March 14, 2011

O'Connor Pens Article in NSCAA Soccer Journal

Sixth Year Head Coach Featured in Premier Soccer Article

SAINT LEO, Fla. - Saint Leo women's soccer Head Coach Ged O'Connor recently became a published writer as his article discussing the male versus female coaching dynamics appeared in a recent article of the NSCAA Soccer Journal.

The journal, a publication of the National Soccer Coach Association of America, is published eight times a year and is the Official Publication of the NSCAA and is one of the few publications in the world produced exclusively for soccer coaches. Each issue contains technical and tactical articles, news and updates on important events, thoughts from opinion leaders in the sport and features on the interesting people and issues of the game.

The following is the article that was featured recently in The Journal -

Male and Female Coaching Dynamics

I have been fortunate enough to have been coaching in the collegiate soccer world for just over a decade now, and the majority of that time has been spent coaching females. I have had the opportunity to be a volunteer, graduate assistant, assistant coach, and head coach, at levels ranging from NAIA, NCAA II, and NCAA I. As such, countless conversations, in airports, on sidelines of soccer fields, and yes, the occasional hotel bar, have taken place as to the issues that arise when males are coaching females.

At the collegiate level, NCAA only, there are more full time head women's sports coaches than men's coaches (9,742 to 8,600 in the 2008- 2009 academic year), and there are more males coaching females than vice versa (5,880 as opposed to 328, in the 2008- 2009 academic year).

As such, it is overwhelmingly likely that your daughter, sister, niece, or cousin is going to be coached by a male at the collegiate level.

We often hear the argument relating to more female role models in the sporting world- look at the impact that Mia Hamm, Billy Jean King et al. have had on the female sports landscape today; however, we still see limited number of females coming through the soccer ranks, especially at the collegiate level.

Do women prefer male coaches? Do women prefer to be assistant coaches rather than head coaches… these are all valid questions that have been asked countless times, but I think that one important fact is being missed here. In the soccer world on this side of the pond, it is men that are coaching at most of the youth, club, and high school levels, and, as a result, many players and parents have gotten accustomed to having their children coached by males. As a club director myself, I think it important to have as many females get into coaching so that the players can have the role models to look up to and work with in a training session for example, and then turn up to the college game to see that player on the field scoring the game wining goal, or making that penalty save.

I think it the duty of the current college coach coaching females to try and attract the graduating player into the coaching world, at any level. Purchasing a year's NSCAA subscription for each player graduating may be a simple way to try and keep that woman involved in the game, or urging the senior to assist at a local soccer club to get their feet wet.

Another misnomer is that of male coaches are more successful than female coaches. If you go purely on statistical data, then this is the case. However, given that males have been in more positions of success over time, is it not more likely that the male will be in the highest paid job, or the job with the best facility, more resources, and opportunity to have success?

These are all ideals for the future so that there can be increasing numbers of female coaches of female sports, but there is still the debate of the ability of a male to coach a female. I consider myself to be very fortunate that I have had the opportunity to coach females, and consider myself a female coach. It comes down to personality. I believe that my expertise fits more with coaching females than it does males. There is more to work with, a greater study of psychology, and explaining why something is being done rather than simply informing the team that this is what we are going to do. I have found it beneficial to have the team understand why we are going to play a certain way for example. If you notice, not once will I speak of the Xs and Os here.

It is clear that my role as a male brings with it certain challenges. A female is more likely to feel comfortable chatting to another female about some issues, and as such, I think it beneficial to have a female on staff who can assist in such areas. That said, a coach is a coach. The male head coach and the female assistant coach will both bring different qualities to their program, but just as it takes a certain person to be a successful teacher, or pilot, the same can be said with coaching. 
Finding any female to be an effective assistant is not the way to go. But it is finding the best assistant coach who can bring the qualities I am lacking will make the program better. The "good cop, bad cop" roles are somewhat relevant here. If I am a goalkeeper coach by position, it is not necessary for me to hire another goalkeeper coach; I would be more inclined to hire a player with attacking tendencies. That is the case at the moment. My current assistant coach is a formed NCAA I forward. 

However, did I hire her because she was a female? No. I hired the best candidate for the position given the intangibles in this particular environment. I was looking for a female purely because of her ability to relate better to the student- athletes, in addition to the other aspects of the job that need to be completed to be successful. It is vital for the players to have a coach whom they are comfortable with talking to. If I could not find a female who I thought would be able to do a job, I would then focus on the best available coach, so it is not simply a case of hiring the best female, it is hiring the best coach given the circumstances.

The coach should be hired on his or her expertise and coaching ability, in relation to the gender represented. If it was a case that males do better coaching males and vice versa, then males should be taught by males at school. Of course, this is not realistic, or appropriate, but the successful male coach of a female team must be in a position to see any weaknesses and try to adapt his coaching accordingly.

The bigger concern in this environment is the opportunity for the male coach, in a position of power and authority, to take advantage of their position over the female student- athlete, who are typically more relationship orientated, pleasers, and conscious of their role from a coach to player dynamic. It is unfortunate that there are those coaches out there who have for one reason or another exploited this position and acted in an unethical manner. However, what is as bad, is the administrator who knows such behavior is taking place to allow it to continue or brush it under the rug.

From here, it is understandable that administrations would prefer to have a female coach a female sport simply because this situation is unlikely to happen. The resulting questions should be why are coaches and administrators allowing this behavior to take place and protect those acting inappropriately?

I have been witness to the situation where a successful male head coach was removed from his position and replaced by a female with no prior head coaching experience, simply because the administration in question preferred the head coach to be a female. This is unfair to the head coach who was doing his job in a professional manner, as it was unfair to put the new female head coach in such a position of authority, not knowing how to fully embrace, act, and operate in that role.

However, the biggest injustice was that the student- athletes were all treated unfairly because they were put in a position where by they themselves were not given the optimal chance to reach the zenith of their potential.

If we want to have more females coaching females in the collegiate environment, the student- athletes need to have the correct role models, not simply a female in a position of head coach, or male in a position of head coach. The best coach available regardless of gender, race, or age should be in such a position if we want to give future generations of coaches the best opportunity and education to become the best coach they can be.

Ged O'Connor

Entering his 10th season with the Lions, O'Connor was named head women's soccer coach at Saint Leo University in March of 2006 after serving as an assistant coach for the Lions for four seasons.  In five seasons at the helm, he has led Saint Leo to four NCAA Tournament (2006-2009) appearances and an SSC Tournament Championship in 2008.  He is an active member of the NSCAA as he serves as a State of Florida staff coach and is on the regional rankings committee.

Based in Kansas City, Kan., the NSCAA is the largest soccer coaches' organization in the world. Since its founding in 1941, it has grown to include more than 30,000 members who coach both genders at all levels of the sport. In addition to a national rankings program for colleges and high schools, NSCAA offers an extensive recognition program that presents nearly 10,000 individual awards every year. It fulfills its mission of coaching education through a nationwide program of clinics and week-long courses, teaching more than 6,000 soccer coaches each year.