This is a companion piece to my first annual survey of the gender breakdown in high-level American coaching. You can read that piece and its findings here.
More interestingly, I shared my research with two prominent female coaches in this country, Maria Stuber and Greta Anderson, and asked for their thoughts. Stuber is currently the program director of the SMS T2 Team. She is also the founder of the Women Ski Coaches Association and has long worked on behalf of that group. Anderson is starting her third year as Development Team Coach for the U.S. Ski Team. (Disclosure, Anderson is also a former coach of mine at APU Masters, and is a close personal friend.) Both women commented in their personal capacity.
Here’s Maria Stuber, via email to Nordic Insights:
“Collecting this data is important and I love the emphasis on older, college, professional, and national teams here as this has historically been where women are most underrepresented. Based on data from the Tucker Center for research on girls and women in sport, the number of women in coaching declined from about 1982 to 2010. With a lot of effort, education, and energy the numbers remained flat from 2010 to 2020, but we are, finally, seeing them on the slow and steady rise. I hope we are seeing this rise in skiing! While these numbers feel good, it’s important to note that, across all college sports, this rise has been just a few percentage points. At this rate, we still have a long way to go, and we need to keep pushing for a faster and more dramatic rise.
“The Tucker Center data also shows that there is a critical zone of attrition for women in coaching between the ages of 26 and 33. We currently have a lot of women ski coaches in this range who need to feel safe, supported, and valued in their jobs so that we don’t lose them. While counting the number of women is a fantastic way to measure progress, it does not actually mean the complex system that discriminates against women has changed, so we need to keep focusing on improving there.”
And here’s Greta Anderson, also via email:
“I hesitate to make a comparison between women and men — I love the ‘together’ aspect of cross-country skiing. Most club teams have both women’s and men’s rosters; teams work together; coaches work together; coaches work with both male and female athletes; teams are funded together, race at venues together, and progress together. Many of our teams, I would argue, are just that, Teams. Not a men’s team over here and a women’s team over there — but a true TEAM, which starts interval sessions together and ventures on similar routes for the over-distance days.
“In the spirit of that opening, I am far from the first person and won’t be the last to express the sentiment, ‘What is good for women is good for everyone.’ This rings true in the coaching and athletics realm as much as in real life. There are so many great examples of this in our sport — in our athletes, in our coaches, and in the leadership, both formal and informal, within our communities.
“In coaching we are working together: with athletes, with other coaches, and with the community. Regardless of gender, we need to be focused on building coaches who are driven, competent, creative, motivated, and able to connect with a multitude of athletes, partners, and staffs. We would do a disservice to every athlete to not provide staff rosters that are reflective of the diversity we see among our race rosters.
“In our National Development projects [e.g., REG Camps, International Junior Camp in Norway –Ed.], we have recently made a push toward gender parity. Over the last two years, if I were to put each coaching applicant’s name on a sheet of paper, drop those papers into a hat, and reach into that hat to pull names, the law of chance says that half those drawn would be women. This is reflective of the athlete rosters we carry on our development projects, as well as of the number of medals on the table available for each gender at the Olympics, the World Championships, and on the World Cup every single weekend.
“We want excellence. To win. To be the best. We want the best coaches, the ones with the best ideas, the most creativity, and sharpest focus — and in order to foster that type of ongoing innovation, a critical element is the ability to sit at a table with folks who have widely diverse backgrounds, perceptions, and athletic experiences, and to have critical conversations that lead to creative solutions to evolving ‘problems’ and ‘next steps.’
“We are getting there. We are close to the tipping point of getting to take gender in coaching in the U.S. for granted, of gender imbalance being a thing of the past. We are getting closer every year, and some folks in the community are swimming hard in sometimes uncertain waters to make this happen. There are leaders out there of each gender, and to those folks, I want to recognize your efforts and leadership — and to commend you, if I may, on the genuine difference you are making in redefining what a cross-country ski coach looks like and sounds like.
“To the women and men reading this article: Whether you are considering stepping into a role or selecting someone for an opportunity — yes, pick the BEST suited person for the job, absolutely. But don’t let the fact that someone hasn’t done some role or task (yet) deter you from taking it on yourself or allocating that position to them now. This is how progress is made.
“To the women in coaching who are waiting for someone ‘with more experience’ to give you the nod that ‘you’re ready and you should step into x or y’ role: Do it yourself. Now. Don’t wait. For the future of ski coaching to be progressive the same way the sport is, we need your ideas, your creativity, and your willingness to step up and have your voice be heard. Much of the success of your team is going to be based on your willingness to lead — and yes, it takes some risk. Your athletes are putting it out there, and you should be too.
“Do not wait for someone who looks like you to blaze the trail. If you are ready to move forward, cut that path in yourself. Your athletes will benefit, and someday, with any luck, someone else will have a role model in you that inspires them to do something truly great that they might not have otherwise known was possible. That can be your contribution.
“To those hesitant to get on board: Remember that a role for someone else, someone different from you, is not a threat. It’s an asset. It is not a spot being taken from you, it is a spot being added for all of us. It is expansion and progress. We are better in skiing as a nation than we have ever been, and we hope to continue that trend. It is not us versus them — it’s US versus the World!
“If you’re ethical, a badass, hard working, know how to teach, and want to help athletes improve, I hope we will have a place in this sport for you. And I hope you will find role models who look like you or that you connect with — and that from that springboard, you will find a way in which you can make your impact, your way, in the field you choose to pursue. The great ones always do — they find a new path, a new way to the top. We don’t become the best by replicating; we become the best by employing creativity and innovation. It is the American way.”