“WE ARE NOT WEAK!”
The girls screamed together in unison as they threw their hands out of the team huddle.
It was halftime at the Under-14 girls soccer game in Chappaqua, N.Y. and the South Bronx United (SBU) team was pumped. Their coach, Delmy Del Cid, had just told them that she had overheard the coach of the other team say their defense was weak.
I should have never told them, Del Cid said to herself, chuckling and shaking her head as she watched her players run to their positions on field. She knew what was about to happen.
And she was right. Her determined players came out more aggressive than ever, consequently crushing their opponents, the Chappaqua Stallions, ending with a final score of 6-1.
“See, Coach, I told you our defense is not weak,” team captain Meredith Cazales, a 13-year-old from South Bronx, told Del Cid after the game, beaming.
And it’s true: The SBU girls are not weak, either on or off the field. And despite whatever messages they receive in the environments they face living in South Bronx—a neighborhood historically characterized by poverty, gang violence, drugs and prostitution—Del Cid has helped to show them who they really are: strong, powerful young women. Del Cid, 23, also grew up in the Bronx and played soccer for SBU just a few years ago. She knows exactly what the girls face and hopes to be a positive role model in their lives, just like her youth sports coaches were for her.
When Del Cid talks about her team, it’s clear she’s a natural coach. But surprisingly, the Metropolitan College of N.Y. graduate never considered coaching until her former SBU coach asked her if she wanted to join Up2Us Sports, a nationwide non-profit for sports-based youth development, and come back to her former team, this time as a coach.
“I was thinking about doing different things in my career,” Del Cid told Excelle Sports. “But once I got the opportunity [with Up2Us Sports], I was like, ‘OK, this would be a great thing to do.’ And as it’s turned out, it was an amazing thing that I did.”
Del Cid’s story is not unique. While they may be former athletes and have the potential to be terrific coaches, many women don’t consider coaching and today, there are fewer women coaching than ever before, according to research from the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sports, and the Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF).
Case in point: In 1972, the same year Title IX passed into law, more than 90 percent of women’s teams were coached by women. Today, though, only 43 percent of women’s teams are led by women. Why the decline? According to research, women now don’t consider coaching for many reasons, but often it’s because they are simply not asked to coach. Others cite the fact that they don’t feel supported in what has become a largely male-dominated field ever since Title IX made women’s sports a lucrative industry.
— NCCWSL (@NCCWSL) December 12, 2016
[More from Excelle Sports: What Title IX missed: How the gender-equity law has led to fewer women coaches]
The decline in female coaches is troubling for many reasons, but primarily because it prevents girls from participating in sports. Data from the Tucker Center and WSF shows that girls drop out of youth sports at a higher rate than boys and that girls’ participation is strongly correlated with having female role models within their sports. In other words, the more female coaches, the more likely girls are to participate in sports.
For this reason, Up2Us Sports, which develops and places coaches in at-risk communities across the country, is launching a new national campaign, She Can Coach, to raise money and awareness on creating more opportunities for women to coach. Specifically, the campaign will focus on finding potential female coaches like Del Cid and giving them the opportunity to lead youth teams. By doing so, the organization knows that more young girls will be more encouraged to play—and stay playing.
“[Women are] losing ground, in terms of how often women are coaching women, so we believe that there’s a grassroots solution to that,” Up2Us Sports chief program officer Megan Bartlett told Excelle Sports. “We believe that through She Can Coach, we can both attract the funds to get more female coaches out in the community and also get more young women more excited about the being coaches in their community.”
She Can Coach, which will officially launch Monday night at Up2Us Sports’ annual celebrity gala in New York City, already has a big-name sponsor: Laureus Sport For Good Foundation USA, who has pledged $100,000 to the campaign. Up2Us Sports is also partnering with the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sports, the WSP and Excelle Sports for the cause.
Bartlett is hopeful that making just some simple changes will have a big impact.
“[Women] aren’t asked enough—they aren’t in the places where people go to look for coaches,” she said. “So if we just increased our volume of asks, we’re going to get more women in the role. I also think it really matters who’s doing the asking and what kind of environment we’re creating for them when we’re doing that.“
With regional leadership teams already led by women, Up2Us Sports is thinking differently about where to recruit possible female coaches, including from education, sociology and psychology departments at schools and universities, in addition to their athletic departments. The campaign also hopes to sell coaching in a nonconventional way that might appeal more to women and make them feel more confident, emphasizing youth development over sport-specific knowledge.
She Can Coach doesn’t just end after a female coach joins a team—the campaign will continue to support the coaches it enlists by offering career-development mentoring and coaching techniques that can help further their careers.
[More from Excelle Sports: Kacey White and Keri Sarver join U.S. youth national team coaching staff]
While the campaign has the potential to affect thousands of female coaches, it will impact more young girls. For many, the power of a female coach for a female athlete is infinite.
“We hear all those stories [from young girls saying], ‘I didn’t think sport was for me. I had never run a mile before, but when my coach told me she would do it with me, first, I realized women who look like me run marathons, and second, she helped me do it,’” Bartlett said.
Having a strong female role model sends a compelling message to young girls, letting them know that they belong in sports, too, and that, yes, they can be strong.
It send the message that Del Cid tells her girls: you are not weak.
In fact, you are extremely powerful.