Tales of a Woman Coach; each time, it makes me feel a little smaller, a little more invisible (part 3)





I tend to believe—or I want to anyway—that it is not out of some spite for our gender that boys and men on the court treat me as an inferior, or make me feel as such. As a coach, I don’t think I have been a victim of overt sexism or hostility. I think that referees who withstand berating from men but not from women do not know their bias. I don’t think the fathers and mothers who question the ability of experienced women coaches ever ask themselves why they don’t doubt the qualifications of male coaches, some of whom have never even played the sport.

female shouting at ref

I don’t think we ever asked why our high school soccer program could not condone a woman coach charged with a DUI—which was later dropped—yet we sign our girls up, by the hundreds, to an organization headed up by a male convict. I don’t believe the father who once asked me to coach so that I, as he explained, can talk to the girls about boys, about emotions, really understood how degrading, how misogynistic his words were.

The things that happen to me are small things, of course, but each time, it makes me feel a little smaller, a little more invisible. Each of these micro-moments I spend in the jock world culminate, I know now, in the larger experience of what it means to be a woman coaching girls’ basketball. The fight is exhausting. The heckling is harassment. The discrimination is toxic. And we don’t talk about it. Instead, we walk away, let down by the very game and the very adults that had once promised us so much.

Most of my life, I, too, would’ve slammed the door to my beloved game. I would’ve persuaded myself that my girls were better off playing for a man. But the very lessons I learned from my two women coaches (neither of whom have coached again for over a decade) taught me to stand my ground, to keep fighting that long and tiring war within myself, that sense of inferiority and intrusion to a world men have made clear was not mine—and I kept coming back. I do it for the girls, sure, but if I were to be completely honest, I also enjoy knowing that my very presence and gender on the sideline, if not my ethnicity, offend some men, messing up the neat categories into which their identities are sorted, simultaneously threatening their being and their ego.

I giggle when they give me technical fouls for raising my voice. I laugh at their fear, their whole belief systems coming apart because I refuse to be neither silent nor deferential. Things have gotten better, sure; Title IX has given us so much. But what must begin to change is our attitude, our mindset, our treatment of women and girls in sports. I want to ask all of us, men and women, to wage a war against our own gender bias on the sporting field, so that our girls, hopefully, will not have to.

I pray that one day, when the girls ask me how it was possible that the foul count was 28-7 after we lost by four points, I would not have to glance at the parents—mothers, mostly—and try to swallow what we are all terrified to say in front of them: because the other coach was a man and I am a woman.

Bea Group
(Photo Credit: Jeff Egberg)


It is time we slam the door shut on that era. We must acknowledge our bias. We must raise our daughters and sons differently. We must show them what equality really looks like. We have to do better. All of us.

The Awesome Sports Project is gathering anecdotes (~150 words) from coaches, parents, fans, and players who have ever experienced or witnessed sexism in sports. Send to awesomesportsproject@gmail.com with your first name and state. All submissions—from men, women, boys, girls and tiny humans—welcome.

Let’s break our silence. Let’s talk about it.



Bea bballBio:  Bea played basketball at Haverford College (D-III) in Pennsylvania, after which she taught and coached in Singapore and Honduras. She drove out to Seattle to pursue her Master of Fine Arts at the University of Washington, where, in her “spare” time, she has coached girls’ basketball all over the Puget Sound. She founded Basketball Education in Action, an organization dedicated to girls and women’s athletics, as well as the Awesome Sports Project, an online blog committed to inspiring girls and women’s voices in sports.