Play Sports, Be Strong, and Get Dirty: Advice from Coaching Corps

August 06, 2013

aCoaching Corps 02 - Jean Parker Elementary School - SF - May 2013Team-Up for Youth’s Coach Like a Girl program has spent several years upping the number of female coaches in after-school programs in California and encouraging girls to play sports. The program started through a 2009–10 AAUW Community Action Grant, and Team Up for Youth has since expanded to become Coaching Corps, an organization providing children in low-income communities with access to trained coaches and the benefits of sports activities and team-based learning.

We caught up with Sheilagh Polk, director of communications at Coaching Corps, to hear more about Coaching Corps’ success and influence.

Q. How has Coaching Corps taken steps towards empowering women and girls, particularly those in low-income areas?

A. In middle- and upper-income communities, girls are playing sports in record numbers and learning many lessons about life, including teamwork, making healthy choices, and setting goals and working toward them.

Sadly, girls in low-income communities don’t have the same access. [Many] girls in low-income neighborhoods have either been relegated to the sidelines by limited opportunities or received powerful messages from family or peers that girls shouldn’t be playing sports. We work with our program partners to arm more girls with best practices to get them playing sports and being active.

We are also in partnership with the local Legal Aid Society to deliver presentations to coaches and California parks and recreation departments. We educate attendees on AB 2404, a state law that requires equitable services and opportunities for girls to play sports at park and recreation facilities, as well as Title IX and other policies that support girls in sports.

Q. What specific initiatives have been most successful?

A. The Coaching Corps’ San Francisco Girls Soccer League has been very successful. It connects 13 after-school sites serving more than 100 elementary school-aged girls each season. Coaching Corps met monthly with program directors until the directors took over league responsibilities.

About two-thirds of the sites played scrimmage games against nearby girls’ league teams throughout the season, with 85–100 girls participating in each end-of-season tournament. The format included several rounds of 10-minute games played five-on-five. This tight configuration guarantees that no one is left sitting on the sidelines. The highlight of the day was the mother-daughter game, which a staff member described as “pure joy; everyone had huge smiles on their faces.”

Q. Why is it important for women and girls to have a presence in sports — not only as participants, but also as coaches, leaders, and role models?

A. Women playing sports, being strong, and getting dirty challenge powerful stereotypes that marginalize women and girls. For the young girl who wants to play hockey or dribble a soccer ball but has been told it’s not ladylike, seeing someone like Abby Wambach can be a life-changing experience. On a more personal level, female coaches can have a real impact on the direction of their young players’ lives.

… Women coaching boys’ teams sends a powerful message about women’s role in sports. It also demonstrates that women can take on this leadership role and do it successfully, an important lesson for boys and young men. For girls, a female coach can provide that extra support that keeps them involved in sports and on a healthy path. All kids benefit when women are coaching — and we’re proud that 40 percent of our coaches are women.

Q. Can you share a success story of your program?

A. Zulma came from the rough streets of Richmond, California. Her mother enrolled her in sports to keep her safe in their neighborhood. It was both the game and Zulma’s coach that created a path for her, one that ended very differently than that of her friends. While many of Zulma’s friends dropped out of school early or became teenage mothers, Zulma went on to play for [University of California,] Berkeley’s women’s soccer team and graduate with a degree in sociology. And she too is now a coach for young girls.

Q. How can we encourage girls to believe that there is a place for them in sports?

A. We can encourage them by walking the talk. We can take our girls to female sporting events, and we can spend time watching the WNBA or U.S. Women’s Soccer team on television with them. Let them see girls just like them playing sports and getting sweaty.

If our girls’ schools or after-school programs don’t have programs for girls, we can inquire as to why and help develop them. We can celebrate female athletes and coaches. We can ensure our daughters know about National Women and Girls in Sports Day and celebrate it with them. We can share positive images of girls getting dirty and hail them as beautiful. We can challenge old stereotypes, break the mold, and bust through the glass ceiling. We can recruit, train, and support female coaches to lead both girls’ and boys’ teams.

Slideshow: Coaching Corps’ San Francisco Girls Soccer League

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The Coaching Corps team brings athletics to children in low-income communities. Photo by Gail Ginder

This post was written by AAUW Fellowships and Grants Intern Emily Carroll.

By:   |   August 06, 2013

1 Comment

  1. Dee Baig says:

    This article acknowledges the ‘female power’ and strengthens the spirit of feminism. Such a bright and dedicated fervor with these coaches train their students. Makes me so proud knowing that there are still strong women in this world who dare to step up and bravely take on challenges.


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