BETHLEHEM, Pa. – It has been over 40 years since the Title IX ruling changed the landscape of women's sports across the country, and while enormous strides have been made in gender equity in college athletics over the course of four decades, there are still discrepancies and imbalances being actively combatted by organizations such as the Alliance of Women Coaches (AWC).
This was merely one topic discussed at the annual NCAA Women Coaches Academy in Denver, attended by Moravian College head women's soccer coach Brienne Smith from December 9-13.
The AWC assembled a staff of 16 elite and groundbreaking women coaches from across the NCAA's institutions to host and guide 44 class members through exercises and discussions in coaching philosophy, management skills, communication strategies and career development.
"It was a life-changing experience for me," said Smith, who completed her fourth season at the helm of the Greyhounds this fall. "I've been to coaching symposiums before that focused on the X's and O's of coaching, but this was completely different. The emphasis was more on why are we doing this; what does coaching mean in addition to being a woman and raising families."
The issue of gender equity was a hot topic at the Academy. An article published by USA TODAY on Wednesday summed up one of the discussions by Smith and her peers. While Title IX has increased opportunities for women to compete in sports, there has actually been a decline in women in coaching positions. In 1972, the year Title IX was passed, more than 90 percent of intercollegiate women's teams were led by women coaches. Today, that number has dropped to around 60 percent as women's sports have become more popular – and more lucrative – generating increased interest from men to apply for the positions.
The AWC and its Academy of coaches discussed this problem and how they can battle the trend while retaining and expanding women's presence in college sports. It was one subject of a jam-packed itinerary for the classmates of the Academy, which scheduled classes and events from 7:45 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. every day.
Smith boldly admitted she will certainly benefit from the session on organization, as one of her weaknesses is the pile of papers on her desk in Johnston Hall. But the longest lasting effect she will take from her week in Denver is the network of like-minded leaders sharing a common passion and goal.
"I made 44 new friends," Smith said. "There was such a wealth of experience, passion and drive. I discovered a giant network of support I never knew existed. It also served as a refreshing reminder of why I got onto this career path. It's about the student-athletes and changing lives in a positive way."
Smith brought home a binder full of the curriculum covered over five days, but she knows one lesson that she would like to immediately apply to her work at Moravian College. After a workshop on communication, she was intrigued on how her outgoing and unfiltered personality can come off to student-athletes or assistant coaches who do not share those personality traits. Each coach-to-player interaction is unique, she learned.
Other items on her revamped to-do list, inspired by the Women Coaches Academy, include implementing team culture strategies, character building exercises and discussing the importance of leadership. These have been staples in Smith's coaching style for four years at Moravian, and her newfound network reaffirmed the importance and practicality of these points of focus aside from the X's and O's of the game of soccer.
It was a give-and-take experience for Smith, who both acquired a wealth of knowledge and shared some of her own skills with less experienced coaches. On one day, Smith was paired with a coach who was looking for a mentor. Emily Carrara, the assistant volleyball coach at Division I Davidson College, sought Smith out.
"It was rewarding to be able to give back at the same time as learning so much from so many great women," Smith said. "We were able to share stories of our highs and lows. It was motivational because no matter the situation you have been in, there was someone else there who knew exactly what you went through."
While Smith has benefitted from a week-long trip dedicated to coaching skill development, she hopes she is not the only benefactor from the Moravian community. She hopes the positive energy and passionate drive that was on display in Denver will be infectious and trickle down the tree to her coaching staff, her Greyhounds and the entire college campus.