Here's an Idea: Hire More Women

Recently, I brought on Susan Teeter to discuss the Tucker Center's "F" grade for NCAA Swimming in terms of gender equity.

Since then, I've successfully heard from Nicole LaVoi of the Tucker Center, and will have her on a podcast when the schedule clears.

In the meantime, LaVoi has taken to Swimswam herself to expand on the value of women coaches.

It's a great list, and I'm here to add another huge reason to the fire. But first, let's talk about a crucial part of how we got to such a dismal place in the profession of swim coaching, particularly in college swimming.

The Quota

As I've written about before, there is an unofficial "quota" for female coaches in the NCAA. You will not get anybody to put it down on paper, since having an official gender discriminatory policy would obviously be a problem for schools.

It goes like this: If you have a combined program with a male head coach, you must have a female coach on staff in some capacity. If you have a split, women's program that is head coached by a man, he needs to have a female assistant.

This "quota" is a dismal failure, not only because it allows many to falsely claim that women are getting a fair shot in college coaching, but also because it is poisonous to almost everything it touches.

Every year, a number of these positions turn over. Many men apply for them, and sooner or later find out that they simply have little to no chance (there are rare exceptions made) because of their gender.

This leads them to wrongly assume the system is rigged against them, when in fact there are many more men employed in college coaching positions and it's uncommon for big combined coaching staffs to have more than one woman.

Women are often hired in the laziest way possible. Let me explain. These are overwhelmingly entry level positions and they are staffed by young (under 30) women who have recently concluded competitive swimming careers.

Very few of these women will go on to head coaching positions, and they are often given operational (non-coaching) tasks on a program. They are not developed to become head coaches.

There are middle-aged, kickass female coaches who don't even get considered for these positions.


Do you like the book Moneyball? I really liked it, as I have liked many Michael Lewis books (up to his book on parenting when I felt an abundance of empathy for his poor wife Tabitha).

One of the most discussed about parts of Moneyball is how the General Manager of the Oakland A's, Billy Beane, exploited conventional wisdom among baseball GM's to build a competitive roster on a shoestring budget. 

The biggest inefficiency he saw was the undervaluing of OBP (On-base percentage). You know what is wildly undervalued in college swimming? Non-white, non-male coaches. 

So, the biggest reason that programs should change the way that they are constructing their coaching staffs has nothing to do with whether or not they are sexist or out of some moral high road. They should change their strategy because if they could, they would gain an enormous competitive advantage over their competition.

It's a Copycat League

Have you ever heard of the American Football professional league referred to as a "copycat"? Well, they've not seen NCAA Swimming, particularly when it comes down to hiring. Programs across the country are exceedingly conservative when it comes to hiring.

They are not not hiring a diverse set of coaches out of some conscious prejudice. They simply just have a template in their mind for what they "need" in a coaching position, and, what do you know? There are plenty of young white guys that "fit".

Somebody has to go out on a limb and try something different. They have to figure out the advantages they can gain by stocking their staff with (gasp) more than one female body. They have to walk their talk about actually wanting to build a group with different strengths and experiences. 

Somebody brave has to actually capitalize on the inefficiency that is just sitting there. Or they can just try a variation of the same boring strategy that almost everyone else is trying and enjoy staying in the same place at their conference, or maybe moving up or down a spot or two.

But it's hard

Here's the most common refrain I hear to the above:

"But I don't get a lot of women applicants to my positions"

Maybe, for once, someone should take some personal responsibility for this, instead of putting it back on women that they just don't want to coach college swimming enough. Go out and find some women you really would like to have coach, or ask somebody who knows them if they can recommend people.

Then ask them why they're not applying and tell them you're willing to take a few verbal smacks across the face. Be humble and learn. 

I had women coach me in high school that easily could have coached at the Division 1 Power conference level. Easily! When I became a head coach in Denmark, the best coach I ever worked with was a young woman with a psychology degree who had never been a competitive swimmer and basically argued with me that she couldn't be a competitive swim coach for this reason.

She was so incredibly wrong about that, and I'm happy to have convinced her otherwise.

So suffice it to say, the opportunities are all around you, if you make a modicum of effort to look for them. Or just be content and complacent and take your seat in line. Your choice.