“She is the Best Female Coach”: Female Swimming Coaches’ Experiences of Sexism


  • Jessica L. Siegele UNC Pembroke
  • Robin Hardin University of Tennessee
  • Elizabeth A. Taylor Temple University
  • Allison B. Smith University of New Mexico




sexism, female coaches, NCAA, swimming, college sports


Sport participation for women and girls is at an all-time high in the United States, but women are still widely underrepresented in leadership positions and coaching (Acosta & Carpenter, 2014). Women hold approximately 50% of head coaching positions of women’s teams in the National Collegiate Athletic Association, and only 18% of the head coaching positions of women’s swimming and diving teams (LaVoi & Silva-Breen, 2018). Numerous barriers have been identified through previous research on the factors that inhibit upward career mobility for female coaches. Semi-structured interviews were used to examine the career experiences of 21 current or former female swimming coaches at the NCAA Division I level. The theme of sexism in coaching was pervasive and identified in five different categories: (a) misidentification, (b) differential treatment, (c) isolation, (d) tokenism, and (e) motherhood. The sexism that female coaches experience hinders upward career mobility which can lead to career dissatisfaction and early exits from the field, contributing to the underrepresentation of women in the profession.


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biographies

  • Jessica L. Siegele, UNC Pembroke

    Dr. Siegele is an assistant professor in the Department of Health and Human Peformance at UNC Pembroke.

  • Robin Hardin, University of Tennessee
    Dr. Robin Hardin is a professor in the Department of Kinesiology, Recreation, & Sport Studies at the University of Tennessee.
  • Elizabeth A. Taylor, Temple University

    Dr. Elizabeth A. Taylor is an assistant professor in the School of Sport, Tourism and Hospitality Management at Temple University. 



  • Allison B. Smith, University of New Mexico

    Dr. Allison B. Smith is an assistant professor in the Department of Health, Exercise, and Sport Science at the University of New Mexico. 


Acosta, R. V. & Carpenter, L. J. (2014). Women in intercollegiate sport: A longitudinal, national study, thirty-five year update, 1977-2012. Unpublished manuscript. Retrieved from http://acostacarpenter.org/AcostaCarpenter2012.pdf
Bronfenbrenner, U. (1977). Toward an experimental ecology of human development. American psychologist, 32(7), 513. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.32.7.513
Burton, L. (2015). Underrepresentation of women in sport leadership: A review of research. Sport Management Review, 18(2), 155-165. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.smr.2014.02.004
Burton, L. J., Grappendorf, H., & Henderson, A. (2011). Perceptions of gender in athletic administration: Utilizing role congruity to examine (potential) prejudice against women. Journal of Sport Management, 25(1), 36-45. http://dx.doi.org/10.1123/jsm.25.1.36
Claringbould, I., & Knoppers, A. (2012). Paradoxical practices of gender in sport-related organizations. Journal of Sport Management, 26(5), 404-416. http://dx.doi.org/10.1123/jsm.26.5.404
Connell, R. W., & Messerschmidt, J. W. (2005). Hegemonic masculinity: Rethinking the concept. Gender & society, 19(6), 829-859. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0891243205278639
Cudd, A. E., & Jones, L. E. (2005). Sexism. In R. G. Frey & C. H. Wellman (Eds.) A Companion to Applied Ethics. London: Blackwell. https://doi.org/10.1002/9780470996621.ch8.
Cunningham, G. B., & Sagas, M. (2002). The differential effects of human capital for male and female Division I basketball coaches. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 73(4), 489-495. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02701367.2002.10609051
Derks, B., Ellemers, N., Van Laar, C., & De Groot, K. (2011). Do sexist organizational cultures create the Queen Bee?. British Journal of Social Psychology, 50(3), 519-535. http://dx.doi.org/10.1348/014466610X525280
Dixon, M., & Bruening, J. (2007). Work-family conflict in coaching I: A top-down perspective. Journal of Sport Management, 21, 377–406. http://dx.doi.org/10.1123/jsm.21.3.377
Dobson, R., & Iredale, W. (2006, December 31). Office Queen Bees hold back women’s careers. The Sunday Times. Retrieved from http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article1265356.
Eagly, A. H., & Karau, S. J. (2002). Role congruity theory of prejudice toward female leaders. Psychological review, 109(3), 573. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037//0033-295X.109.3.573
Enfield, N. J. (2007). Meanings of the unmarked: How 'default' person reference does more than just refer. In Person reference in interaction: Linguistic, cultural, and social perspectives (pp. 97-120). Cambridge University Press. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511486746.006
Goldberg, W. A., Tan, E. T., & Thorsen, K. L. (2009). Trends in academic attention to fathers, 1930-2006. Fathering: A Journal of Theory, Research, & Practice About Men as Fathers, 7, 159-179. http://dx.doi.org/10.3149/fth.0702.159
Graham, J. A., & Dixon, M. A. (2014). Coaching fathers in conflict: A review of the tensions surrounding the work-family interface. Journal of Sport Management, 28(4), 447-456. http://dx.doi.org/10.1123/jsm.2013-0241
Greenhill, J., Auld, C., Cuskelly, G., & Hooper, S. (2009). The impact of organisational factors on career pathways for female coaches. Sport Management Review, 12(4), 229-240.
Hardin, M., Whiteside, E., & Ash, E. (2014). Ambivalence on the front lines? Attitudes towards Title IX and women’s sports among Division I sports information directors. International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 49(1), 42-64. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1012690212450646
Hardin, R., Taylor, E. A., Smith, A. B., & Siegele, J. (2017). The glass door: Early-career women in collegiate athletics. In A. N. Milner and J. H. Braddock (Eds). Women in Sports: Breaking Barriers, Facing Obstacles (pp. 243-262). Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO-Praeger.
Johnson, R. A., & Schulman, G. I. (1989). Gender-role composition and role-entrapment in decision-making groups. Gender & Society, 3, 353-372. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/089124389003003005
Kamphoff, C. (2010). Bargaining with patriarchy: Former women coaches' experiences and their decision to leave collegiate coaching. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 81, 367-379. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02701367.2010.10599684
Kamphoff, C. S., Armentrout, S. M., & Driska, A. (2010). The token female: Women’s experiences as Division I collegiate head coaches of men’s teams. Journal of Intercollegiate Sport, 3(2), 297-315. http://dx.doi.org/10.1123/jis.3.2.297
Kanter, R. M. (1977). Some effects of proportions on group life: Skewed sex ratios and responses to token women. American journal of Sociology, 82(5), 965-990. http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/226425
Kanter, R. M. (1993). Men and women of the corporation: New edition. New York: Basic books.
Kilty, K. (2006). Women in coaching. The Sport Psychologist, 20(2), 222-234. http://dx.doi.org/10.1123/tsp.20.2.222
Krane, V., & Barber, H. (2005). Identity tensions in lesbian intercollegiate coaches. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 76(1), 67-81. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02701367.2005.10599263
Laabs, J. (1993). First: Person: The sticky floor beneath the glass ceiling. Personnel Journal, 72(5), 35-39.
LaVoi, N. M. (2009). Occupational sex segregation in a youth soccer organization: Females in positions of power. Women in Sport and Physical Activity, 18(2), 25-37. http://dx.doi.org/10.1123/wspaj.18.2.25
LaVoi, N. M. (2016). A framework to understand experiences of women coaches around the globe: The Ecological-Intersectional Model. In N. M. LaVoi, (Ed.) Women in sports coaching (pp. 27-48). Abingdon: Routledge.
LaVoi, N. M., & Silva-Breen, H. (2018). Head coaches of women's collegiate teams: A comprehensive report on NCAA Division-I institutions, 2017-18. Minneapolis: The Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport. Retrieved from http://www.TuckerCenter.org
LaVoi, N. M., & Dutove, J. K. (2012). Barriers and supports for female coaches: An ecological model. Sports Coaching Review, 1(1), 17-37. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/21640629.2012.695891
Lincoln, Y. S., & Guba, E. G. (1985). Naturalistic inquiry (Vol. 75). Thousand Oaks: CA. Sage.
Linehan, M., & Scullion, H. (2008). The development of female global managers: The role of mentoring and networking. Journal of Business Ethics, 83(1), 29-40. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10551-007-9657-0
Lockwood, P. (2006). “Someone like me can be successful”: Do college students need same-gender role models? Psychology of Women Quarterly, 30(1), 36-46. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1471-6402.2006.00260.x
Massengale, D. (2009). The Underrepresentation of women in interscholastic sport leadership: A qualitative study on the effects of role incongruity (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from University Libraries: University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Messner, M. A. (2009). It’s all for the kids: Gender, families, and youth sports. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Morrow, S. L. (2005). Quality and trustworthiness in qualitative research in counseling psychology. Journal of counseling psychology, 52(2), 250. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0022-0167.52.2.250
Murphy, G. M., Petitpas, A. J., & Brewer, B. W. (1996). Identity foreclosure, athletic identity, and career maturity in intercollegiate athletes. The Sport Psychologist, 10(3), 239-246. https://doi.org/10.1123/tsp.10.3.239
Norman, L. (2010). Feeling second best: Elite women coaches’ experiences. Sociology of Sport Journal, 27(1), 89-104. https://doi.org/
Norman, L. (2016). Lesbian coaches and homophobia. In N. M. LaVoi, (Ed.) Women in sports coaching (pp. 62-80). Abingdon: Routledge.
Patton, M. Q. (2002). Variety in qualitative inquiry. Qualitative research and evaluation methods. (pp. 75-142). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Perakyla, A., & Ruusuvuori, J. (2013). Analyzing talk and text. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), Collecting and interpreting qualitative materials. (pp. 277-307). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Podolny, J. M., & Baron, J. N. (1997). Resources and relationships: Social networks and mobility in the workplace. American sociological review, 673-693. http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/2657354
Ranson, G. (2005). No longer “one of the boys”: Negotiations with motherhood, as prospect or reality, among women in engineering. Canadian Review of Sociology/Revue canadienne de sociologie, 42(2), 145-166. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1755-618X.2005.tb02459.x
Reskin, B. F., & Padavic, I. (2006). Sex, race, and ethnic inequality in United States workplaces. In Handbook of the sociology of gender (pp. 343-374). New York: Springer US. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/0-387-36218-5_16
Rubin, H. J., & Rubin, I. S. (2012). Qualitative interviewing: The art of hearing data. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Saldaña, J. (2015). The coding manual for qualitative researchers. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Saxe, K., Hardin, R., Taylor, E. A., & Pate, J. R., (2017). Transition blues: The experience of female collegiate student-athletes. Journal of Higher Education Athletics and Innovation, 1(2), 25-48. http://dx.doi.org/10.15763/issn.2376-5267.2017.1.2.25-48
Seidman, I. (2013). Interviewing as qualitative research: A guide for researchers in education and the social sciences. New York: Teachers College Press.
Shaw, S., & Hoeber, L. (2003). “A strong man is direct and a direct woman is a bitch”: Gendered discourses and their influence on employment roles in sport organizations. Journal of Sport Management, 17(4), 347-375. http://dx.doi.org/10.1123/jsm.17.4.347
Shinew, K. J., Floyd, M. F., McGuire, F. A., & Noe, F. P. (1996). Class polarization and leisure activity preferences of African Americans: Intragroup comparisons. Journal of Leisure Research, 28(4), 219-232. https://doi.org/10.1080/00222216.1996.11949773
Siegele, J., Smith, A. B., & Hardin, R. (2019). Male collegiate student-athletes’ experiences and perceptions of female head coaches. Journal for the Study of Sport and Athletes in Education, 13(3). DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/19357397.2019.1578161
Smith, A. B., & Hardin, R. (2018). Female student-athletes’ transition out of collegiate competition. Journal of Amateur Sport , 4(3), 61-86
Smith, A. B., Taylor, E. A., & Hardin, R. (2017). Women and Mentoring in Collegiate Athletic Settings. Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, 24(5), 346-364. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13611267.2016.1272200
Smith, A. B., Taylor, E. A., Siegele, J., & Hardin, R. At a crossroads: The senior woman administrator designation. Manuscript submitted for publication.
Smith, A. B., Taylor, E. A., Hardin, R. (2018). Seeking an identity: Transitioning to life after professional sport. Applied Research in Coaching and Athletics Annual, 33, 185-213. https://doi.org/10.17161/jas.v4i2.6725
Sport Sponsorship, Participation, and Demographics (2017). Sport Sponsorship, Participation, and Demographics Search. Retrieved from http://web1.ncaa.org/rgdSearch/exec/instSearch
Stangl, J. M., & Kane, M. J. (1991). Structural variables that offer explanatory power for the underrepresentation of women coaches since Title IX: The case of homologous reproduction. Sociology of Sport Journal, 8(1), 47-60. http://dx.doi.org/10.1123/ssj.8.1.47
Swim, J. K., Mallett, R., & Stangor, C. (2004). Understanding subtle sexism: Detection and use of sexist language. Sex roles, 51(3), 117-128. http://dx.doi.org/10.1023/B:SERS.0000037757.73192.06
Taylor, E. A., & Hardin, R. (2016). Female NCAA Division I Athletic Directors: Experiences and Challenges. Women in Sport and Physical Activity Journal, 24(1), 14-25. http://dx.doi.org/10.1123/wspaj.2014-0038
Taylor, E. A., Hardin, R., Welch, N., & Smith, A. B. (2018). Incivility in the workplace: The experiences of female sport management faculty in higher education. Journal of Higher Education Management, 33(2), 180-198.
Taylor, E. A., Siegele, J. L., Smith A. B., & Hardin, R. (2018). Applying Career Construction Theory to Female NCAA Division I Conference Commissioners. Journal of Sport Management, 32(4), 321-333. http://dx.doi.org/10.1123/jsm.2017-0179
Taylor, E. A., Smith, A., B., & Hardin, R. (2017). Experiences and challenges of women working in NCAA Division I athletic departments. Applied Research in Coaching and Athletics Annual, 32, 144-184.
USA Swimming (2016). Membership demographics report. Colorado Springs, CO: Membership Services.
Van Manen, M. (1990). Researching lived experiences. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
Walker, N. A., & Bopp, T. (2010). The underrepresentation of women in the male-dominated sport workplace: Perspectives of female coaches. Journal of Workplace Rights, 15(1). http://dx.doi.org/10.2190/WR.15.1.d
Whisenant, W. A., & Mullane, S. P. (2007). Sport information directors and homologous reproduction. International Journal of Sport Management and Marketing, 2(3), 252-263.
Wiltse, J. (2007). Contested waters: A social history of swimming pools in America. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press.
Yates, S. (2003). Doing social science research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. http://dx.doi.org/10.1504/IJSMM.2007.012404




How to Cite

Siegele, J. L., Hardin, R., Taylor, E. A., & Smith, A. B. (2020). “She is the Best Female Coach”: Female Swimming Coaches’ Experiences of Sexism. Journal of Intercollegiate Sport, 13(1), 93-118. https://doi.org/10.17161/jis.v13i1.11676