FEARLESS COACH: College Athletics in the U.S.- No Reward for Winning as a Woman




In my first year as a head college coach I was allotted a 10k part time assistant to build a brand new D-I program. I was offered 20k less than the average salary of other head coaches in the conference and thankfully did not accept without some fair negotiation. To get any qualified assistant to take the PT position to do the amount of work we needed to get done, I threw in rent and all utilities. To many this sounded insane but I wanted to build a winning program and I wanted to do it right.


To accomplish this I had to take a few holiday part time jobs including being a “driver helper” for a package delivery service during the Christmas rush. I did this each holiday for four years.


My delivery partner was a close friend who was the main driver and we enjoyed the competition and conversations that came with delivering 300-350 packages a day. We took almost no breaks for 2.5 weeks with only the hope we would get done early so my friend could say good night to his children on Christmas Eve. It was a humbling and fun experience where I familiarized myself with the geography of hoarders in our region and logged an average of 5-6 miles a day in sprints. The most telling lesson learned in this experience was that no matter how fast and efficient or how courteous we were to many grateful (and ungrateful) recipients of their packages, the majority of our co-workers were somewhere across the city slacking off.


This particular slacking off never failed to translate into a domino effect which seemed to hit our truck first. This meant, the harder we worked, the more work they gave us with no finality in sight to the cycle. I listened each morning for my driver to report that anyone from management had noted or recognized how productive our truck was during the holiday or how pleased they were that we rescued an average of 3 other trucks on top of ours.


When I reflect back on my time of working in a seemingly rewardless system I can’t help but recognize how as a female coach in college athletics, my job and that feeling isn’t much different.


Before assuming I am speaking only my behalf, I urge you to look beyond my shared experience to the hundreds of non-football or basketball college coaches out there in this position where the vast majority of us do not operate with any kind of contract or promise of reward at the end of our seasons regardless of results. Many often ask how long my contract is as a college coach and it makes chuckle as I have never seen one even on a yearly basis. Yes, men and women alike who are not coaching revenue sports are all faced with this, but not equally.

Some of the most incredible women coaches I know work at Division II and III levels with few resources where even consecutive winning seasons often only further prove to their administrations that they are doing just fine, with less.



As a result, these are the women coaches who scrap and stretch each year giving 100% of their energy and souls to their program often to the detriment of all of areas of their lives. I get emails from these women each week as they grapple with trying to figure out how to get out of this cycle. The problem is that the moment most female coaches opt to only give 98% to their job and spread 2% elsewhere to family or their own personal well-being, they are at risk of finding themselves with a few unfavorable end-of-season athlete surveys or administrative pressure for performance.


This combination often feels like it gives us only two choices: Repeat sacrificing everything else in our lives to return to the top, or leave. With our percentage of women in coaching on an increasing backslide, most are opting to leave or are fired for actively choosing to give 98%. The one thing I have found, based on the Fearless network is that women are more frequently willing than their male counterparts to suffer in silence to hold their teams together with tape and glue.


Ultimately, losing when you have so little can get you fired while winning with so little will only prove that you can go without and still get results. It’s a cycle that feels impossible to get out of.


This is probably one of the biggest double edged swords in non-revenue college athletics that so few recognize because basketball and football dominate the topic of college sports in so many forums.


With the new year in full swing I implore you to recognize how common this issue is and hope to ignite you to either reject it or to at least recognize it before you feel trapped in the cycle. If you are among those coaches who sat down in the previous year to once again listen to your administrators reaffirm how content they are that you have the ability to perform with less, understand that this is not a signal to support or improve your program but a sign, to keep it right where it is.


As a younger coach I was naively under the impression that if I worked hard and our program did well that there would be a recognition of the value and perhaps be seen as a product worthy of additional investment.


However, this isn’t the case and isn’t the case widely in women’s athletics. I have worked not to accept this but to understand better what I can do to continue to share all the ways this cycle is detrimental to the next generation of female coaches and athletes.


In the New Year, remember that you are valuable as a coach. If you are reading this as a coach you are not alone and giving 100% to only the job isn’t sustainable nor is it healthy.


In 2019, I wish for all of you, a voice in your departments, the courage to speak up or the strength to walk away. I wish for you to be kind to yourselves in a job that may never be able to give you back what you give. Be Fearless.




Bio: Becky Carlson has been in NCAA college coaching (USA) for more than a decade and is passionate about not only Women’s NCAA Rugby, but is also an advocate for the health and welfare of our coaching population.  As a public speaker, equality advocate and coach, Becky has grown tired of the abundance of resources for sport specific technical skill building and sitting at endless seminars only to be left with no solutions on how to survive in the profession of coaching with this generation.

Becky believes our athletes are losing their ability to communicate with each other and therefore, with us, the coaches.  Becky is interested in connecting and assisting other coaches who are challenged daily through this profession with today’s generation. Did you enjoy this article? Let’s discuss! Please hit like, comment or tweet @TFCoachCarlson with #BEFEARLESS. To contact me visit thefearlesscoach.org