Using Technology to connect and keep women in the game

When talking with other women in coaching one of the things mentioned most often is the lack of a strong and local network of women in the profession. For female soccer coaches, especially at the youth level, it is not uncommon to spend an entire day, week or tournament without seeing or interacting with another female coach. In all professions, interactions and connections based around common experience play an important role in building both relationships and a network of colleagues to rely on for ideas, support and jobs. No matter how much a man respects and supports the women’s game, he can never fully understand the unique situations that come with being the only one on a field, in a meeting, on a staff or in a coaching course. This means that in order to find others with similar experiences, and create the same connection and sharing of a common story that male coaches have the opportunity to develop on a daily basis, female coaches need to look outside of daily in-person meetings. Current technology can help bridge this gap and provide ways to connect women similar in experience, but geographically separated.

There are many platforms, with new ones continually being developed. Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, webinars, video streaming and conferencing each provide unique applications and uses. I am an admitted late adapter of social media. I am by nature private and grew up writing my papers on the Mac “Classic”, before it was called a classic. The first email I sent was for a college assignment, from a computer lab. This year, partially out of frustration, I made the decision to get out of my comfort zone and begin to explore how I could use of today’s platforms to access resources and make connections with others with whom I share a common profession and experience, but not a common location.

On Twitter I was surprised how quickly I found like-minded women doing and saying things that resonated with me. I could relate to their experiences both as a coach and as a woman in a traditionally male profession. The information provided led me first to the Female Coaching Network. A site designed by an English Track coach with the mission to connect and promote female coaches in all sports from across the globe. Last week FIFA hosted the second FIFA Women’s Football Conference. Thanks to video streaming, I could watch and listen as Billie Jean King, Moya Dodd, Abby Wambach, representatives from the UN and the new FIFA president – and a whole host of others – spoke about the current state and future needs of the women’s game. Incredible. In just a few months I had seen, and shared stories with, more female coaches than I had in the past two years combined. Since the connections are made in real time they allow for discussion of current topics, information and an exchange of ideas and common experiences. While certainly not the same as being in the same place or meeting in person, a good start.

One of the most incredible things that technology has provided is the ability for me to “meet” weekly with a group of women from across the U.S. This amazing group is involved in soccer in a wide range of capacities with different backgrounds and views. Thanks to video conferencing we are able to sit together, discuss, debate and share experiences. Some topics relate specifically to being a coach, some relate to being a female coach.  The opportunity to bounce ideas off of and hear from others how they handle situations our male colleagues never experience, being referred to by names like “dear”, “kiddo” or “hon” and being judged by how we sound more than what we say or do is invaluable.

Nothing can replace in-person communication, but if we are to keep women in the game, past their playing days, it is essential that we use the platforms available to ensure that there is easy access to examples, role models, mentors and resources not available locally. To know that we are not alone and be part of a community with others who share a passion and career is an essential piece of getting and keeping women in the game.

SarahFCN Ambassador: With experience coaching at all three NCAA Divisions, and two trips to the NCAA tournament, Sarah is currently the Assistant Men’s Coach at Dutchess County Community College (NJCAA).  She worked with US Youth Soccer’s Olympic Development Program in Eastern N.Y. for 8 years and served as director of the Girls North program from 2011-2015. Her current focus is on youth development and she works with clubs in New York and is the owner of SJI Training.