Andy Murray, the third-ranked men’s tennis player in the world, has been coached by Amelie Mauresmo for about a year. He’s the only top-50 men’s tennis player coached by a woman. Murray recently told RedBulletin magazine that he thinks that needs to change.
Murray’s right: There appears to be a level of unfairness in coaching.
Becky Hammon, an assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs, is the only full-time assistant coach in the National Basketball Association. In fact, she is the only full-time female assistant coach in any of the four major sports (Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, and the NBA). In the Women’s National Basketball Association, 50% of head coaches and 43% of assistant coaches are men.
There’s a similar pattern in college athletics. When Title IX was passed in 1972, 90% of women’s college teams were coached by women. The act, which prohibited sexual discrimination in education, increased funding to women’s sports and raised the wages of coaches for women’s teams, which made these positions more attractive to men. In 2012, the percentage of women coaching women’s college teams had fallen to 43%. Fewer than 1% of men’s college teams have women coaches, and none of these are in Division I-A.
Unevenness in coaching isn’t just unfair; it’s also bad business. As economist Gary Becker explained, when a firm intentionally reduces the pool of talent it considers, it makes itself worse off.
Consider the story of racial integration in the NFL. The Washington Redskins, which was the last NFL team to integrate in 1962, won about 36% of the games the team played from 1946 to 1962. In the 16 years after the team integrated, Washington won 52% of its games. This seems to suggest the team was holding itself back by not hiring the best players.
So why does such an uneven playing field for professional coaches exist? It benefits two groups who often push back against change: less-qualified male coaches and team management. If the talent pool for coaches included all qualified men and women, it could mean less-qualified male coaches might not be able to get jobs. It could also mean more work on the part of decision-makers to find and hire top talent.
Some argue that women couldn’t effectively coach sports like football or baseball because they don’t have experience playing those sports. But men don’t seem to need prior experience to coach women’s sports such as softball. In fact, R. Vivian Acosta and Linda Jean Carpenter found that the percentage of men coaching women’s college softball increased to 37.9% in 2012 from 16.5% in 1977.
We tend to think of sports as a meritocracy. But the pattern we see in coaching suggests a different story. Nicole LaVoi, a faculty member in the School of Kinesiology at the University of Minnesota, recently observed that coaching is one job market in which women have not made significant progress in recent years.
The next time you see the coach of your favorite team, ask yourself how that person ended up in that position. Was it because he was the best person for the job? Or was it because your favorite team didn’t consider all the coaching talent available in the market?
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