Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

That Takes Balls: Toward a Feminist Coaching Methodology

Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

That Takes Balls: Toward a Feminist Coaching Methodology

Article excerpt

Popular sport ideology recognizes and celebrates the ability of sports to assist participants in honing and developing leadership skills that transcend the athletic playing arena. This is seen as an asset, especially for women and girls, and it underlies the creation of more opportunities for these groups to participate in sports. However, little research has been done to interrogate what styles of leadership current coaches of women's teams impart, how they understand and explain their coaching methods, and more importantly what type of (potential) leaders and future coaches these styles might help to create. This essay serves to fill this void by documenting my experiences as a self-identified feminist basketball coach at an NCAA Division II institution for the 2002-3 and 2003-4 seasons. In the introduction, I situate the essay and my place in it by discussing my basketball background and experiences. In the section entitled "Exploring Feminist Coaching Possibilities" I borrow from feminist pedagogies to speculate on the potential for a feminist coaching methodology. In the discussion, I review my past two seasons as a feminist basketball coach and identify major obstacles I faced while attempting to coach like a feminist.

INTRODUCTION

My interest in this topic reflects my experiences not only as a feminist and a college coach but also as a former Division I basketball player; I am the outsider within this research project. When I discovered the discipline of Women's Studies in college, I often struggled to integrate the knowledge I gained from my coursework with my experiences and identity as an NCAA Division I basketball player.' I wondered: Was I a feminist athlete? If not, what did a feminist athlete look like? Were women's athletics inherently feminist? Or was I deeply invested in an institution that was determined to keep feminism on the outside? My athletic and academic commitments allowed little time to explore these topics in either an academic sense or a more traditional activist sense, so I decided to make my personal political; the basketball arena became my site of feminist activism, and my teammates, some unwilling and most unaware, became my consciousness-raising group.

With the decision to make the basketball arena my site of feminist activism, I no longer took for granted my ability to participate in games and practices, and I resisted the pervasive tendency to complain about difficult practices or life on the road. Instead, I felt compelled to play my best in each game and practice as a way to thank the women and men who had come before me and worked to create these opportunities. With my new feminist consciousness, the effort I put forth was not only for me, but for my athletic mother, grandmothers, and aunts who, because of assumptions and expectations with respect to their gender, never had the chance to put on a uniform or high-five a teammate. With my feminist mind ticking, time on the bus or in the plane was no longer useful for catching up on missed sleep or listening to music. A teammate would bring her copy of Robin Morgan's Sisterhood is Powerful and I would bring my women's studies textbooks, and together we would discuss feminism and related topics with as many of our teammates as we could. Although I enjoyed each of these endeavors, my crowning achievement did not come until the middle of my senior year. One day at practice, I mustered a considerable amount of courage and suggested to my somewhat stoic head coach that we change the name of one our offensive plays from "four man" to "four woman" to more accurately describe the situation at hand. After a brief moment of reflection, he conceded, my teammates laughed, and I felt triumphant! This particular experience made me wonder what else needed to be changed to help feminist women like me feel more at home in their sporting bodies and in their respective sporting arenas. Reconceptualizing behaviors, roles, and expectations within the realm of coaching, a field I envisioned entering at some point in time, seemed a good place to begin. …

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