The NCAA Cross-Country Championships on March 15 saw a number of excellent performances, but the real winners of the day were not athletes or even teams — they were the female head coaches. Of the top five women’s teams that day, four of them were led by female coaches, including Diljeet Taylor, coach of Brigham Young University’s winning team. Taylor is now one of only a few women who have coached national championship-winning teams. On the men’s side, half of the top-10 teams have female assistant coaches and directors of operations.
This is a big deal because both cross-country and track and field are sports that tend to see a high turnover for coaches and director positions, and more often than not, a vacant position is filled by a man. Each year, the University of Minnesota’s Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport, in partnership with the women’s coaching organization WeCOACH, assign a grade to NCAA Division I collegiate sports teams to reflect what percentage of women hold head coach positions. The most recent evaluation gave cross-country and track and field an F, with only 17.4 and 15.7 per cent of head coaching roles occupied by women.
The Tucker Center report highlights the discrimination and barriers that female coaches face, despite showing talent and skill equal to that of their male counterparts, and points out that there is no reason why an increasing amount of women are getting involved in sports, but not in coaching.
“It is simply not possible that as each new generation of females becomes increasingly involved in and shaped by their sport experience, they simultaneously become less interested, less passionate and less qualified to enter the coaching profession,” the report states. “We can do better.”
The results from the NCAA XC Championships demonstrate that women coaches are just as capable as men at developing athletes and leading them to the tops of podiums, and while they are encouraging, the statistics are still alarming. In Canada, we are no better off, and if we want to make distance running a truly equal sport, we need to see more women in coaching positions.