Women on the Rise

Women coach less than half of sports teams, not to mention even fewer male teams. It’s time for that to change.

Women+on+the+Rise

The past decade has shown great promise for women in positions of leadership on sports teams, programs, and management. Earlier this month, Sarah Thomas became the first female NFL official to participate in the superbowl. Many other female coaches and referees have also begun to make a Katie’s just one of the coaches…I don’t treat her different than anybody.[/pullquote]name for themselves in mens sports leagues. With women making history one after another, people are starting to recognize that the talent women hold has long been overlooked.

 One of the most profitable industries in the United States is spectator sports, with the majority of their profits coming from professional male sports. Up until recently, there has been an unspoken assumption that women are incapable of coaching male sports. However, women are breaking through this stereotype and our society is coming to terms that the ability to coach at the highest level is not limited by gender. Rather, being a leader and a brilliant strategist is what makes a coach successful. 

Becky Hammon made history this past year on December 30th,  becoming the first woman to act as head coach during a NBA game. 

During a regular season game between the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich argued with a referee over a no-call. He was called for a technical foul and was ejected with his team trailing 52-41 with 3:56 remaining in the second quarter. Out of the five qualified assistant coaches for the Spurs, Popovich called on Hammon, the only female of the group, to step up as head coach for the remainder of the game.

“He officially pointed at me… said, ‘You got ’em,’ and that was it. Very Pop-like,” Hammon said in an interview conducted by ESPN shortly after the game.

Hammon is currently in her seventh season on the Spurs’ coaching staff. She was a six-time All-Star in the WNBA, playing with both the New York Liberty and San Antonio Silver Stars. Hammon has now officially been a part of San Antonio sports organizations for 13 years. 

Much like Hammon, who played basketball professionally before her coaching career, Katie Sowers, former offensive assistant for the San Francisco 49ers, discovered her love of football at the age of eight. Throughout her college years, Sowers played for various teams in the Women’s Football Alliance, a professional women’s tackle football league. She played as quarterback for the Kansas City Titans, and in 2013, Sowers also played with the US Women’s National American football team, winning the 2013 IFAF Women’s World Championship. 

Katie’s just one of the coaches…I don’t treat her different than anybody.”

— Deebo Samuel

Following her retirement from her football career due to a hip injury in 2016, Sowers continued to seek out opportunities to stay involved in the sport she loved. That same year, she joined the NFL as a summer intern with the Atlanta Falcons, working closely with Atlanta assistant head coach and wide receiver coach, Raheem Morris, in organizing, conducting and concluding practice drills.

While Sowers was interning with the Falcons, Kyle Shannahan, the current head coach for the San Francisco 49ers, was the team’s offensive coordinator. In 2017, Shannahan brought Sowers to San Francisco as a part of the Bill Walsh Diversity Coaching Fellowship. 

Sowers continued to work with the 49ers as a seasonal offensive assistant up until 2019 when she was promoted to full time offensive assistant. 

“Katie did a real good job for us in Atlanta, [and] she’s done a really good job here,” Shannahan said in an interview with ESPN. “She’s a hard worker; you don’t even notice her because she just goes to work and does what’s asked. Because of that, she’s someone we’d like to keep around.”

On top of being the only female on staff, she’s also the league’s first openly LGBTQ+ coach, coming out publicly shortly after her hire.

Sowers’s gender and sexual orientation have proven to be great obstacles in the past. She had previously lost opportunities to be a volunteer coach because of sexual orientation, yet, she views these experiences as what drove her to her current success. 

The same season she became offensive assistant, the 49ers won the NFC Championship and moved on to Super Bowl LIV. This opportunity allowed Sowers to become the first female and first openly gay coach in Super Bowl history.

“It’s amazing what Katie’s doing…I’m happy for Katie,” 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel said to the press. “I get a lot of questions [like]  ‘how do you feel about [Katie]’…but at the same time Katie’s just one of the coaches. I don’t put too much emphasis on ‘she’s a female coach.’ At the end of the day I don’t even know how to answer that question cause she’s just one of our coaches…I don’t treat her different than anybody.” 

In baseball, Akyssa Nakken has made a name for herself as an assistant for the San Francisco Giants. Along with Sowers, Nakken represents San Francisco on her professional sports team, not only making history but also putting the city in the spotlight for holding two female coaches in different sports. This ongoing trend in the bay area sets the stage for other cities to follow suit and give women coaches the opportunity they deserve. 

The Giants hired Nakken in 2014, making her the first woman to hold a coaching position in the major leagues. During the hiring process, Nakken was not the only woman considered for the spot. The Giants also interviewed Rachel Balkovec, who was later hired by the Yankees to serve as a Minor League hitting coach. 

Nakken joined the Giants along with Mark Hallberg; the addition of the two new Major League assistant coaches completed the team’s coaching staff of 13. Manager Gabe Kapler spoke highly of the two hires in a press release shortly after they joined the team.

“Alyssa and Mark are highly respected members of the organization and I’m delighted that they will now focus their talents on helping to build a winning culture in the clubhouse,” Kapler said. “In every organization, environment affects performance, and baseball clubhouses are no different. That’s why in addition to assisting the rest of the coaching staff on the field, Mark and Alyssa will focus on fostering a clubhouse culture that promotes high performance through, among other attributes, a deep sense of collaboration and team.”

Previously, Nakken was a three-time all-conference first baseman and a four-time Academic All-American on the softball team at Sacramento State. She then earned her master’s degree in sport management from the University of San Francisco. Nakken originally joined the Giants in 2014 as an intern in the baseball operations department and worked on projects relating to the amateur Draft, international operations and player development. 

Working in an environment dominated by men, the impact of Nakken’s appearance on the field will never be forgotten. She is one of many making history on men’s sports teams, setting an example for other aspiring women. Nakken spoke out to the younger generation of girls, encouraging them to follow in her footsteps in an interview with USA Today. 

“Whether you want to coach or be in a male-dominated industry, this shows that if you continue to pursue careers or hobbies you like to do, and you put that passion behind it, doors will start to open,” Nakken said.

Along with Sowers and Hammon, Nakken shows the younger generations that gender does not define what you do. Girls of all ages look up to them as role models and  their stories prove that women can pursue anything they want to. The impact these outstanding female coaches have on younger generations will set the future of women in leadership positions on mens and womens sports teams. 

If you continue to pursue careers or hobbies you like to do, and you put that passion behind it, doors will start to open.”

— Alyssa Nakken

Here At Paly:

Even with the high number of sports offered at Paly, there are very few female coaches. Currently, there are no women coaching boys sports. Girls lacrosse, field hockey, and cheerleading are the only sports coached by women. Aanya Kumar (‘22) and Vienna Liu (‘22), two female athletes at Paly, aspire to continue as athletes and potential future coaches. They both agree in the importance of women leadership in both male and female sports.

“Coaches aren’t just there to coach you,” Kumar said. “They are also role models and I feel like a lot of young girls need that guidance.”

Kumar plays water polo and lacrosse at Paly, both sports coached by men, she has never had the opportunity of having a female coach.

“Sometimes it’s hard because they don’t always understand things us girls go through,” Kumar said. 

On the other hand, Liu plays field hockey and soccer for Paly, both of which had female coaches this past year.

“I think that having a female role model is extremely important [for] young female adolescents,” Liu said. “Growing up I have only ever had three female coaches and I think they have left an important impression on me. It is quite difficult to be something you cannot see.”

Outside of Paly, Liu also plays for a club soccer team. From a young age, Liu has been on various club teams, most of which were coached by males. Upon comparison of her experiences with both male and female coaches, Liu acknowledges that based on gender, she doesn’t have a preference. 

“I think a good coach regardless of their gender is incredibly supportive and makes you a better player,” Liu said.

In discussions of female coaching roles at Paly, Liu is in strong support with incorporating more female leadership and role models for female athletes at school as well as within the larger sports world in general. 

“It has been very normalized for sports coaches to be mainly male…Most coaches [are] previous competitive athletes [and female coaches can show] young girls what they could become,” Liu said. “I would one-hundred percent prefer more female leadership roles in sports.”