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NESCAC event aims to increase number of women coaches

April 7, 2017

Over the weekend, the Senior Woman Administrators of the 11 member institutions of the NESCAC put on the eighth Coaching Symposium for Women, bringing together female student-athletes from across New England.

While the event doesn’t happen on a regular basis, Bowdoin’s Senior Woman Administrator and Head Field Hockey Coach Nicky Pearson has been a part of organizing the symposium and furthering its goals of opening the door for women interested in coaching for many years.

“We try to educate them about the profession and also to really attract them to the profession,” said Pearson. “And then to provide a mentoring program so once they leave the symposium, we stay in contact with the participants and try to be a resource and a mentor to them as they try to pursue a career in coaching.”

A key focus of the day was how to break into the male-dominated profession.

“There are quite a few challenges that women face when they’re applying for positions,” said Pearson. “There’s more competition. When women are applying for coaching positions, the applicant pool in many sports is going to be made up of not only female coaches, but also male applicants. Whereas I believe that when there’s a vacant position for a male sport, then probably of 90% of cases, the applicant pool is only going to be male.”

However, events such as this one look to change that dynamic by increasing the number of female athletes interested in coaching as well as countering the generally accepted view that only men can coach men.

“I met someone that was an assistant coach for a men’s basketball program for 15 years or something and hearing that experience of a woman being a coach for a men’s program was really inspiring,” said Taylor Haist ’17, a member of the women’s soccer team. “Women are just as capable of coaching men and I was talking to her about this graduate assistant program with the men’s soccer program, and her response is basically just ‘go for it, the worst they could do is say no.’ It was really cool to see someone that has that experience.”

In addition to being female athletes, NESCAC students face their own set of obstacles, especially if they’re interested in coaching at a Division I level.

“We talked about how it’s really hard for DIII athletes to become DI coaches because when you’re recruiting for DI, they’re looking for DI athletes who played DI and understand it,” said Kate Kerrigan ’18, a captain of this year’s women’s basketball team.

However, in hopes of helping the athletes overcome these obstacles, the symposium offered a number of resources for the students. These included a panel of young coaches and keynote speakers like Sue Enquist, who spoke at Bowdoin last spring as part of the Leadership & Empowerment through Athletic Principles (LEAP) initiative by the Athletic Department.

Haist has been playing soccer since she was four and her passion for positively impacting another person’s playing experience motivated her to attend the conference.

“It definitely exceeded my expectations,” said Haist. “Hearing other coaches talk about their experiences breaking into the profession and how they were advised to go about it, that was definitely really insightful.”

Since her Bowdoin athletic career ended, Haist’s desire to continue being a part of the future of the game has only grown.

“When my career ended, you realize that it ends so suddenly,” said Haist. “Is this how you want to go out? So the opportunity to still stay involved in the sport, but just in a different role is something that I definitely am in pursuit in.”

The extensive experience of the coaches at the symposium also offered students a lot of insight into the aspects of coaching that the players aren’t always consciously aware of, such as recruiting and forming a team dynamic.

“My biggest takeaway is that the hardest part about being a coach is building culture, but that’s also the most important part about being a coach,” said Kerrigan. “So figuring out early in your coaching career what you want your culture to be like and how you’re going to go about building it.”

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