Volume 12, Issue 26 ~ June 24-30, 2004
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Lisa Watts coaches two coed teams. She started coaching four years ago when there was a shortage of coaches in Woody’s league, and she’s now coaching her 12th straight team.
From Soccer Mom to Soccer Coach
Title IX put girls on the field;
necessity is recruiting their mothers
by Vivian I. Zumstein

The fateful call came spring of 2000.

Sorry to inform you, Mrs. Zumstein, but your son has been assigned to a team with no coach. If a parent doesn’t step forward, we will have no choice but to disband the team.

My mouth went dry. My heart raced. I wanted Christian to play. I did not want the responsibility of coaching.

I didn’t know enough about soccer. Christian, a bit of a rebel, might resent my directing him. I frantically phoned other parents, only to find myself among the volunteers cobbled together to share coaching duties.

If Christian was going to play, I had to coach.

In fact, I was far better prepared than many. I had grown up in the Seattle area, where boys have played soccer as an organized sport since at least the 1950s. I was a girl, but I walked the sidelines on countless soggy Saturdays watching my brother play, and I wheedled my way into pickup games with the boys in elementary school. Armed with the knowledge of what constitutes a handball, I was miles ahead of the average middle-aged adult in Chesapeake Country.

The season turned out fine. My son cooperated, the boys won a handful of games and, most important, they got to play. I was hooked.

That’s how many parents get sucked into coaching.

Soccer Saturday
Visit Hallowing Point Park near Prince Frederick on any spring Saturday and you’re in for a sight. Calvert Soccer Association teams for children from ages six to 18 fill the park. Brilliant uniforms splash color across verdant fields like an impressionist painter gone mad with every pigment on the palate. Lime green, orange, burgundy, royal blue, red, gold: All hues abound.

Black is the color worn by intent coaches watching their players dash across the field or confabbing with small groups of kids on the sidelines. Referees sprint from one end of the field to the other, ensuring fair play. Parents line the edges, cheering on the children. A handful of adults ward off the sun with large multicolored golf umbrellas, so bright they compete with the surrounding rainbow of uniforms.

Suddenly a loud cheer bursts from the side of one field. A goal has just been scored. The girls wearing forest green trot back toward midfield, a few players angling by the scoring girl for high-fives. The unfortunate goalie of the neon-yellow team fishes the ball out from the back of the net and hurls it to the referee, who sets it midfield for play to resume.

Once again, the two teams of green and yellow fly across the field in hot pursuit of the ball. Once again, each girl strives to move it to or prevent it from a score. A girl zips past dribbling the ball, blonde ponytail streaming. Her face reflects concentration as she glances up and judges the players’ positions before making a strong pass to the center in front of the goal. An opposing player, short, stocky and strong, sprints with surprising speed to boot the ball away before it can reach its intended recipient.

Some girls have obvious talent; others less. Still, calls of encouragement boost even the weakest of players. A small, spindly girl takes an awkward swipe at the ball. It rolls forward just far enough for one of her stronger teammates to reach it before a neon-yellow player sweeps in. A rousing cheer erupts from the forest green side. “Good kick, Ashley!” Ashley smiles in triumph as if she’d just scored a goal.

Plenty of mothers watch and cheer, but the majority of black-shirted coaches are men.

Going to the Girls
Soccer has been a rapidly growing sport for girls, especially promoted by the creation of all-female divisions since the mid-1990s. In the Calvert Soccer Association, active since 1984, the numbers of all children participating have risen over the years, with a steady increase in the percentage of girls playing the sport. In 2000, 580 girls played, accounting for 46 percent of all players, according to Tom Salley, registrar for Calvert Soccer Association. This year, the percentage rose to 52, as 777 girls registered.

Local parks and recreation departments do not keep archival records in their offices, but recent data show that lots of girls play soccer. According to Phil D’Agostino, sports coordinator for Calvert County Parks and Recreation, 747 of the 1,700 players in fall 2003 soccer were girls. He attributes the rise to all-girl teams, initiated by the league in 1998. Ron Mox, sports supervisor for Anne Arundel County Parks and Recreation, reports that 2,600 girls participated in Anne Arundel’s fall soccer season.

Oh, the Changes We’ve Seen
Many mothers of girls who play today themselves grew up when or where girls were denied participation in organized sports.

When I was nine, I had no interest in Barbie dolls, but I did want to kick a soccer ball. No soccer leagues allowed girls to play. When they would permit it, I joined my male classmates on the wet, messy field at our school, returning home with mud-splattered legs, saddle shoes, socks and skirt. Half the boys didn’t like me because I wasn’t skilled enough; the other half didn’t like me because I could outplay them. Several boys suffered the ultimate shame of being selected behind me in these games.

Adults and children alike viewed my interest in team sports as odd. Gymnastics, dance, horseback riding, swimming and tennis were acceptable, even encouraged. Baseball, soccer and football were not.

Thank goodness for Title IX, the 1972 law requiring all federally funded schools and universities to provide equal opportunity in the classroom and on the playing field for men and women, boys and girls. A quarter-century later 25 years of Title IX reported that in 1995, 37 percent of collegiate athletes were women. That was up from 15 percent in 1972. The percentage of young women athletes in high schools swelled from 7.5 in 1971 to 39 in 1996.

Since Title IX opened the fields, diamonds, courts and courses, women’s athletics have blossomed. Opportunities exist beyond my wildest nine-year-old imagination. Girls of all types play soccer today.

Consider the scene at the dress rehearsal for my daughter’s elementary school musical. One of the girls was running late when I entered the dressing room. She had already donned her regal queen’s costume. Then, with her crown set askew, she reached under her royal robes to fish out a pair of shin guards before hustling from the room to join the other actors onstage.

At one of the soccer games this spring, a little girl on a coed team was made up to the nines. A riot of gorgeous brown curls tumbled from the ponytail on top of her head as she maneuvered the ball across the field. Her nails were painted a lovely shade of pink, clashing with her neon-orange uniform. On the sidelines, her mother mentioned that the nail polish matched the girl’s dance outfit; she was rushing off to a competition the moment the game ended. The mother just hoped there would be time for her daughter to cool down and apply the final touches of makeup before her dance number.

Boys no longer resent talented girls on their team; they embrace them.

Last spring season, Christian was on a team of 13- and 14-year-olds playing full-field soccer. He played goalie during one half of almost every game. One of only a few girls in the league, Traci, played fullback. She owned tremendous soccer skills. On the rare occasion that an opponent managed to get past her, she, as one of the fastest players on the field, had the speed to run him down from behind and steal the ball.

“I love having Traci play fullback when I am goalie,” said Christian.

Plenty of Girls; Few Moms
In a sport that has become so popular with girls, you’d expect more women to be involved. After all, legions of mothers flock to support their daughters in other activities. But soccer has yet to attract mother coaches in large numbers.

In the two soccer programs in Calvert County, an average of 17 percent of the coaches are women. Between 2000 and 2003, the percentage of women coaches for Calvert County Parks and Recreation rose modestly from 10 percent to 17 percent. Mox can’t provide hard data for Anne Arundel County, but estimates that only about 15 percent of the 361 teams last fall were coached by women.


Coaching remains the bastion of dads. Many mothers told me that not having enough time is the number-one reason they don’t coach. Some added that they already volunteer in school or church — traditional areas of maternal volunteerism. These mothers said they leave coaching to their husbands, who gravitate toward sports. Other mothers pointed to their own lack of knowledge of soccer and sports in general.

“I believe my major reason for not coaching sports of any kind is that I have never played organized sports,” explained Jenny Barrett, of Prince Frederick. “I am very active in other areas that concern my children, but playing sports is not part of my comfort zone.”

The fact that soccer is a relative newcomer for many in Chesapeake Country compounds the problem. Terri Newman of Dunkirk said, “I’d be concerned about not being able to teach the sport. Not just the rules, but the techniques and being able to teach skills. I don’t know them.”

Michele Nycum of Owings is the type of mother you might expect to coach. As an elementary school counselor, she is comfortable working with kids; growing up on Long Island, she played numerous team sports, including basketball, volleyball, lacrosse and field hockey. And she possesses a competitive spirit. But even Nycum is daunted by a sport she never played.

Despite watching soccer for nine years, she said she would not feel competent to coach if her younger son, Zachary, 11, ended up on a team without a coach.

“If necessary, I would have volunteered to coach when my boys were much younger, but now Zachary is at a level that is older and more competitive. I would need more knowledge than I have. I just don’t know the rules well enough,” Nycum explained. “Even now, after watching for many years, I still don’t feel qualified. Being on the sidelines just isn’t enough. I am a firm believer that if you learn things when you are young, you understand them better.”

Winning with the Brave Few
These women’s reluctance to try coaching is understandable. We all have our limits. No one likes to do something new when they aren’t sure they can do well. The competitive nature of coaching and the expectations of kids and parents to produce a winning team make taking the leap into coaching soccer all the more difficult.

But there are bold women who take on the challenge. Their willingness to take the risk and learn the game, coupled with their successes, demonstrate that anyone venturesome enough to try coaching can coach.

A father expressed this thought, but it fits for any parent. At the beginning of a soccer-coaching course, the students explained their soccer background and their reasons for attending. Omar Hernandez — who has since died in an automobile accident — confessed in a heavy Bronx accent, “I don’t know nuthin’ about soccer. I played baseball and basketball. But my little girl wants to play soccer, so I’m here to learn about soccer.”

A few common threads bind the women who coach. Having lots of free time is not one of them. If anything, these women are far busier than many of their peers. They may have played sports as girls, though not always team sports. Many either work or have worked in male-dominated fields. Of those I spoke to, all but one entered coaching the same way. They got the call: If they didn’t coach, their child would not play.

Stephanie Basham of Chesapeake Beach got that call in 2001 for her son Tim, then in fourth grade. She now coaches not only Tim’s team but also her daughter Amanda’s coed team of teenagers ranging in age from 14 to 18. “Coaching the older kids is harder,” Basham admits. “They’re at an age where they don’t really want to listen and they question everything.” But she coaches them nonetheless. And she says she enjoys it.

Basham is comfortable coaching. A rarity, she played both softball and soccer in her youth at the Bowie Boys and Girls Club. She also worked with men in commercial real estate for years. She admits that sometimes she feels a little out of place with all the male coaches, but the men never intimidate her.

Many think her insane to coach two teams, but Basham said it actually works out better. “This way I can arrange practices for the same field on the same night. It gives me more control over my schedule.” And Basham needs that control. A single mom, not only does she coach two soccer teams, she is also the secretary for the Calvert Soccer Association, she works one full-time job and another part-time job, and she is president of Northern High School PTSA.

Lisa Watts, of Huntingtown, coaches two coed teams for her boys, Woody, nine, and Joey, seven. Like Basham, she is busy. She works full time and often volunteers at the boys’ school. She started coaching four years ago when there was a shortage of coaches in Woody’s league. She’s now coaching her 12th straight team.

A recent graduate of the Maryland State Youth Soccer Association D license course — a high-level license for coaches in recreational soccer — Watts takes her craft seriously. “I love watching a team grow. It is so rewarding to see the kids get it and pull everything together,” she said.

Mary Kay Brotherton and daughter Kristen with the first-place trophies they won in the Calvert Soccer Association 2004 spring season.
Watts ran track, but she never played team sports. She views this as a challenge. “Coming from playing individual sports, sometimes it’s hard for me to see how to position the kids to maximize their strengths,” she said. It’s not a serious limitation, though. Last spring she led Woody’s team to second place and Joey’s to first place in the Calvert Soccer Association end-of-season tournament. Both her teams finished second in their parks and recreation divisions last fall.

“I am really enjoying spending this time with my boys and their friends. I know it is a short time. The day is coming when they won’t want me in it,” said Watts as she sat on the ground, her chin brushing Joey’s head. He is still young enough to enjoy a snuggle.

Mary Kay Brotherton, a veteran softball player from Dunkirk, represents an anomaly among the women coaches I spoke to. The mother of five children ranging in ages from seven-year-old twin boys to a 15-year-old, she hasn’t worked in a male-dominated career field. Nor was she drafted into coaching. She volunteered to coach her twin boys for Calvert Soccer Association in 2002. She did so for carpooling reasons. “When you have five kids in sports,” Brotherton said, “carpools are very important.”

Calvert County Parks and Recreation recruited her to coach her daughter Kristen’s team the following fall. She has coached ever since, including also becoming an assistant coach for Kristen’s select team. Select soccer, Brotherton explained, “is very competitive. I like it, but I enjoy recreational soccer more. It’s more fun, there’s less pressure and it’s not all about winning.”

To complete the picture, Brotherton spends all the time she is not on the soccer field or running her five kids to various events or, as a longtime troop leader, steeping herself in Girl Scout activities.

Some parents hesitate to coach girls’ teams because girls have a reputation for being more emotional than boys. Brotherton brushes that aside. “I have no trouble with the girls,” she said. “Sure, I get the occasional eye rolling and the hissy behavior, but I don’t let it bother me. I was a hairdresser working with mostly women. I understand the moods.”

Brotherton knows a little something about winning as well as about moods. Last fall, her girls’ team took the Calvert County championship in their division.

Brotherton isn’t alone. Women coached at least three of the nine teams that took first-place honors; it’s impossible to be more exact as Calvert County Parks and Recreation does not keep records of the county championships. For the Anne Arundel fall season, Mox also doesn’t have standings, but he remembers that several women led successful teams.

Stephanie Basham looks on from the sidelines as one of the two teams she coaches plays.
Secrets of Success
Perhaps positive records result from the fact that many of the women who coach have taken the time to learn their craft. The only league I found that tracks the qualifications of its coaches is Calvert Soccer Association. For 2004, it shows that 37 percent of their female coaches have a Maryland State Youth Soccer Association coaching license compared to 26 percent of their male counterparts. The gap is even wider in the coed league. Only 34 percent of the men have a soccer license compared to 50 percent of the women coaches.

Linda Craig of the Maryland State Youth Soccer Association has tracked statewide soccer licensing past several years. Gender data is not kept, but Craig presumed gender based on first names. Her data show that the percentage of F, E and D coaching licenses (primarily for recreational soccer) earned by women in 2003 was 17 percent, up from 11 percent in 2000.

Taking the Field
What should a mother (or anyone) do to take the field as a coach?

Teaming up with an experienced coach is easiest, but arranging to do so can be difficult. Not all, but many, coaches seek an assistant not so much for the coach’s abilities but for the skills of the assistant coach’s child. If your child has average or weak soccer skills, you may have a hard time finding a coach willing to partner with you.

You can prepare yourself to coach in other ways. You can learn by watching your child’s current coach, especially if the coach is experienced. Take notes on games and drills that develop valuable skills and ones that the kids like.

Books and videotapes prepare a coach and provide ideas for practices. Local libraries and some soccer associations loan these out. Find a resource or two you like, then buy them for regular reference.

My favorite book is The Baffled Parent’s Guide to Coaching Youth Soccer by Bobby Clark. As the title implies, this book is for novices. The second chapter, “Before Hitting the Field: Soccer in a Nutshell,” is perfect for parents who may have watched soccer for years but remain unclear about the laws of the game or playing techniques.

Clark leads a new coach from beginning to end, including teaching soccer techniques, outlining potential practice sessions and gaining parental support (a skill no coach should underestimate). Lots of photos, coaching tips and more than 50 recommended games and drills should fill any coach’s basic needs. If you discover you want more, consider buying the companion book: The Baffled Parent’s Guide to Great Soccer Drills by Thomas Fleck and Ron W. Quinn.

Check the website or ask the leadership of your local soccer association about coaching clinics. Clinics range from the short and casual held by local leagues to the more formal courses presented by the Maryland State Youth Soccer Association. The cost is reasonable, and some soccer associations reimburse part of the expense to encourage their coaches to become better qualified.

No Gain without Pain
Warning. The Maryland State Youth Soccer Association courses are terrific, but they require attendees to play the game while they learn to coach. The theory is that by doing, coaches better understand how to explain skills and techniques to their players.

While this is true, it can be painful for middle-aged adults with less than perfect physiques. Laments Basham, holder of the lowest level F license, “I’m just too old to run around like that, and my knees are shot from years of playing catcher.” Accommodations are made for adults with health issues.

Lisa Watts coaches one of her players on throw-in techniques.
I took my F coaching license course one damp, bone-chilling Saturday in March, 2001. Around noon, after a vigorous game of two-on-two, my body protested the unaccustomed demands. A long, low, involuntary groan escaped as I bent over to pick up my much-needed water bottle. It was a sound echoed all around me by my fellow sufferers. Foolish pride refused to let me back off. I continued to push myself through the grueling afternoon session. The next morning, I spent 30 minutes crawling around on my hands and knees until my muscles loosened up. I didn’t walk normally for two days.

The following year, I earned my E license over a weekend. I paced myself better and the instructor, mindful that he needed us to be able to stand erect on Sunday, placed fewer demands on us the first day. I was plenty sore Monday morning, but not so that I had to repeat the embarrassment of crawling.

Leveling the Coaching Field
It’s clear from the women who coach that coaching is a matter of priorities and comfort — not a matter of having the time to do it or even the right background. Most women coaches do not have years of soccer experience to guide them. But their successes demonstrate that women need not question their ability to lead a team well. The task may be challenging, but the rewards are great.

The numbers of mothers coaching has grown over the years, but at a rate far slower than the numbers of girls entering the sport. As more and more girls play, the numbers of mothers coaching will continue to increase, but the real spike will occur when the large numbers of girls who have played organized soccer become mothers themselves. Even now, a few high school girls coach for Calvert Soccer Association teams.

These girls represent the tip of the approaching iceberg and, possibly, the future of soccer coaching.

About the Author
Vivian Zumstein is a retired Navy commander and the mother of four. Haling from the Puget Sound area of Washington State, she has lived for 12 years in Calvert County, where she coaches soccer, volunteers in the local schools and communes with nature.

Helpful Web Sites

  • www.soccerhelp.com: Basic help is free. Good teaching techniques and some practice drills. Additional information costs ($19.95-24.95), but there is plenty here to get a beginning coach started without paying a penny.

  • www.amazon.com: Search for coaching soccer. Books are listed in order of popularity with plenty of information and reviews to help you make the choice that is right for you. The site also includes videos and used books. The volume of options, however, can overwhelm.

  • www.drblank.com/soccbks.htm: Recommends and sells books on soccer. Amazon.com has better, more thorough information; however, this website narrows the field to a manageable number of books from which to choose.

  • www.fold-a-goal.com: Order coaching equipment (e.g., cones, scrimmage pinnies, pop-up goals, etc.) and review coaching books and videos on this site.

  • www.finesoccer.com: Subscribe to receive free e-newsletters on a variety of soccer topics.

  • www.soccerpracticbooks.com: In a hurry? Download soccer e-books from this site.

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