What Buying a ‘Cup’ Can Teach Us About Finding Diverse Candidate Pools

When I was in college I went home with my friend Lisa from Mississippi for spring break. She was one of the first people I had met when arriving on campus as a freshman and we could not have been more different. As a “Southern Debutante” Lisa always looked perfectly done, even the morning after a late college night out. She had an amazing wardrobe of outfits that always seemed to be both timeless and the latest trend. Athletics and the gym were foreign words to her and with my city upbringing, penchant for sweats, oversized flannels and baseball caps we could not have made a more unlikely pair.


cupOne afternoon we were tasked with taking her younger brother to his baseball game. As we were “fixing to go” (her words not mine) her brother came into the room in a panic. When we asked what the problem was he explained with more than a little embarrassment, “I can’t find my cup.” Lisa, unflappable as always, told him to go to the kitchen and get another one. His look of horror was priceless. I tried very hard not to laugh as he frantically tried to think of a response to give his older sister and her friend that would not cause more embarrassment. I suggested he look again and then quietly explained to my friend that that was not the kind of cup he needed. To two practical women the situation quickly became clear, he was a catcher, needed a cup, didn’t have one so we needed to go find one and buy it. I was experienced with sports and my friend an expert shopper, this should be easy.


Unfortunately, neither of us had ever looked for one let alone evaluated or selected one that would meet the needs. Truth be told the only thing that was easy was identifying the need and knowing what store we should probably start at. Yet despite my years in athletics and playing multiple sports and her experience shopping,  the aisle where one would find protective cups suitable for a 12-year-old boy was perhaps the only aisle not one of us had ever been down. After arriving at the store we found a male salesman and explained the situation and what we thought we needed. Without batting an eye he walked us to the aisle, explained the options and differences in models and after asking for a few more details about age and size (height & weight) made a few suggestions. Her brother selected one of these and we were off to the ballpark.

While hopefully this story has made you smile, you may ask what on earth it has to do with hiring more female coaches and administrators. The connection is quite simple. Currently those serving as AD’s at the high school and college level, as well as directors of coaching and heads of sports organizations are predominately men. Just like we never had the experience of needing a cup, they have never had the experience of being a female athlete or coach.  While many are well intentioned and honestly lament that they cannot find qualified females to fill vacancies, I contend that they are simply looking in the wrong aisle. They have identified a need and while their experience, knowledge and connections may be strong, they are usually with others with similar experience and connections. It is well known across all fields that people hire both who they know and utilize their known network to find suitable candidates. Meaning in this case other men. Much like our need for a cup was easy to identify, to actually find one we had to start at a store that seemed likely but was unfamiliar to us and ask someone there who was aware of the varieties available for suggestions.

Just like we had to look outside our usual stores to find a cup, those looking to hire qualified women to fill vacancies need to look outside their usual networks. In other words, put in the effort to look in a different store or down a new aisle. The world of women making careers in sports is a small one and it is amazing how quickly the connections of a local college basketball coach overlap with those of a woman looking for a high school soccer coaching job across the country. In order to bring in a diverse pool of candidates, a concerted effort needs to be made to both build and utilize connections with female coaches, players and administrators across all sports and levels to identify and recruit potential female candidates. Simply saying there are no women is like saying there are no cups as you enter a tennis store or walk down in the lawn sports aisle.



SarahFCN Ambassador:  Sarah earned a BA in American Studies from Smith College and MSM in Sports Management form The University of Denver. During more than a decade coaching collegiate soccer she coached at all three NCAA Divisions and made two trips to the NCAA tournament. She spent nine years with US Youth Soccer’s Olympic Development Program in Eastern N.Y. and served as Director of the Girls North program for five.

Sarah is currently the Assistant Men’s Coach at Dutchess County Community College (NJCAA) and will join the staff of Eastern FC, a boys club based in Westchester NY, in the fall.   She holds the NSCAA Advanced National and Advanced National Goalkeeping Diplomas, earned her USSF Youth License and is a NSCA Certified Strength and Condition Specialist.