a spotlight on the real statistics behind female coaches. Many had to stop coaching because of family commitments and others were pushed out for a lot of reasons that usually had to do with personality clashes. Why I think we had trouble believing that the second of the two existed was because the definition of being, “pushed out” is so vague. To be believe that coaches, specifically women, are forced out of their positions directly is not accurate. In fact, through experience, I have learned that it often happens indirectly as to make it seem that we made the decision ourselves or it becomes our only choice.
If you are coach, a truly committed one, you are dedicated to learning. My old coaches taught me that. No matter your style, how you felt or what you believed, you were open to other ideas and weren’t threatened by new research that could say the technique you’ve been doing is wrong. You took bits and pieces of what your mentors gave you and improved your game. I remember so many instances when my coach all the sudden came back from conferences and we were sitting in boats trying out these new things. Ask me about being bungeed to a dock with my new boat. I like to think I can be flexible and willing to learn but like a lot of people there is a style you bring and I think it is that style that can both make you, protect you or betray you.
My early days of coaching I held up a very big guard and a wall. Things were going to be done the way it was written, no questions asked. I think as a personality I was very cold but that stemmed from believing that I had to be. You had to be tough or people were going to step on you. It’s funny that I felt this way in the very place where I felt I could be myself the most as an athlete. Responsibility changes you, I suppose. I moved away and sought coaching opportunities elsewhere mostly because of school and because I liked to learn new things. I truly believe that if you think you have nothing left to learn as a coach or a teacher, you have to stop.
My rude awakening to the realities of being female came from this move. The program I was coaching was flying high, kids were pushed and although it had a rough start, the trail I was blazing was starting to make sense for everyone. A little less cold, a little friendlier and dedicated to the max, I was fueled by a passion to prove that you deserve to have dignity and pride in what you do, no matter what club you come from. Your goals are valid. Walking down from the parking lot I remember having a brief chat with my superior who explained how great the program was going and how pleased he was with its progress. Then it happened. The phrase that would stick in my head until this day: “…but you should try and smile more.” At the time I just brushed it off, I couldn’t have gotten all great compliments that day. As time went on though I didn’t really follow that advice but I became more receptive to how I presented myself and started questioning that whole statement. I did smile, I just smiled when it was warranted to smile. Like any other person, you smile when you have something to smile about. I loved the kids and the environment, I smiled a lot.
Fast forward a few years where I again would come face-to-face with the idea that, as a female coach, not only did I have the responsibilities of a coach, for some reason being a woman meant I had an extra role I had to play: the confidant, the maternal figure.
I understand that women typically have a little more maternal love in their veins and show passion at a slightly more elevated level. However, what I did not understand was how come when we became frustrated or even angry, the way we reacted held a lot more stone weight than those who were not female. “Unfortunately there is still the stigma that female coaches are supposed to be more friendly and more gentle”. I realized this statement was indirectly being told to me because I actually was expected to be that way in order to thrive. I’m not saying that on the outset we should be allowed throw and hit things out of frustration or lash out, but I’m saying when a male coach does it, he is doing his job, or he is “motivating” is athletes. When we do it, we are on the chopping block. You make mistakes as a coach because you are human. I’ve said things where I lay in bed at night and think, holy, that was wrong. However, you fix those mistakes, apologize and move on.
The way I coach and teach isn’t foreign and certainly isn’t uncommon. I am a true believer that the people you’re coaching have to like you. I know that sounds a bit like I’m a suck up but how much potential are athletes holding back because they’re scared or disconnected from their coach? At the end of the day, it’s all about what works for each individual athlete. So perhaps this is where a lot of us get thrown around. We do tend to be a bit more personal and connected.
We do tend to show care in a much different way. We also feel differently when we are faced with adversity or challenge. When we show disappointment it most likely hits at a much harder level than someone who has a coach who is more disconnected. It’s that difference between having someone who knows of you be disappointed in you versus having someone who knows YOU be disappointed in you. It feels different, it hits a little closer to the heart. However, the backlash we get is more elevated because, we’re supposed to be the friendly one all the time. We are supposed to be gentle and forgiving. We aren’t supposed to be frustrated or angry. I know this sounds like an exaggeration but until you’ve been put in a position where you’re supposed to stand around and look pretty, you probably don’t know how that feels to have your abilities as a team mom be more important than your role as a coach.
The fact is that while it is not obvious, the struggle for female coaches to do their job without a stigma still exists. I have been so lucky to be around positive, female role models who have forged through the challenges but in doing so, have admitted that they lost a little bit of themselves. You have to pick between remaining true to yourself and what you value with a greater chance of being reprimanded, or playing it safe, being disconnected and simply just existing in the coaching world you dabble in. Men and women are different.
The way our brains function is different, the way we interact with our surroundings is different. It doesn’t mean either of us have a reason to act out or be unprofessional but the reality still exists that in a world with two genders, the coaching world tends to favor the male brain and the female brain has to mold to it. I am looking forward to the day when sport environments are non-existent to stigmas but are aware of differences in physiology. This means clear and fair treatment across the board.
This means having equal representation at the top. There is often a denial that this way of thinking still exists because, let’s face it, no one wants to admit being sexist. However, it’s always apparent in the actions we receive. No coach is perfect and the ones who don’t screw up probably aren’t taking big enough meaningful risks. In the future though, just like I’d like girls to be authentic in the world around them, I’d like to see female coaches be able to flourish without having to worry about whether they are smiling enough.
Bio: “I am a 5’1, ball of fire, passion, curiosity and stubbornness. My love for paddling led me to spewing reps and intervals at youth hoping to make it big in the canoe/kayak world. I am a Youth Development and Masters coach in Bedford, Nova Scotia. The athletes I train are eager minded, bright, thoughtful and ambitious. Each day I ask more from them and they teach me more about what I do and why I do it. The best days are in the sun, sitting in the coach boat, watching my athletes paddle by with gritted teeth and glistening skin. The meaningful days are spent in the pouring rain, cold breath and two different types of coats on, while my athletes steam up with frigid water with their energy and heat. The sacrifices exist everywhere and the days can get long. I would not trade it for anything else. Here I am sharing it all with you, what we do is awesome.”