Dodgers LAX club founder Dee Stephan played field hockey through college, but it wasn’t until she started coaching that she found a real mentor: “She was a mom and a full-time teacher and athletic director, and she taught me that I could be an athlete and a woman,” Dee says. “Before, the people I met often spoke of female athletes and coaches in negative terms. But she helped me realize it didn’t matter what other people said and I should embrace who I was — a strong female coach and teacher.”
Today, Dee runs a thriving 8-year-old program for female players in the Northeast and Florida, and her staff is intentionally made up solely of women. “It’s really important for girls to see women giving back to the game they love,” she says. For one thing, she believes it encourages girls to stay in the game once they hit puberty (when they are twice as likely to drop out than boys). Hilary Renna, assistant director for New Jersey and New York’s Metro Lacrosse girls club concurs: “It helps to have female coaches — they’re more likely to know what girls are thinking and experiencing.”
But for a variety of reasons — entrenched gender roles, in particular — it’s not always easy to find female coaches. A recent survey found only 27% of the more than 6.5 million adults who coach youth teams up to age 14 are women. “I’ve been involved in youth lacrosse for a long time and even if the mom played in college and the dad didn’t, it’s the mom who is driving the kids around and the dad who is coaching,” says Dee, who has been coaching for 37 years. “Not enough women are choosing to say to their significant other, ‘I want to coach. You go make dinner.’”
With conscious effort, both Dodgers and Metro have overcome these and other societal challenges. Here’s how you can fill your sidelines with female coaches too.
- Don’t be too proud to beg
“Yes, sometimes you do need to plead with a woman you want to coach,” Dee admits. “And I’m not afraid to do that because if I can convince them, I know they will not regret it.”
- Help balance the work-life balance
Dee, a mom of four, remembers a weekend tournament long ago in which she had a baby carrier strapped to her chest and a child in each hand as she coached from the sidelines. Before long, though, she was passing her kids off to parents in the stands, so she could give her full attention to the team. Watching her own mentors taught her that “if you just do it, it will work out.” Now she’s the one passing on the tricks of the trade, including enlisting injured players to mind little ones. Similarly, she manages to keep younger coaches in the game even when their plates seem full. One former player is in medical school, but Dee is happy to let her to come once a month to lend a hand. “We’re showing the girls that regardless of what other responsibilities you might have, you can still find time to give back to the game,” she says.
- Be always on the lookout
At a high school game in Florida, Dee admired the way a coach of one up-and-coming team talked to her girls in warmups. After the game, she handed that coach her card. “I’m very intentional about the coaches I choose to work with,” Dee says. Similarly, she pounced as soon she heard that a clinician had left her job with a university to spend more time with her family. Now that clinician works for the Dodgers. An added benefit of Dee’s no-stone-unturned recruiting style is that her players get to interact with coaches from all kinds of backgrounds — teachers and stay-at-home moms but IT specialists too. “We try to offer experiences with different role models,” she says.
- Start them off early
One young woman who approached Dee about coaching opportunities was “a good person but didn’t have enough lacrosse knowledge for a full-time position.” But every Dodgers team has two coaches — an experienced adult and a college player — so Dee paired her with a more seasoned mentor. “They work together and learn from each other,” Dee says, adding that such a setup does as much to train established coaches as it does to teach the newbies. That said, because Dee wants to be sure to invest in the right raw talent, she makes any wannabe coach who is in high school or college persuade her — in writing — that the candidate is right for the gig.
- Turn alumni into coaches
Metro nurtures its pipeline by showcasing alumni successes on its website and social media channels, sending congratulatory emails and, inevitably, offering opportunities to come back and coach. That strong bond guarantees that many do, Hilary says, which means Metro rarely has to recruit outside their ranks. Even better, they arrive fully indoctrinated in the Metro technique.
Dee will say that at its core her off-field goading and grooming is motivated by a single guiding principle: Empowered coaches empower girls. Maintaining that chain can benefit all youth league officials, and not just for the sake of their own league. “My hope is that all of my players end up as coaches, wherever they end up,” Dee says. Then, the game and the girls will remain strong for generations to come.